This week, my family adopted two Australian shepherd mix puppies. Yes, two. What? I like a challenge.
For the last few days, I have spent a lot of time chasing wagging tails, saying “no” and cleaning up puddles of pee. Who said the life of an author wasn’t glamorous?
Anyway, today the part-time nanny I’ve hired for the summer came over. I was standing in my kitchen giving her a laundry list of instructions for watching the dogs. If they get too rambunctious take them outside or put them in their crates with a bone. Always keep an eye on them lest one of the pups uses my carpet for a toilet. Give them treats but not too many. If they growl— You get the idea.
She stood there nodding, looking a little dazed. I stopped and saw myself through her eyes. I saw an anxious woman who clearly was experiencing guilt and worry about surrendering control of the household for a few measly hours. That’s when it hit me: I’m a control freak.
I won’t lie. Over the last few days I have been reduced to tears a couple of times. Part of it was exhaustion–getting up at 6am to walk the dogs and then going 60 mph all day until I pass out at 10 is challenging for anyone. But I realized that a lot of this stress is self-induced. Yes, puppies are hard work. No doubt about it. But our dogs are actually very well behaved. They’re picking up basic obedience commands like champs and even thought heir play is rambunctious, they’re wearing each other out.
Anyway, I finally left, trusting that the woman I’m trusting to take care of my kid while I’m gone can probably also handle making sure the dogs don’t destroy my home. When I returned from a four-hour writing session, I asked her how everything went. “The dogs were really calm,” she said. Of course they were, they didn’t have me hovering over them all day. They didn’t have a control freak trying to micromanage their play time.
My name is Jaye Wells and I have control issues.
But what does all this have to do with the craft of writing? Well, everything, actually.
Here’s a little secret about writers: We have god complexes. We create worlds and populate them with characters. Then we throw lightning bolts (or zombies or murders or existential crises or aliens) at them.
When we’re not playing god, we’re forced to go out into a world we didn’t create. One we don’t control. No where is this more true than in the publishing industry. Writers don’t control how much money publishing houses spend on promo. We don’t control how many copies of our books retailers carry or who reviews our books or how. We don’t control when our books are released, where they’re released (for the most part) or whether an ice storm knocks out the distribution chain. We dont’ control whether vampires are hot, if Snooki shares a release date with us, or whether our dream agent or editor is open to submissions
Which is why you, my little grasshopper, must learn to surrender the need for control. Yeah, yeah, I know it’s not easy. Trust me when I say I’m preaching to myself as much as to you. So if you need to control something, make it be something you actually can control.
Yeah, I’m talking about those marvelous worlds, those fascinating characters, the exciting plots. Those are all yours. And since you’re going to be all Zen now in the rest of your life *insert sarcasm font* you should have plenty of energy to redirect to your work in progress. Embrace your job as a part-time deity, but when you walk out of your writing cave, take a deep, calming breath and try to relax, for chrissakes. Your books will be better for it and your loved ones will probably stop avoiding you.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go watch my dogs recreate Thunderdome in my living room.