Thursday, January 01, 2009

Control Freak

I've harped on this in other posts, but I don't believe I've devoted a whole post to it.

In a nutshell: Only set goals you can control.

As writers, a lot of things are beyond our control. Getting an agent, selling a book or story, landing on a bestseller list, winning awards--these all rely on varying degrees of luck, right place/right time, and the support and efforts of many other people.

Because of this, writers tend to be let down a lot. When you get a rejection, lose an award, or don't sell as many books as you'd like, it's natural to get depressed.

But you shouldn't get angry, or sad, or offended. Because it makes no sense to get upset over things you don't have control over.

There's a direct correlation between dreams and disappointments. Hope is a four letter word.

Writing is all about putting yourself out there. Chefs cook food to be consumed. We string together words to be read. Having readers is half the equation.

But we really don't have much control over who reads us.

We can search for an agent, search for a publisher, search for readers. But we can't make any of them like our writing.

Because of this, we get rejections, and bad reviews, and unimpressive sales, and the resultant disappointment. This makes it hard to keep on keeping on, when the acceptance we desire is 100% out of our control.

So the secret to happiness in the writing biz is about controlling what you can.

The first thing you have control over is your work. What you write about, and how much time and effort you spend writing it, is all up to you. This is a goal you can reach.

While you can't make an agent or publisher accept your work, you can seek out agents and publishers with queries, at conferences, and through recommendations of other writers. These are all within your power, and attainable goals.

You don't have control over distribution or sales, but you can devote time to branding and seeking out fans. This won't land you on the bestseller list, but every book you help to sell is a goal you had control over.

On this first day of 2009, take a good look at your goals. Which are attainable on your own? And which require luck?

We all need luck. But your goals should be based on your hard work and efforts, not on gambling.

Concentrate on what you can do, and do it to the best of your ability. If luck smiles on you, great. If not, keep at it--unless your goal is to feel sorry for yourself. That's a self-fulfilling prophecy that writers tend to excel at.


Deborah Talmadge said...

Great advice for someone who gets sucked into the dumps frequently. This feels doable. Thanks.


Dharma Kelleher said...

The Serenity Prayer of Writers

Grant me the serenity to accept that I have no control over an agents'/editors' responses,
The courage to keep writing, editing and submitting my work,
And the wisdom to keep an open mind about how I can continue to improve my skills.

Anonymous said...

You make a great point - sometimes even when we try to do everything "right" things just don't work out the way we want. It's not a failure, just part of life.


Erica Orloff said...

To me, to use the parlance of self-help . . .

I set my goals as things I can control: I will write x number of proposals and complete 2 manuscripts.

An affirmation is "I will hit the best-seller list." I can say it, think it, put that energy out there. But at the end of the day, I should focus on my GOALS.


T. M. Hunter said...

Thank goodness someone has said it! I belong to some writing sites where people post their annual and monthly goals, and I have such a hard time not saying "are you serious?" when I witness people posting goals about getting an agent, getting so many stories or their novel published, and other similar items.


It's okay to want those things for yourself, but set the goals that will lead to it.

If it's getting an agent, set goals for submitting ten queries a month (or more).

If it's getting a ton of stories published, set goals for finishing so many and submitting them.

It would drive some of the stress out of the situation.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Just wanted to say Happy New Year, studmuffin.

I like the Resolutions post a lot.

- Alex

Anonymous said...

I ended up setting goals, resolution and dreams. The goals I have total control over. The resolutions are a little grander and thus more subject to unknown unknowns. The dreams... well, something has to feed my soul while I slog through the daily goals toward my resolutions.

Marta Stephens said...

You are so right on target. I strive to achieve success but never set my heart on expectations. That's just asking for trouble. Learn from mistakes and keep at it. Eventually, good things do happen.

Best wishes in 2009!!

Lela said...

Wonderful advice for any profession - especially one that requires so much luck!

Rosemary Nissen-Wade said...

I still love Julia Cameron's prayer in The Artist's Way:

Great Creator, I will take care of the quantity, you take care of quality!

And would suggest some affirmations: God is my editor.
God is my agent.
God is my publisher.

(Whilst of course doing the things that need doing on the human level, such as submitting work where appropriate.)

Bobby Mangahas said...

Always with the wise advice. Thanks Joe.

Sadly, LIM is definitely out this year. Too bad. I was hoping to get out to Chicago and have you buy me a drink. :(

Polenth said...

I've set some goals that are outside my control. But I don't seem to view goals the same way as most people. I see a goal based on luck as being a short way of saying I'll do all the things that are within my control to try and reach it. If the luck part doesn't happen, it's not a big deal. I won't lose any sleep over it.

PJ Parrish said...

I have been in my burrow for the last six months but, you know, it's time to poke a head out and see if I can still survive the birds of prey. Meercats unite!

Happy new year to us all. And that includes you, Konrath, you old wombat. It can only get better, no?

Miss Mahana said...

I have a big issue with this, losing confidence when I get a bad review or no review at all. Thanks again for the great advice, Joe.


Marcie Steele said...

Hi, I'm with Polenth in that I set myself a goal to find another agent but I have smaller goals to get me there. So if I don't get the agent, I will have achieved the other goals in trying.

Love your blog, especially the posts about not giving up and just getting down to it. I'm in my tenth year of trying to get accepted for publication and I'm nowhere near packing it all in yet.

Anonymous said...

"In a nutshell: Only set goals you can control."

I'd have to disagree with this. It's the equivalent of don't dream, don't reach for the sky.

The fun part of life is looking up and saying, "I can get there!"

So I would take the opposite approach: set your goals high. Then define concrete tasks to get you there.

JA Konrath said...

I'd have to disagree with this. It's the equivalent of don't dream, don't reach for the sky.

So what happens when you don't reach a dream, even though you tried your best?

It's good to dream. But fulfilling your dream is a lousy goal. It leads to disappointment, depression, and kills motivation.

And if you do happen to reach your dream, it's very easy to have an unwarranted sense of entitlement--a feeling that you earned it--when it was really luck. That's not healthy.

Anonymous said...

I think what most people forget is that goals are simply a road map. Often on a journey there are obstacles, detours, and roads that no longer exist. You just need to know where you are going and do what you must to get there. Just remember you don't have to go alone.

By the way, since you do so much for your readers I thought I would try and bring a smile to your face. Some say awards mean little, but when they come from the heart, hopefully they mean more. I recently accepted a Premio Dardos Award from Jane Kennedy Sutton ( I would like to offer this award to you.

You can find out more on my blog at

Happy new year.

JA Konrath said...

Deborah- the dumps are common for writers. It seems those who can work through them are those who tend to sell more work.

Dharma- that's nice, but hard work does more than prayers. :)

Tricia- life happens. Failures make us who we are.

Erica- I like affirmations. they're like goals that don't disappoint. And to all newbies, check out Erica's terrific blog.

Aston- be careful taking any advice, especially from unpublished peers. not that it isn't heartfelt, but experience carries a lot of weight.

Alex- always happy to have you drop by. For any newbies who want to learn about plotting and suspense, check out Alex's blog. It's exemplary.

Jessa- that sounds like you have your priorities straight.

Marta- that's the thing that keeps me and all writers going. good things do happen.

Lela- thanks. :)

Rosemary- does God take the standard 15%?

RJ- use that time to write.

Polenth- you need to email me and tell me how I can stop losing sleep, because even though I try to practice what I preach, it's awfully hard...

PJ- Great to see you. To all newbies, PJ's blog is great. Check it out. And yes, things will get better. We're not meercats. We're cockroaches. And nothing can kill cockroaches--they're the ultimate survivors.

Noel- surround yourself with a few key support people to boost you up when you feel down. In lieu of that, drinking works. :)

L-plate- took me 12 years before I sold anything. Keep at it.

anon- and another thing, it's impossible to define concrete tasks to get you to a place that requires luck.

Karen- thanks for thinking of me, but I don't do the meme thing. Newbies should also check out Karen's excellent blog.

Polenth said...

Polenth- you need to email me and tell me how I can stop losing sleep, because even though I try to practice what I preach, it's awfully hard...

I don't know why I'm the way I am, but I bet sharing my genes would be a good start. You'd get all the brain chemistry then. And a sex change, but minor details...

Unknown said...

There's some great advice there, particularly in the last paragraph.

My best wishes for everyone's ambitions in 2009.

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