Controlling the Need to Control
A couple of weeks ago I got my first full manuscript request for one of my chapter books.
Full of hope and excitement, I sent it off the following day.
Two weeks passed.
And in that two weeks I became the grouchiest, grumpiest stress head I'd been in a long time - mouth ulcers and all.
I didn't even realise what the problem was until my husband pulled me up on it and sat me down with a cup of tea. It didn't take me long to acknowledge the problem: waiting on the submission, of course.
When the answer finally came it was a 'No'. Despite the disappointment, I actually felt tangible relief. I wasn't waiting anymore. I was back in control.
Then, right on the back of that came the news that the longlist for the WriteMentor's Children's Novel Award was almost ready to be announced, followed by a week of teasers. (If anyone is not familiar with this competition, it is brilliantly run and an amazing opportunity.)
Cue the next wave of gnawing worry and stress. Following my shortlist in the 2019 Picture Book Prize, I felt I had to achieve a similar success to prove I was still moving in the right direction (the need for validation doesn't seem to get easier).
I'd entered 11 entries into the competition. Nine picture books and two chapter books. Some I didn't consider real contenders (but which I wanted feedback for) and some that I hoped would stand a chance. Now the reality of an announcement brought all my worries crashing to the surface.
What if none of the 11 made it? Where would I go from there? How would I turn things around? I enjoyed the teasers as far as possible and tried not to think about it...
because the whole process is out of my control.
This has been a persistent problem for me (shout out if you're with me) - agonising over things I have no power over until it impacts on my daily life. From 'What if an agent reads my work when they're having an off day or have just signed someone else' to 'What if it's the worst thing they've ever read?' or 'What if I've made a mistake in the cover letter or made some other blatant error?' 'What if they didn't receive it?'
And, after that painful fortnight where my stress impacted on my whole family as well as myself I've realised I have to find a way of letting go of things out of my control.
This was the example I used on myself:
I enjoy fitness and work out four times a week. This, like writing, involves discipline. I get up at 5.30am one day a week, early (ish) on Saturday and Sunday and fight the desire to plop on the couch on a Monday evening. The mental health benefits (minus the constant push to keep it up) are amazing. The physical ones not so bad either. But have I achieved my desired body type? No! Why? Because I haven't considered the things I can't control. Like my DNA, ageing, changes after having children.
So what do I do? Work out to the point of exhaustion? Wallow in self-pity? What would be the outcome of that? So, rather than get hung up on the fact I can no longer fit into my size eights, I celebrate the fact that I'm fit and happy and healthy and keep on doing what I'm doing.
I do my absolute best on that front in the same way I do my absolute best in my writing. And the rest I need to dump.
In this case, as it turned out, I was thrilled to be placed on the longlist with more than one manuscript. As for the manuscripts that didn't make it, the feedback was completely invaluable. At this stage in my writing journey some of the scores were lower than I'd hoped for but came with amazing pointers for improvement.
None of these results were in my control. Responses to our work are subjective and every reader involved in the competition had the absolute right to respond to my entries with their own thoughts and opinions. But I can control my reaction to them; by being grateful, respectful and taking their very valid advice.
The thoughts still nag, even on a day I'm celebrating. Already it's 'What if I don't get shortlisted?' 'What if I miss out on the summer mentoring programme?' 'What if I tweak the manuscript and it makes it worse?' 'What if I don't tweak the manuscript and it misses out?' and on and on.
They'll take over if I let them. But this time, I'm determined to try and avoid it at all costs.
All I can do is my best. Write my heart out, act on what I've learnt and send it off. Nothing else is in my control. What will be will be. Hopefully, I'll get there one day. I have the determination to persevere. But, if it's not in my fortunes then what have I gained? Friendship, support, personal achievement, strength, discipline, knowledge and the happiness of doing what I love. My kids see that everyday and I don't want to rob myself of that joy..or of celebrating the small steps of success.
Monday, 24 February 2020
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