Even if you live in a ghost town, you can connect with writers all over the world, via blogs, social media, forums.
The downside to all this connectivity?
Someone, somewhere, is going to say something to piss you off. It will seem blatantly ignorant, wildly unfair, or simply, utterly wrong.
You are going to see other writers who seem vastly unqualified achieving levels of success and stardom while you continue to plod along, unrecognized and unrewarded.
You’re going to see fellow writers get into squabbles, celebrating schadenfreude and snickering about the “behind the scenes” dirt.
And at some point, you’re going to dive in. A comment here. A flame war there. Suddenly, what was just a diversion is now a soul-consuming drive.
The secret to serenity.
And now, a joke. Sort of.
A harried Type A businessman went to a yogi, high on the top of a hill.
“They say you have the secret to serenity,” the businessman puffed, mopping at his brow. “I have high blood pressure, I am stressed beyond belief, and I am at the end of my rope. Teach me the secret.”
The yogi smiled beatifically (as yogis tend to do.) He then rummaged around and presented the man with a large bottle. Inside the bottle was a live duck, swimming placidly in the water trapped inside.
“This will teach you,” the yogi said. “Get the duck out of the bottle, without breaking the bottle, or killing the duck.”
The businessman was baffled, but he’d faced tough challenges before. Swearing to have it solved in two weeks, he took the bottle and went about solving the problem.
In two weeks, he returned, looking more frazzled than before. “There has to be some trick,” he groused. “This is impossible. There has to be a cheat or something.”
The yogi simply smiled, then told him to come back in two weeks.
In another two weeks, the man looked half insane. His eyes were bulging, his clothes were unkempt, and he was furious. “I am going to smash this bottle and wring the duck’s neck if you don’t tell me how to get it out!”
The yogi simply smiled, and told him again: come back in two weeks.
Another two weeks, and the man returned. This time, he was the picture of calm.
“I figured it out,” he said. “The secret to serenity. I finally got it.”
He then handed the intact bottle to the yogi, with the duck still swimming inside.
He grinned. “It’s not my bottle. And it’s not my duck.”
Is it your duck? Really?
As writers, we control all the elements of our story. We create people, places, and events out of whole cloth. (Of course, if anyone has ever had a character “surprise” you or a scene jump the tracks, you know that even this control is a bit illusory.)
Because we exercise so much control over our worlds, sometimes we think we can exert more control over the outside world than we actually can.
We can’t control people, places, or things. We can only control our actions and, perhaps more importantly, our attitudes towards the people, places and things surrounding us.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care about things. By our nature, and the nature of writing, we need to feel passionately or our fiction will fall flat.
But when we devote our time and attention to things we can’t control, we siphon off energy that would be better spent on our creativity. We are killing the wrong darlings.
How can you tell if it’s your duck or not?
Are you engaging to learn – or are you engaging to prove someone else is wrong? It’s easy to dogpile on the latest “trashy” bestseller, pointing out its multitude of flaws.
But is that improving your writing? Is it moving your career further? Or is it just a momentary balm, like plowing through a bag of candy?
Think about the effect. Are you trying to say that those who enjoyed and made the book a bestseller are wrong, as well? Would you better served trying to learn more about your own audience instead?
Are you engaging to present your point of view? While it’s seductive, I am almost 100% positive that absolutely no blogger’s mind has been changed by a brilliant and long-worded comment on his post.
I am all for discourse, but after a certain point, you’re just playing tug of war where there cannot be a winner. Eventually, all you can do is drop the rope, disgruntled, and claim you won the fight… or would have, if he’d played fair. But how much time did you lose in that struggle?
Are you gossiping? Again, like sugary foods, there can be a momentary rush, a delicious high. But after too much, there’s a crash – and you’re left feeling a bit nauseous.
Honestly, that’s one of the best ways to tell. After you’re done engaging, how do you feel? Better? Or worse?
Your talisman: “What do I hope to accomplish here? Is this in my control?”
Before you type, talk, post, whatever, ask yourself the above two questions.
If you want to say something because you feel it’s important, let go of the outcome. Say it because you feel it needs to be said, not because of how you want it to be received.
This is something I still struggle with – and often fail at – every single day. But it’s something I strive for.
I write what I feel strongly about. I let go of the outcomes.
And I stick to my own ducks.
How about you? Is there any pitfall you find yourself trapped in – social media, flame wars, gossip, comparison? What’s your solution to minding your own duck?