Thursday, April 8, 2010

Making Choices and Taking Control

When I started this journey to becoming a writer I believed that, in many ways, I would be powerless in the big machine that is the publishing industry. Writers often feel like it's other people who have the control over their destiny - over whether their book succeeds or fails, over whether they get a contract or not, get an agent, etc. More often than not, it feels like you don't have much choice over how things turn out. But after thinking about this a little more (and having a great discussion with the fabulous writers Helaine Becker and Claudia Osmond last night at the torkidlit tweet-up)I really don't believe that's true. I think writers have more control or choice in the direction our career takes than we believe.

The biggest choice writers make is the choice to be a writer. No one held a gun to our heads and made us take this path. And no one is holding that gun to our heads now. So when we complain about how hard and unforgiving this profession is - make a choice. Keep writing or don't. You're in control of that.

Some writers feel trapped in unpleasant or unfulfilling relationships with their agents or their critique groups or whatever. There is a choice there too. If you need to change your situation it is your choice to do so. No one said every decision would be easy. Heck, even choosing between two good things is hard. But, again, the point is that you can take control of your life by making a choice. And by choosing to do nothing that is also a choice. But don't say you can't control your outcome and then feel defeated by the situation.

Some writers talk about how their book wasn't publicized enough or it was lost on the shelves. What kind of choice do we as writers have there? Well, writers can try and market it as much as they can on their own - a choice many writers take. Some target a more manageable PR and marketing plan like developing an online network of writers who can support and publicize each other's books. Others let the fates - and the public - decide on whether the book will be found. That again is a choice. Whatever the outcome - success in book sales or not - you have still taken some control of the situation by making a choice.

Then there are the writers who choose to focus on the next book. Maybe they've decided to make it bigger, better, more commercial, more controversial, more this or that - whatever they choose to focus on no one else has decided that direction for them. And this may be the most powerful choice of all. We choose to write what we choose to write. That is completely within our control.

So the next time you think you're a cog in the wheel with someone else turning your life this way and that, think about it. Are you really that powerless? Really?


  1. Great post, Nelsa! Course, sometimes we make the wrong choices--but we can choose to fix the bad choices after a certain point, too!

  2. I agree, we have lots of choices and for everyone the choices are different depending on what they want for their writing career. I've had to make some tough new choices recently myself, but I'm hoping they work for me...and if they don't, then I have more choices I can make too. :)

    Great post!

  3. So true! It can be easy to whine about how hard writing and the publishing process are (not that I ever whine, of course...) but you're absolutely right that certain things are under our control.

  4. We whiny writers ALWAYS have a choice, as you so aptly point out.

    But I'm like a lot of people and only want one GOOD choice to have to make. Don't make me choose between butter-pecan ice cream and coffee! It's much easier if I have to decide, "Hmmh, strawberry? Coffee?" That decision is sooo easy.

  5. We need the wisdom to accept the things we can't change and the courage to change the things we can. :)

    Is that from AA? No matter where it's from, it's so true. Yes, there are things in publishing one must just accept and writers who think they can change them, or think the world is against them because they whine about these things, drive themselves crazy. But as you so aptly say, their are many, many things we can change and decide for ourselves, like which sandbox we want to play in and who we want to play with while in there. :)

  6. An empowering post! It's not just writers who whine, though... I think it's a very human tendency to blame "the system" (or whatever) when conditions aren't to our liking. I like your thoughts about how to overcome this unproductive way of thinking.

  7. I believe in being positive, patient, and proactive when it comes to writing and publicizing. I've met some writers who expect things too soon or expect opportunities to fall into their laps, and that leads to frustration.

  8. Hi everyone - thanks so much for commenting. This is obviously something that we all care about - we all need to feel control in our lives.

    Bev: Absolutely we make the wrong choices sometimes - but I think we learn a heck of a lot from making a wrong choice sometimes. Maybe more than the good choices.

    Hey SD: Thanks for dropping by. I hope you come to visit again!

    J.K.: Good luck on whatever direction your choices take you!

    Anna: I cannot see you as a whiner - ever! You seem to be a very pragmatic and positive person. Who makes the choices she wants to make.

    Cynthia: Oh, yes, wouldn't life be good if we only ever had to make one choice and it was always an easy one?

    Maureen: I love that quote! And we definitely need to figure out which sandbox - and what playmates - we want in there with us. Hopefully ones that help make our choices easier.

    Ruth: Thanks for posting! Yes - there are many people, in many walks of life, that have a tendency to act like they have no control over their lives. I'm certainly not suggesting it's only writers. But since I'm a writer and I love talking and being with other writers the post was centered on us (angsty lot that we are! :)

    Medeia: Yay for the 3 P's! I'm a total believer in the turtle approach (slow and steady) and not the hare. I admire how you've managed your career thus far.

  9. I agree. We also have a lot of control over what we write, when we write, what genres, how we learn...and all that affects getting an agent and publishing.