Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Concentrate on What You Can Control

This seems like such an obvious thing, but for me it's one of the hardest things to remember.

I attended the NEC conference last weekend and the breakfast keynote speaker was Lisa Gardner. I've heard Lisa speak a few times before and she's always amazing, but a few things she said this weekend really resonated for me.

The main thing that hit me in the gut was that publishing and writing are two different things, and as writers the only part we can control is the writing. (Okay, I guess if you self-publish you can control the publishing part, too... but you can't control whether or not anyone will buy, enjoy or review your books in that scenario either.)

The tricky part of this for me is that, well, I'm beginning to realize I'm a bit of a control freak. At my age you'd think I'd have discovered this about myself before now, but no -- a recent revelation. And second, while we can't control the publishing part, I do think it behooves us as writers to be knowledgeable about publishing and to be in control of our careers. Sure we entrust agents to sell our work and publicists to make sure readers find out about it. We hire web designers to create a face-to-the-public look. We sell our publishing rights to publishers entrusting editing, book design, cover art and a myriad of other things to them. But as much as we need to be educated about the industry, to know what we want for our careers and to stand up for it to increase the odds that the other players understand and buy into and support our career vision... Ultimately the only thing we can control is the writing. The stories we choose to tell and how we tell them.

We can't control market trends. We can't control exactly which editor(s) our agent chooses to send our projects to. We can't control what those editors saw immediately before our work or what biases they may bring to the table. We can't control if they offer a contract or how big an advance. We can't control the cover art chosen or the print runs or how many copies the booksellers will buy or how well (or even if) we'll be reviewed. We can't make Oprah choose our books for her bookclub.

So. We write.


Kimber said...

If I find myself focusing too much on the uncontrollables, that usually means I'm not doing enough on the controllables. At least, that's my trigger to get moving again (I'm a lazy gal).

And to "control" the uncontrollables, I play the numbers. When I wanted to get one job, I sent out thousands of resumes. When I wanted to find one boyfriend, I met thousands of guys. Never been lucky or talented enough to be successful on the first attempt of anything.

Maureen McGowan said...


Yes, we can increase our odds on the uncontrollables for sure. But again... that comes back to more and better writing. This is what I need to focus on.

Sinead M said...

Great post, Maureen, and so simple in spirit, so hard in practice.

Write while you wait for news, or get rejections, or hear nothing for months on end.
Hard to keep our faith in what we do, but absolutely necessary..

Kimber, you seem to have a great philosophy... smart...

Molly O'Keefe said...

I also think there's a learning curve to figuring out which aspects of the career and your writing life you can control. On one of my other loops we've been talking about time management and saying no and protecting the time you have to write -- so hard. But once again I should be writing right now.

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