What if you couldn’t screw it up?

I’ve noticed on some of the writer forums and blogs I check out, and in some of my classes, that there is this obsession with getting it right.

What’s the right way to plot, some ask. How should this work?  What do editors want to see?  What should they focus on, or ignore?

Or, if they’ve sold:  what’s the right way to promote?  What’s works, what doesn’t, and how do they make the time for it all?

Ultimately, I think that what they’re asking is:

What can I do that will make sure I succeed?

I feel for them.  I didn’t even realize until this year just how much this question permeated my life.

I’ve got books out, and more coming.

I’ve been freaking out, despite my intentions to the contrary.

But, in true ask-and-you-shall-receive style,  here’s the thing that I am getting hit with left and right this year:

What can I do that will make me succeed?


There is nothing I can do to guarantee that I’ll succeed. I could blog three times a day, build a platform that could launch a space shuttle, write a novel that would make the angels weep.

And it still might not work.

But you know what?

That’s the good news. 

Yes, you read that right.   I have no control over the success or failure of my book.

And that is awesome.

By saying that I have no control over the success or failure of my book, I’m not saying that I can now blissfully ditch that whole writing debacle and live a quiet life of meditation while becoming a Walmart greeter.

I’m not saying that I am going to crawl under a rock, pretending that my book releases are not happening — on the assumption that I still have book releases.

I’m powerless over the results, yes.

That’s not the same as helpless.

It doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t do things.  It means that I can do what I feel, in my gut, is right — and then let go of what happens afterwards.

There’s an element of accidental Buddhist here.  There’s detachment.  I can want something (namely, success for my book) without being crushed if I don’t get it.  I can look at what I might want in the future, and what resonates with me in the present that lines up with what I want then.

I’m probably sounding like a goob, or terribly obvious, but bear with me — this has been a big one this week.

So what would promotion look like, in this new world order?

I am proud of my book, and love it.  Therefore, I want people who would genuinely enjoy it to know about it, because if I were them, I’d want to know about it.  Connecting with my Right Readers isn’t a chore, or at least shouldn’t be — it’s just touching base with friends.  It’s demonstrating gratitude that they’re in my life.

It could be doing five nice things.

It could be giving presents.

And if I don’t make a bestseller list, hey… writing letters to friends doesn’t suck.

The same goes for writing the book.

If I’m so stressed about writing it in a way that will guarantee success… well, my Muse will not be happy.  I’ve discovered she does not like being a wage slave.  She’s a servant of story, not one of my employees.

If that means I make my livelihood on something other than writing to keep her happy, well, I’ll have to suck it up and do that.  (Note:  this does not apply to everybody, or maybe even most people.  I’m just speaking for me, here.)

But it doesn’t mean that I stop writing.  I don’t write because I want to make gobs of money.  (Excuse me.  Had to stop laughing enough to keep typing that.)  I write because… well, I’m insane, and it’s my compulsion.   Stop writing?  Why not stop breathing while I’m at it? Puh-leeze.

I knew all of this.

I mean, I’d had bits and pieces of it.  I’ve posted about things related to it, I’ve read stuff about it.

But I also know that, in the thick of deadlines and launch dates, I’d ignore all these things I know, and run around like a headless chicken on crack.

The trick now is remembering it.

I can’t screw it up.

And God, does that feel good.




10 Replies to “What if you couldn’t screw it up?”

  1. You think you feel better? God, that’s freakin’ awesome. Honest to Buddha, one of your very best efforts. Evah!

    You crystalized so much of my thinking. Yes, I want my writing to succeed. But just what is success? Have I already achieved it? I think so… at least as far as my muse is concerned. She dished, I scribbled. The rest is important work, and I’m not ducking that fact, but I need to let go of the outcome. Work. Strive. Build. Make mistakes. Start again. Make sure all the carts are in the proper corral, so Walmart shoppers have easy access. And keep writing. That’s all I can do.

    Brilliant! Brava, my accidental Buddhist mentor!

  2. Yes, yes, yes. Nine days ago I released my first novel to Amazon. Since then I’ve sold seven copies (yes, I just checked). Not even enough to pay for my cover art. Nowhere near enough to pay for the hours, weeks, months, and years I spent shaping it through nine drafts and three major rewrites. Pretty shabby from a business standpoint.

    When I finished it, though — that moment when the finger next to my right pinky slipped down and hit the last “.” — all those man-hours were paid in full. That feeling of accomplishment was something greater than I had imagined. Since then my confidence as a writer has soared (unlike my sales). All week I’ve been thinking exactly what you just put into words. Until that moment I thought it would take impressive sales figures and rave reviews to validate me as a writer. No, it doesn’t. It only took finishing what I set out to do, and having it turn out exactly like I hoped it would.

    If it sells it sells. If not, I’ll just keep writing. It’s what I do.

  3. Cathy,
    This is my first time here. Clicked over via a RT from Justine Musk. So glad I did.

    I love the theme of this post and your dead sensible approach. I am asked similar questions about the “right” thing to do re: marketing and blogging, etc and my response is very similar. The truth is what works for one person (or even a group of people) may not work for you. There are so many variables and nuances that come into play – on your side of the equation, the audience side of the equation, the marketplace, and so on … the number of possible solutions is almost infinite.

    I believe in experimentation (more formally called “testing” in marketing circles) and learning from doing. You can spend all kinds of time (and money) coming up with The Perfect Plan, and still have it FAIL. Better, in my opinion, to take baby steps – try different things – see what feels right – see what earns you the response you were hoping for – pay attention to your audience’s reactions. Everything is changing SO fast these days – even if there was a single “right” way to do something, I bet it would change about every other month. It’d be a full time job just to keep up!

    Anyway – stepping off my soapbox now. Love the post. Love your style. Looking forward to more of your posts and connecting on Twitter. (@suddenlyjamie) 🙂


  4. Wow. This was music to my ears. “I can’t screw it up” Thank you, thank you, thank you. That is exactly what I needed to hear. I have just felt a ten tonne weight lift off my shoulders and evaporate into mist. If I was near you, and you didn’t run too fast, I would kiss you!

  5. Cathy, you are write on….pun intended. I published three books last year and just knew that if the right person read my work they would rush it to the movies….it didn’t happen ’cause those right people don’t normally read what I write! What I have done is attempt to get their wives to read my work but whether I do or not, I have made the attempt and you are so correct….after making as large a splash as you can at publish time….you need to relax and enjoy the feelings of a job well done….after all, it is our best work and dwelling on whether we become rich or not from those efforts is only self-defeating. Besides that…like you I feel a compulsion to write and feel incomplete when I am not writing…..thus after deciding which next project to write I march forward and when a subtle nudge spurs me to send one of my books to someone who might make a difference in the pocketbook, I follow up. Thank you for reminding me to relax and quit worrying about the $$….it’s the writing that truly spurs me on and needing to share either history or the future.

  6. This post really resonated with me. I honestly feel very little stress about being published. Granted, I haven’t started down that path yet, but I know I’ll get there. I just have this faith in the future and faith in myself so I don’t worry about all the little details in between. They’ll work themselves out. 🙂

  7. Yes! Especially the bit about connecting not being a chore.

    And it’s not just true for writing either.

    This is something I’ve been pondering a lot lately, as I start growing my seedling business and with my writing. I’ve been finding the courage to follow what my heart says is right for me and my business and writing and right people, rather than following someone else’s recipes.

    And the courage to let go of the expectations. This is just what I needed to read today. Thanks.

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