The Importance of “Letting It Go”

One piece of advice we’re all bound to get at some point or another in goes something like this:

Let it go. Sh** happens.

Typically this line is followed by a sympathetic shoulder pat or a helpless shrug (as if to say, “Sorry, dude, but there’s nothing I can do.”).

For a lot of us, “letting it go” is on the verge of impossible, and I think that writers (and publishing professionals in general) tend to be in that I-cannot-let-it-go group. Certainly there are some of us who can just go with the flow, but almost every writer I know is a complete and total control freak.

But here’s the thing, guys: if there’s one profession where you HAVE to learn to let things go, it’s publishing. Especially when you’re on the writer-end of it all.

The plain truth of it all is that success in writing is almost entirely out of your control. From getting an agent (it’s so, so, so subjective guys. You can have a knock-out query and still garner zero interest) to selling your book (again, it’s so subjective. Even if your book is stellar, if it doesn’t land on the right desk at the right moment, you could be on subs for years. Yes, years.) to getting the “perfect” cover/trailer/fan base/website/etc. to bad reviews to whether or not a bookstore chooses to even stock your book—every one of those things is out of your control.

And there are so many more things that you can’t control in the writing/publishing world. I’m sorry. It pains me to say this (and it pains me even more to admit it), but this is simply the way it is. We have 100% control over our books, but what happens to those books is a totally different story.

Of course, as someone who tends to get her way and adores micromanaging, this whole “it ain’t in my control” thing has been really hard for me to come to accept. I can make my MC do whatever the heck I want, so why can’t I make X-editor or Y-reviewer or Z-bookstore do it?

The truth is, though I haven’t completely learned to let it all go, I have started down the long path of learning how.  Since Something Strange and Deadly sold back in 2010, so many authors have warned me to just move on about things, but sometimes, the only way to hone a skill is to experience the frustration of it firsthand. Fortunately, I’ve had ample situations to do just that. In fact, I’m now far enough down this Let It Go Path to know there are two steps to the process.

To let it go, you must first accept.

Then you must move on.

So for example, let’s say I’ve written a book that I think is AMAZING. I am so thoroughly proud of it. However, my agent can’t sell it. Editors just aren’t interested in a space opera featuring an interstellar carnival. Perhaps they say, “Space operas just aren’t selling now” or “I’ve already got something similar on my list” or even “This simply wasn’t for me”. All these reasons are valid.

And all these reasons are out of my control. If the book is good but not a good fit, then there isn’t a darn thing I can do to change that. But lately, when I’ve had the urge to gnash my teeth and scheme up ways to bring the control back in my court, I have found the following techniques to be helpful:

  1. I take a deep breath. (Breaths = very important)
  2. I tell myself, “There is nothing I can do.”
  3. I convince myself there really is nothing I can do. (Like, if I’ve gotten a bad review, I consider it for a bit…then I think, Oh well! The book is finished and published; there is really nothing I can do to make this reader like it.)

At this point, I have (hopefully) accepted that the situation is out of my control. My next steps are to help me move on.

  1. I get up and literally MOVE ON. I walk my dog or jog up and down the stairs a few times. There’s nothing like a little exercise to work off some frustration.
  2. I work on something else. If the editor rejected CARNIVAL IN SPACE, I’ll go work on a different manuscript until the sting wears off. Or maybe I’ll just write a blog post or tweak my website. There’s plenty of other necessary stuff to do while I wait for my annoyance to wear off.

As I write these steps, I realize they all seem so obvious—as does the entire concept of Letting Go. I mean, of course we all have to learn to move on. Isn’t that a good life lesson in general? And of course there’s a lot in writing/publishing that we can’t micromanage. But as I said above, you don’t always realize just how much you can’t control—or how poorly you’ll deal with powerlessness—until you’re actually in the situation.

And so this leaves me with my final word of advice. When this does ultimately happen to you—your letter doesn’t climb the slush pile, your book doesn’t get stocked in B&N, the reviewers crush you, your book trailer is an embarrassment, whatever—then focus on the one thing you CAN control:

Writing the next book and making it as good as you possibly can.

At the end of the day, we’re in control of characters and our worlds, so that’s where we should invest our time and emotions.

What about you? Have you had to learn to let things go—either in writing or in life?

25 Responses to The Importance of “Letting It Go”

  1. Li'az Teira May 28 2012 at 7:33 am #

    Hi, I really love this post! Especially the part about how we are in total control of the worlds we create and the characters! I’m an amateur writer (working hard, juggling college books, part-times and trying really hard to write my novel in the dead of the night) and I guess I don’t have to face the publishing “letting-go-s “yet. The things that I have to let go are usually bunches of words and even chapters that don’t flow, and perhaps some really good names that I came up with during brainstorming for world-building—but turn out to be some hotel or name of companies when I google them. One of the biggest problems is that I have to stop reminding myself that my country doesn’t exactly supports local publishing – in the sense that publishers usually publish books on stocks, economy, biographies and so on, anything except for fiction, especially high fantasy.

    But I can relate to all these above, and I guess the best thing to do is to believe the road stretches on, when things don’t turn out right, go ahead and take a rest so that we can walk the distance 🙂 Thanks for your marvelous post!

    Cheers,
    Li’az

    • Sooz May 28 2012 at 10:35 am #

      Hi Li’az! Where do you live–if you don’t mind me asking? And you’re right–if your country doesn’t publish high fantasy much, then that’s DEFINITELY something you can’t change or control. All you can do is keep writing and try to sell your book in a country that DOES publish what you write. 😀 Good luck!!

      • Li'az Teira May 28 2012 at 10:50 am #

        Hi Susan! I live in Singapore, and it’s definitely not easy getting published there (unless I have loads of funds, but I’m not into self-publishing since I’m still a student)! Yup, I do hope I’ll finish my book one day and ship it to somewhere else haha! 😀 Hope to see your books on our shelves! You have a really pretty blog! 🙂

        Cheers,
        Li’az

  2. Temre Beltz May 28 2012 at 9:45 am #

    Thank you so much for this post, Susan! I love it and can definitely relate to it. Right now I’m hoping to have my book published, but I’m not there yet. I think my biggest struggle is checking my email like a hundred times a day! But I am trying to realize this doesn’t make the email come any faster, and worrying or speculating is only taking time and energy away from (as you pointed out) the one thing I can control: my stories. And I think that’s really what saves me. Since really, truly discovering my passion for all things writing, there isn’t any way I can go back. Even if there was no such thing as book deals or publication, I can one hundred percent say I would still spend at least some portion of my every day writing. It is simply (besides spending time with my sweet girls and hubby) my most favorite thing to do, and I try to look at all the other stuff as a really (really!) cool bonus. Thanks again for being such an encouragement 🙂

    • Sooz May 28 2012 at 10:37 am #

      Wow–you’re an inspiration to me! It’s so, so, SO important to remember that we love writing–that’s why we did it in the first place. It’s not just that we can control, but–as you say–it’s what we’d want to do NO MATTER WHAT. So it’s my turn to thank YOU for reminding me of that little aspect of it. Create anyway, right? 🙂

  3. Jodi Meadows
    Jodi Meadows May 28 2012 at 9:57 am #

    Yes. All of this. Getting published really has been an exercise in letting things go. The only other option is eye twitches, and I do not want those.

    • Sooz May 28 2012 at 10:37 am #

      I actually have an eye twitch, Jodi. NO JOKE. It started in the last few months when things really became Out-Of-My-Control. Fortunately, it’s finally starting to go away. Ahhhhh, the relief of letting it all goooooooo…

      • Jodi Meadows
        Jodi Meadows May 29 2012 at 11:45 am #

        I had to get a massage to get rid of my eye twitch(es). She told me that the eye-twitchy spot to poke at is right at the base of your skull, so when I start feeling stressed now, I lean back in my chair and rub that spot. It does seem to help.

  4. Lori T. May 28 2012 at 10:22 am #

    This is incredibly wonderful advice, Susan. I’m sure getting a book published must be one of the greatest feelings in the world, but to get another one rejected must be crushing. It’s hard to sometimes think about any published author getting any work rejected, but thank you for telling us all how it really is in the publishing world. This will be something for me to remember in the future, to look back on and know how to positively work through rejections, then move on to the next project.

    • Sooz May 28 2012 at 10:40 am #

      Hey Lori! It’s true–getting published IS a great feeling…but as I think I’ve said before, there are many times I miss the days of being *unpublished*. Of writing for the sheer love of it and sharing stories with my sister or on Fictionpress–the pressure and lack of control was nonexistent in those days! But, at the same time, I would never in a million years give up all that I’ve been so fortunate to get. Like I mention in the post, so much of publishing is luck and timing, and I’ve been very blessed in that respect. 🙂 But then I’ve also been very *shocked* to learn how very, VERY different being published is from what I thought years ago. It’s wonderful, but a lot more work (of the non-writing variety) and a LOT more heartache. But hey–we accept and move on, right? 😀

      • Lori T. May 28 2012 at 12:55 pm #

        Hi Susan! You’re right, you can only do your best and keep moving on. But getting any surprises is always wonderful, as I’m sure you’ve had many of those since becoming a well-deserved published author 🙂 You always have to start somewhere, even if it’s just sharing with those closest to you, and hope that one day, you can share all your hard work with the world and have it enjoyed as much by complete strangers as those around you. Great post, Susan (as always!!) 🙂

  5. Eva Rieder May 28 2012 at 11:19 am #

    Geez, does anyone on this site write a bad post, ever?! 🙂 Yet another fabulous piece that is such a good reminder for writers (and everyone in general, really). As I’m editing the heck out of my manuscript before I submit it to agents, I am most certainly practicing “let it go” in what I’m chopping, but also in preparing for what happens. Of course I’m hopeful, but there are indeed so very many things on this path that will be out of my control…Big breaths and happy thoughts. Thanks, Susan!

    • Sooz May 29 2012 at 10:25 am #

      Hopeful is good–DREAM BIG!!! But sometimes, when the frustration mounts high, it’s time to let it go–to know it’s actuallly NOT you, but the current market and c’est la vie. 😉 I’ve got my fingers crossed for you, Eva!! <3

  6. Kat Zhang
    Kat Zhang May 28 2012 at 2:30 pm #

    So, so true, Sooz. Letting go is a lesson I’ve been learning/trying to learn, as well 🙂

    • Sooz May 29 2012 at 10:25 am #

      Yes, Kat, I think we’ve talked about this a lot. It ain’t easy….but it’s definitely necessary to our sanity. 🙂

  7. Julie
    Julie May 28 2012 at 10:16 pm #

    Two things:
    1.) This is a FABULOUS POST!!! I know I will return to this post again and again!!! Thanks so much for the honesty and inspiration. <3 And…
    2.) When can I read CARNIVAL IN SPACE? 😉 (LOL for the record, I do realize this is a fictitious example and no such book exists, but if you ever really do write it… I want to read it! :))

    • Sooz May 29 2012 at 10:29 am #

      1) Yay! I’m so glad you found it helpful. <3 <3

      2) HA! I shall have to write it now--just for you...Hmmm...What about a girl with a shady past (who runs the laser-target booth at Carnivale Spacetastica) and the intergalactic pilot she falls for? I think I've got a bestseller here already! 😉

  8. Erin Bowman
    Erin Bowman May 29 2012 at 9:09 am #

    Sooz, this post is just wonderful. I’m terrible at letting go because I’m such a control freak. As you point out, I think most authors are. At least we’re not alone 😉

    • Sooz May 29 2012 at 10:29 am #

      Oh no, not alone. 😉 And when we CAN’T just let it go, at least we have each other to go neurotic with…

  9. Jess Keating May 29 2012 at 9:27 am #

    A THOUSAND HIGH FIVES to this post! Love it. All of it. Thank you! 😀

    • Sooz May 29 2012 at 10:29 am #

      Yay! I’m so glad you think so, Jess! 😀

  10. ~renate May 30 2012 at 12:14 am #

    I definitely want to read CARNIVAL IN SPACE.

  11. Ava Jae Jun 1 2012 at 10:55 am #

    I’m not yet published, but learning to let things go is definitely something I’m working on–and it’s good to see that I’m certainly not the only writer who suffers from certain…control-wanting quirks (you’re entirely right about the breathing–it helps more than you might think). This is an absolutely fantastic post and I’ll be bookmarking it for future reference. Thank you! 🙂

  12. Cheyenne Campbell Jun 18 2012 at 5:30 pm #

    Wow, I’m really sorry for any rough experiences you’ve had to go through in order to be able to give such sage advice – but this is an awesome post, and being in control of the worlds we create and write about is incredibly powerful. Thank you for sharing it. I imagine the stakes just keep rising once you’ve got an agent, and a deal, and see your books on shelves and being reviewed. And the potential heartache must also grow…

    Right now I’m still at the querying stage of my first novel, working on my second (unrelated, thankfully). I’ve been querying the first for over a year now and while I’ve learned SO MUCH, both about how to sharpen my writing and re-haul my query, and I’m now getting requests, they’re all turning into rejections. Nice rejections, the kind that say, “Keep looking! There’s an agent out there for you!” but still rejections, at the end of the day. No pretty ribbon to put on ’em to make any of this feel any easier. And I’m still job hunting (over 2 years) with top marks on my degree. Life feels like one GIANT rejection, but it’s really nice to be reminded that I am in control of some things – of how I react, how fast I get up and try again after each stumbling block, how I shape the worlds I’m writing, etc.

    That’s definitely a reminder worth focusing on! Thank you! Your posts are always so encouraging!!

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