For years I had a problem. Shocking, right? Like most problems, if not dutifully guarded, it still can rear its ugly head and make a raging mess out of my heart, my attitude and my life. What is this problem?
The need to control.
In the not-so-distant-past my need for control often drove me to worry…a lot. To counter this worry, I planned for everything and felt I had to know every tiny detail and reason everything out ahead of time so I could limit any surprises. At first glance, that might not seem like such a bad habit. But, anything taken to extremes is always bad.
The thing is, I was trying to control every little detail and all the players so I could somehow fix the outcome, and the end result? I was a mess. Frequently, the people around me were a mess as well.
Eventually, it became clear that I had to learn to discern between things I could control and things I could not then focus on doing my responsibilities. See, before it was bad enough that I had to meddle, manipulate and plan, but then I made it even worse because I was using up my energies focusing on things I couldn’t control while shirking duties I could control.
Will e-books take over and drive traditional publishing out of business? Will it be business as usual and e-books won’t make a difference? Will small publishers reclaim lost territory?
Hold on. *consulting Magic 8 Ball*
Sorry, Magic 8 Ball says Reply hazy. Please try again.
This is exactly the sort of discussion that I would have jumped all over and worried about. But through grace and a lot of tenderizing, I am a bit smarter. I learned to look to the farmer.
The farmer? Yep.
The Apostle Paul compares the life of a Christian to three figures—the athlete, the soldier and the farmer. Something stuck with me about the farmer, and I didn’t really know why. I mean athletes and soldiers are way more glamorous and more my style. Yet the farmer kept popping up in the corners of my mind and convicting me of some really destructive behaviors, especially when it came to my writing journey. Successful farmers, like successful writers, have similar demands, routines and character traits.
A farmer’s life is characterized the following ways:
Persevering Toil—farmers expect work and lots of it. They know that every crop has cycles that cannot be disrupted. The land must be cleared and plowed then seeds planted. Then as the seedlings grow, the farmer is not shocked to see more work in store. He accepts that he must water and fertilize and protect the growing crops. Once the crop has reached a certain stage, it’s finally time for harvest. Repeat.
Farmers work every day, not when they feel like it.
To be a successful writer, I must also expect work and lots of it. I must accept that every piece of work has a certain cycle and that if I skip stages there will be consequences that will be seen in my “crop.”
Whether books all go digital or stay in paper doesn’t really matter. My focus must be on the story. My “crop” remains unchanged. Regardless of whether books are paper or digital, written by hand or printed by lasers, it will all boil down to, “Did I write a great story that people will want to read?” To write this great story, I know there are steps to take, methods tested and proven to produce great writing—research, reading, planning, proofing, editing, etc. Even after I have “harvested” there is more work in store. I must take my product to market. This means blogging, social media, speaking, signings, etc.
Protracted Hours—Farmers are up before non-farmers and work longer hours than non-farmers if they hope to have a great harvest.
To be a successful writer, I must accept that long and wonky hours come with the career choice. I have a family and a day job and getting up early or working on weekends are part of the deal. Do I have to put in these wonky hours? No, there are no Writer Police who will drag me away for being lazy. But what kind of harvest can I expect if I treat my “farming” like a hobby and only do it when I am in the mood? Do farmers wait until they feel “inspired” to plow fields?
Periodic Disappointment—Farmers expect setbacks. There are storms and pests and molds that can ruin months of labor. Farmers plan for the worst and hope for the best, but they always return to the land.
As a writer, I have to expect set-backs and have a good attitude despite of my circumstances. Above all, I must consistently do my part….and return to the writing.
Trust & Patience—Farmers are a tremendous example in trust and patience. Farmers, despite technological advances still do what farmers did a thousand years ago, but on a larger scale with larger harvest. They trust the methods of the past, but don’t ignore the benefit of innovation. Farmers of today worry about weather, pestilence, and fluctuating market demand just like farmers did a thousand years ago, but they trust their hard work and planning to bear a harvest.
I heard a really great quote this morning, “Patience isn’t the ability to wait; it is your attitude while you are doing the waiting.” Wow.
I wanted to be a best-selling author like Dan Brown overnight. Writing, for me, has been an amazing teacher in patience, a character trait that, frankly, I still wonder if I even possess.
Writers today do the same thing as writers hundreds of years ago. We have to capture an audience’s attention and then keep their attention for the duration of our tale. We use characters, setting, narrative, dialogue, symbolism, etc. Like a farmer, the basics are still pretty much unchanged. Farmer— dirt, seeds, water and favorable weather. Writers—characters, plot, pacing, and favor from the audience.
Just like farmers have to grow crops comprised of tasty things people will want to eat (and part with their money to buy). I, too, as a writer must create a story people want to read (and part with their money to buy). To do this, I must trust time-proven methods while employing innovation and then have the patience to see everything through to publication.
Farmers have a healthy respect for the things beyond their control (storms, drought, pestilence, disease, market prices, competition, etc.). As a writer, I too need to possess a healthy respect for things beyond my control (agents, editors, publishing houses, contracts, distribution, rights, changes in the industry, changes in reader preferences).
There was a joke I heard about a delivery guy who stopped by a farmer’s home. Farmer Joe was sitting in the rocking chair on the front porch.
Delivery Man: So, Joe. Did you plant corn this year?
Farmer Joe: Nope. Worried that corn mold going around would ruin the crop.
Delivery Man: Did you plant wheat?
Farmer Joe: Nah. Market rates for wheat have been terrible. Worried I wouldn’t make a profit.
Delivery Man: Did you plant potatoes?
Farmer Joe: Oh, no. Was concerned the blight would get those.
Delivery Man: Well, what did you plant?
Farmer Joe: Planted myself right here in this chair.
As a writer I am blitzed daily with many things beyond my control. Are people reading less? Is the mid-list author disappearing? Will the bookstore be lost forever? Will traditional publishing collapse? But, while it is wise for me to be aware of my professional climate, there comes a time to say Enough.
I CAN control my attitude and that I am dutiful to do my part, every day in small ways. I have to trust that focusing on my responsibilities with a cheerful heart will one day bear harvest. I must expect work and lots of it. I must anticipate long and often weird hours. I must learn to trust the methods and be patient while waiting for success.
But add all of that together, and one day comes HARVEST!
Until next time…
And the mash-up…
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