If you have ever read any of my other articles, you’ll come to the quick conclusion that I am highly neurotic. There are a multitude of reasons for this, including my clinically diagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder (Neurotic? You don’t say!), existing in a pandemic, and also because I am a writer. The common thread here is that many aspects of each of these are wildly out of my control. I can’t simply stop my obsessive thoughts any more than I can make publishing do things I wish it would do. I can’t make my book a bestseller by sheer force of will. I can’t stop delays and rejections or bad news. I can’t stand on a street corner shoving my custom bookmarks in people’s faces (well, I could, but it is ill-advised).
There are a lot of cannots in publishing and in writing, so much so that it is easy to be overcome by an apathetic malaise. You toil over this novel, sometimes for years. Maybe decades. You query it. You submit it to publishers. You publish it and send it into the world of readers. You make beautiful swag that you can’t fathom a person wouldn’t want. Writing consumes you so much that the very idea that the rest of the world isn’t waiting with bated breath to marvel at the fruits of your labor is inconceivable. So when that happens (or feels that way to you) one might become disillusioned as to question the whole process itself. Why do this at all?
Another thing I can’t do is answer that question for you. It is an intimate question with a very personal answer. What I can tell you, as someone who has survived their debut in the age of COVID, is that there are some things you are just going to have to let go. Allow yourself to breathe. You can’t be all things to all people—a master marketer, a publicist, a writing machine, a parent, a spouse, a hard worker. The list goes on. You also can’t control people, nor their reactions to your work. For the longest time, your work was yours and yours alone. Then maybe you let a friend or two in. Then maybe an agent and editor. But at some point, your work ceases to only be yours (a piece of it will always stay with you, don’t worry). The day will come when it belongs to readers, too, and John Q. Public isn’t always going to handle it the way you envisioned. That’s okay. In fact, that’s ideal in some ways. Your work will begin to take on a new life, a different life. It will touch people in ways you could have never predicted, which will be both frustrating and beautiful. Like people are.
Once you reach this stage, letting go will be your greatest tool in which to survive it. Kick your book baby out of the nest, let it fly, and then turn your attention to that new story just beginning to gestate. It needs more of your attention anyway.
Happy writing, friends.