I’ll admit that I am something of a control freak. I don’t get overjoyed when things don’t go according to plan. The unexpected, frankly, freaks me right out. I prefer the neat, orderly, predictable and boring aspects of life. I’m not much for adventure. Little did I know that signing up to be a writer would be a little like setting off on a safari. Unpredictable, scary, full of the unexpected, and much time spent hoping not to get eaten by lions.
It’s not surprising that being an author (or, heck, a writer in general) has resulted in some private meltdowns over the years. (Yes, life in general causes some meltdowns, too. I’m working on it.) A writing career, whether you write novels or poetry, go freelance or work for a corporation, traditionally or self-publish, comes with a heaping order of the unexpected. Good and bad, but for someone who dislikes all unexpected events, it doesn’t really matter.
Clients make last minute changes to projects. Or dump you out of the blue. Publishers go out of business while your book is still in production. Release dates get missed. Or moved up. Sales tank. Or they rise to incredible heights. Fans may adore you. And they may turn on you for no discernible reason. Events go sideways and end in tears. Or they’re so successful the hosts beg you to come back. You can do something great and everyone notices. Or no one notices. You can do something stupid and, well, everyone notices because the law says stupidity will always be noticed.
Whatever happens in a writing career, I can guarantee that at least 50% of it will be stuff that you never saw coming.
Which is really funny given that I’ll bet there are many writers out there like me: People who thought that a writing career was controllable. We chose this job because it seemed less subject to the whims of the corporate world, or personal politics. Hah! The only thing you can control in your writing career is your writing. The rest of it is as uncontrollable as the wind.
Sure, you can increase your odds a bit by perfecting your craft, protecting yourself with contracts, doing your research before jumping into anything, etc. But if you want to be a writer, you’re going to have to get comfortable with the unexpected.
That’s not as easy as it seems. At least for me, devout hater of the unknown that I am. But I’m learning. I’m learning that, if I can’t control it, I need to learn to roll with it. Heck, even to wallow in it. And that goes for everything in life, not just writing.
The truth is, none of us gets out of this life with everything in perfect order. Every aspect of our lives has some uncontrollability to it. Writing is no different. It’s how we react to it that determines how much we end up enjoying our lives.
So far, I’ve done a crappy job in that department. I’ve been so busy trying to control everything (and hide from that which I cannot control), that I’ve missed out on a lot of fun stuff.
What I’m learning (slowly) is that the unexpected isn’t always negative. And even things that are negative can turn into positives. Or at least learning experiences that make me stronger. Unexpected turns can lead to bigger opportunities. Sure, they can also close down opportunities, but sometimes even that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes you need to be pushed onto another path and the only way to do it is through some unexpected drama.
If you want to enjoy life and a writing career, you have to learn to embrace the unexpected and unknown. If you’re too busy (like me) trying to protect and cocoon yourself, you miss the exhilaration of the ride. Does that mean that everything is always glorious? That every cloud has a silver lining? Of course not.
Sometimes things suck and there’s no way around that. Just because you try to embrace chaos doesn’t mean that your life will be rosy. How nice if that were true. But being able to roll with things makes life easier. It’s less stressful, and you’re an easier person to work with.
Life and writing should be surprising. If we are never surprised, we might as well be a population of robots, chugging along on our pre-recorded programs. But we’re not. We’re human and life is messy. Writing is messy. Publication and business are messy. To pretend otherwise, to try and hide from that mess, is to miss out on all the fun a good mess can provide.
Remember playing outside as a kid? Your mom told you not to get your clothes messy, but inevitably it happened. (You never really knew how.) Darned if you didn’t have fun getting messy. Even if you got hurt or scraped up, you still had fun because you were living in the moment and enjoying whatever came your way. Staying clean and pristine wasn’t nearly as much fun.
So it is with writing and life. The unexpected may get you messy, and it may hurt you. It may even knock you down for a while. But that’s part of the journey and the only way you find the fun. Sometimes the unexpected can lift you up, open your eyes to new wonders, and teach you important lessons. And it can just be fun. Plus, it all makes great fodder for articles and stories. But you’ll never know any of it if you keep running toward order. Embrace a little chaos. Embrace the unexpected.
(Photo courtesy of stevepb)