Controlling the Stuff You Can Control

April 8, 2016

Controlling the StufffYou guys. I went to my very first writing conference! It was full of real live writers doing the real live work of writing and it was oh-so-inspiring and they served phenomenal white chocolate macadamia cookies, and it was exactly what this tired mother/writer needed.

It was a full day event and in between the 790 bathroom breaks I had to take to accommodate my third trimester body, I attended panels and lectures and went to a writing critique. During lunch time I weaseled my way into the cool-kids groups of nationally published writers, which would have been scary only they were all very, very nice. (Shannon Hale was impressed by my ability to go from sitting on the floor to standing in one controlled movement. Remember, third trimester, people.) Anyway, I came home with a bunch of enthusiastic notes and when I read through them I realized I’d been honing in on one big message:

CONTROL THE STUFF YOU CAN CONTROL, AND LET GO OF THE REST.

Which was weird. Because I thought I’d be coming home with notes on How to Create a Love Triangle That Doesn’t Involve a Werewolf or How to Channel Jane Austen While You Work.

But no. Eight hours with a group of talented, interesting writers and I come home with this basic  message that trickles into just about every area of my life. Because the more I thought about it the more I realized that everything falls into one of two categories: Things You Can Control, and Things You Can’t Control. Here are some examples from my writing career:

THINGS I CAN CONTROL:

  • How hard I work at writing
  • How hard I work at marketing
  • How I react to failure/success
  • Whether or not I try again after a failure

THINGS I CAN’T CONTROL:

  • Whether a publisher is going to want my book
  • How readers react to my book
  • How national reviewers react to my book
  • Whether or not bookstores will carry my book
  • Whether or not my book is going to be successful

After the conference I took a long hard look at myself and I realized just how much of my time and energy were being chewed up by the Can’t Controls. A lot of really, really great things have been happening with Love & Gelato (starred reviews, contracts with publishing houses in different countries, interest in my next book…), but still I found myself obsessively checking online reader reviews and wondering things like, “Why did that reader only give it a three star rating?” or “Why is that author’s book getting so much more buzz than mine?”

And all that needed to stop. Immediately. Because not only is that kind of thinking EXHAUSTING, it’s a creativity killer. (Turns out books are pretty sensitive little guys. Invite a bunch of imaginary critics into your writing room to poke them with sticks and they’re probably going to close their mouths and refuse to tell you anything.)

So, I’m focusing on the stuff I can control. Over the past few weeks I’ve redoubled my efforts on my new book, which takes a small character from Love & Gelato and tells her story. It’s a fun book, and I absolutely love the character, but like all books it’s future is a big, glossy question mark. So it’s lucky that I know three things for sure: 1) I will write it, 2) I will put my everything into it, and 3), I will send it out into the world with my fingers crossed and my heart beating fast. And that will be enough.

2 thoughts on “Controlling the Stuff You Can Control

  1. Jamie Moesser

    Hmmm…maybe I need to go to that conference too. I go to Storymakers in May (this next one will be my third) and I always come away so invigorated and creatively “hugged.”

    Reply
  2. Melissa

    Hi Jenna,
    Congrats on your first book!
    I am a big fan of your Dad’s writing. His stories had a great impact in my life. I am very happy to see that this runs in the family, as writing can be very powerful and meaningful to a person’s life when they needed guidance. I am going to pick up a copy of your book and continue my learnings about life through your eyes now. I am sure I will not be disappointed.
    Best wishes to you on having another child and being a mom. It’s the greatest feeling ever!
    Take care :)

    Reply

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