Becoming an Adaptable Writer
Writers are often faced with struggle in some form or fashion; if it isn't writer's block, rejection letters, or time-management, I continuously have issues with my own expectations. While each writer has a different goal for their writing career, I think it is safe to say that many of us are not where we thought we would be.
The world of writing is filled with endless possibilities and dreams of being a New York Times Bestselling Author, or you know, J.K. Rowling, among many other highly successful stories we long to experience ourselves, but often times, it falls flat. It turns the world of writing into utter heartbreak at times.
I am only 21 years old and nowhere near being an expert on the subject of writing, but I am an expert in setting overly-ambitious goals and feeling defeated when I inevitably do not meet them.
My real writing journey began in middle school, when my family encouraged me to write a memoir about my freak accident. At the time, I had very unhealthy coping mechanisms, so every time I tried to write about it, I dissolved into tears. I didn't want to write about me; my passion was for fiction anyway.
I spent my middle school years writing on a website called Miss Literati under the pen name ElleBlondie, (you can thank Legally Blonde for that), and I had about fifteen novel ideas going at once.
I would spend hours writing a back-cover summary for a novel idea I had only about half-cooked up (boy, have my planning habits changed), and I made friends with many other writers and artists, some of whom helped me by creating book covers for my novel ideas. I developed new worlds and storylines constantly, so I never made it past chapter three in each work in progress.
Basically, I had committed myself to so many books at once that I could never write enough of one to finish it. Eventually, I abandoned each and every one.
Then, one day, I had the inspiration for my very first finished manuscript, Undeniably Underestimated, in the latter part of my 8th grade year. In about a week, I had planned the entire book, chapter by chapter. It was the first time I truly outlined a manuscript, and just like that, I fell in love with my characters and the plot.
After writing a few chapters, I showed them to my English teacher at the time. Out of the goodness of her heart, she shared my work with an author seeking publication that she knew to give me advice on how to follow the footsteps towards publication myself.
My mom told me a few weeks ago that this was the moment she knew I would be an author, that both an experienced writer and English teacher thought my writing was going places at fourteen.
I had always wanted to be an author, but it was this moment that I put every ounce of energy I could muster into my writing, spent my Saturday mornings typing away like a maniac. I could no longer envision doing anything else with my life; I decided I was destined to be an author.
In July 2014, that book was named "Reader's Choice" for a week on the Miss Literati website. So, I put all of my eggs into the Undeniably Underestimated basket and wrote vigorously until May 2015, finally finishing my first manuscript at about 100,000 words.
I decided right then that I would land a book deal before I graduated from high school.
Three years, I thought, I can do that!
I spent the next three years editing, staring at the computer screen until my eyes crossed, adding more and more descriptions and plot points, taking my word count up to 130,000, and I even attended a writing conference in which many ladies who did not read Young Adult fiction complimented my work.
I was incredibly serious about my writing.
These are nice memories, ones in which I can still feel the exhilaration in my heart, pumping, pushing me forward. I was proud to be this aspiring author who held the key to her success right in her palms.
The thing is, I was so filled up with this wonderful confidence and excitement that I forgot to think about what would happen if I did not meet my goal of landing the book deal while in high school. The three years came and went, and my energy did, too.
I worked on that manuscript for so long, had poured so much of myself into it, that I never started another project, even when I wanted to. I convinced myself that this was the only way. In my eyes, being an author required such commitment to my goals, and I let my ambition drive me.
If you want to read more about this, please check out the letter I wrote to myself at 16.
Eventually, I let my manuscript go and began another one, this time not spending as long writing and editing, but I was overwhelmed by my ambition and this need to publish soon, otherwise, who was I?
Over the years, I have thought of my ambition as an asset, but I have realized that I'm running as fast as I can and still not getting anywhere. I now understand that I need to change my writing and goal-setting habits so I may be able to accomplish something more than running in place.
At fourteen, I thought I would have been published by now, because my family said it was possible. I think many aspiring authors deal with the consequences of having high expectations, especially young aspiring authors, and some decide to self-publish instead, give up entirely, or keep running the race.
I have been struggling with this idea so much over the last year. I desperately wanted 2020 to be my year that I land the book deal, and if I hadn't been forced to reflect on myself and my choices this year due to the pandemic, I would probably have decided 2021 would be my year to land the book deal.
Instead, I will become an adaptable writer in 2021.
If you are tired of letting your ambition take the reigns, maybe you can do it with me.
Here are the steps I am taking on becoming an adaptable writer in 2021, relinquishing control, and just enjoying my year as a writer.
1. Set Realistic (and SMART) Goals
I have always set goals I found to be realistic. For example, I thought that I could polish a manuscript and get a literary agent in the span of three years in high school. This goal was totally doable... except that I cannot control when I land a book deal. No matter how good my writing is, or how many times I edit the manuscript, or send it out to agents, I will never be able to predict if or when an agent will like my writing. (By the way, I only sent one query letter while in high school because I never felt like the manuscript was good enough, so that was not taking the necessary steps to complete my goal in the first place.)
The goal of landing a book in high school actually was not a goal; it was a dream.
Now, I'm not saying to disregard your dreams for writing! Of course you have your desires, but the dream itself is not a manageable goal; it is a hopeful plan that may or may not fail because it is outside of your control.
SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Bound, and for many people, this is the best way to set a goal.
If I am judging how my goal of "landing a book deal while in high school," I would say that my goal was specific because I knew exactly what I wanted: the big 5 publication, and it was pretty straight forward. It was also measurable because I could set milestones like editing, submitting query letters, establishing an online presence, etc. It was also time-bound, for better or worse. The issue with my goal was that I could argue it was realistic, but I could never be able to confirm whether it was achievable because I was not in control of when a story would be accepted.
This definition of goals has drastically changed my outlook on my plans to be an author.
After high school graduation, I made a "goal" to be a published author by the time I'm 25, so by the year 2024/2025. Again, this is not a realistic or achievable goal when I am not in control of when a manuscript would get accepted. Instead, this is my ideal dream.
A real goal I can make is making steps to begin seriously querying at the beginning of 2022, but I cannot set a goal to be published at a specific time. So, setting myself up for querying is one of my new SMART goals.
If we continue to make goals to which we cannot control the outcomes, we will never be able to achieve them.
To be more adaptable, I must learn to put aside my own unrealistic expectations and aim for attainable goals that depend on my actions.
2. Allow Plans and Goals to Change When Necessary
Along with being too ambitious for my own good, I like to plan everything in advance, and I become very stressed when things have to change.
For example, I wanted to finish writing my Double Vision II manuscript by the end of the 2020, but when I did not get around to it, because I was taking time to recharge before my last semester of my undergraduate degree, I began to feel this sense of relief that I was not on some sort of self-set deadline.
I can take the time to write whatever I want, whenever I want.
This should be freeing. This should be a way to actually prioritize your true passion projects.
Sometimes, we have to set a deadline to make sure things get done, but I decided to let it be, allowing my goals and plans to change. Sometimes, they will have to.
This feeling is very new to me, but I am excited to challenge myself to relax.
3. Prioritize What Makes You Happy
This goes hand in hand with changing goals when necessary, but it is important to change what you are doing if the goals you set are not making you happy.
I had big plans to crack down on my memoir project once the new year hit, and I have yet to do so. Most of this has been stress and school-related, but I also found that I was not in the mood for it, so I did not force it.
This past week, I decided to write an impromptu short story and poem, submitting them to places where they could get published. (I've already received a rejection for the poem, but that's okay because I am glad I tried something new.) At first, I was hesitant to do this because I did not want to take time away from my plans.
Then, I realized that the short story and poem get me a step closer to my short story and poetry goals for 2021, and it was something I actually wanted to do. This inspired me, brought life into my writing, and I think overall, taking the time to write what makes me happy, even when it disrupts my plan, will make me a better writer.
Being happy is the best plan to have in life; writing should not be a chore, so I am glad I took the time to prioritize the writing I was excited about.
4. Be Comfortable in Your Discomfort
Like I said, I am very new to these feelings, and they can be uncomfortable. Actually, they are very uncomfortable for me. These actions make me a little anxious, but I am learning what is best for me.
The only way to become more comfortable in this discomfort is by practicing. I am actually excited to have this challenge for myself as it does not involve so much pressure. This is a form of prioritizing my mental health, and I am excited to grow through this experience.
Besides, it is not productive to continue these overly-ambitious habits; the best way forward is being adaptable.
I want to begin feeling more comfortable in this endeavor. The more I do it, the more comfortable I will become, and I will make a realistic plan on how to get there.