Outside my window today, the world is beautiful and white. The cat curls into the chair next to me, recovering her composure after a disconcerting encounter with snow. As for me, I inhabit a small bubble of peace in the middle of work, holiday baking and decorating, and the other real life pressures that have chosen to present themselves during this very busy month of the year.

There’s a manila envelope on my desk addressed to me in my own handwriting, containing a dream that once again has returned to me rather than reaching the desired destination. It sits there as a reminder, not yet put away, that dreams perhaps would be better invested in other aspects of my writing and my life.

Long ago, an exercise meant to be taught to my counseling clients taught me a very important lesson, which I’m about to share with the rest of you. Maybe you know this already – it seems simple, on the face of things, and yet most of us live our lives disregarding a simple principle that makes a world of difference in the thought processes.

Make a quick list of the things you worry about. Mine would look something like this:

1. Finances

2. Getting senior to college next year

3. Finding an agent for Filling in the Blanks

4. Finishing Swimming North

I won’t bore you with more. The next step is to break each one of those elements down into units of responsibility. For example:

Finances:

Q. How much of this is my responsibility right now?

A. About 60%

Q. How much time do you spend worrying about it every day?

A: Not a lot. A few minutes here and there, more when I’m paying bills.

Q: Are you doing everything you can to fulfill your part of the responsibility?

A: Yes.

This is a fairly healthy ratio of responsibility/worry. Now let’s look at finding an agent.

Q: How much of this is my responsibility right now?

A: About 50%, I guess – the part about getting the queries out to appropriate agents.

Q: And how much time do you spend fretting about it every day?

A: Do I have to answer that? (A lot)

Q: Are you doing everything you can to fulfill your part of the responsibility?

A: Yes.

And here there is a problem. The reality is, I only have control over maybe half of this process. I can research, I can send out the query letters. That’s it. I can’t make an agent fall in love with my book. And yet, I’m expending a tremendous amount of my energy on worrying and fretting and angsting about this. Where the energy rightfully belongs, is on the things that are under my control, and that are my responsibility. Energy expended where it doesn’t belong takes away from proactive and productive work on other fronts, rather like spraying a fire extinguisher into the air when there’s a fire in my kitchen. Nothing productive is done, and I get burned, along with everything else that is important to me.

Writing another and better book, now, that is another story. Fully 100% of that is in my power. Any energy I expend toward the writing of that book goes directly to an effective place. I can learn, I can study, I can perfect my craft.

That said, I think it’s time to move on with the day. Time to go to the storage unit, and load the trash into the truck for a trip to the dump. Time to do some Christmas shopping. And later, time to finish editing this draft of Swimming North and get ready to move on to querying.

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