Tuesday, April 26, 2011

"U" Is For Uncertainty

My favorite Barista was working today.  She is a writer herself, though situations in her life have not allowed her to write much recently.  Since the store was dead, we had a chance to talk before I began an unproductive writing session that left me tempted to dive into an oncoming SUV and call it a life.

Anyway.  We began discussing the uncertainty of this writing - specifically, how does one justify spending so much time on a project with no guaranteed outcome.  Nobody will dispute the amount of time it takes to write and sculpt a novel.  And all writers are aware that time could be used for other things, specifically things that may yield more immediate results.

I don't remember much from twelfth grade Economics.  I do remember discussing opportunity cost, or the cost of an activity measured by the value of the alternative forgone.  By writing full-time, the income I would earn from what mortals consider a 'paying job' is my opportunity cost.   So, in the eyes of some, writing this book is costing me a great deal of money.

Everyone with a dream will eventually find themselves at the same fork in the road - the one where we choose to either follow a dream or do something more practical.  I went for the dream.  And I don't regret it.

The only thing I have ever griped about is the uncertainty of writing a novel.  Sometimes, I wish it worked like other careers - apply to agencies or publishing houses, pitch an idea, and get hired to write it if they become a fan.  Man, wouldn't that be nice?

But for good reasons, it does not work that way.  Nobody breaks into fiction until a book has been written.  For some, it takes years - and others, a few months.  Some rewrite a book ten times - others scrap books altogether.  Some accumulate hundreds of rejection letters - others hit the jackpot in their first round of queries.  We never know how the game will end, and for most of us, it's an unsettling feeling.

I try overlooking uncertainty by reminding myself nothing is guaranteed.  Going to college and earning a degree doesn't guarantee you a job any more than writing a novel guarantees publication.  The only thing we can do is continue pursuing our dreams and working toward our goals - the rest is out of our hands.  The only way to abolish uncertainty is to stop trying.  And then, we'll never know what might have been,

How do you overcome uncertainty?


  1. Very thoughtful post Paul. Writing a novel can be extremely uncertain but I also have a (half) day job teaching English, so any time I get to work on my novel is not costing me anything.

    Duncan In Kuantan

  2. It can be totally debilitating if you dwell on it too much. I think you have to drive through it, there's no wat to be sure so you might as well getthe thing done and see what happens.

  3. Some people like the thrill of the uncertain. I guess it reminds us we're alive and anything can happen. I DON'T overcome the uncertainty. I live with it because I want to write more than anything else. I do have my moments, though, where I say,"What the hell am I doing?" It's a constant rollercoaster.

  4. Paul, Good post. Well, for me, I have a great full-time job with good benefits and I can leave my work at work. I step out the door, work is forgotten, and my mind is on writing. I write evenings and weekends (my family is very supportive). I am the main bread-winner, so I can't just quit my job.

    So, that is how I handle uncertainty (I don't). I need a real paying job that I can count on. I do wish I had more time to write, but for now, this is what I have to do.

  5. It's not easy to handle uncertainty but I agree the only thing we can do is keep trying. Just stopped by from the A-Z Challenge.

  6. Duncan - I think it's the uncertainty of not knowing whether or not I'm on the right path - that fear others may never get to read the story I want shared. Of course, that is part of the game, I guess. We just have to always keep at it.

    Mood - You bring up a good point; uncertainty is part of the process, but we can't dwell on it. I try to pretend like I have a publishing deal when I'm writing. It helps me work a little harder. For me, it's the times between writing sessions where I struggle most.

    Michele - A rollercoaster in deed. I think feedback helps. I wish there were more opportunities for writers to seek feedback from writers - the way singers can go to karaoke or open mic. night. I feel we don't have as many opportunities BEFORE a novel is finished, and by then, we are so invested it can hurt even more.

    Dawn - Juggling writing and a career can be extremely difficult - and EXHAUSTING. I should probably clarify that my "extended vacation" (I like to call it a professional sabbatical) was not my choice. But, I figured I may as well use the time wisely. I think life has the tendency to grant us extra time through some 'not so great' circumstances. Keep plugging away!

    Sandy - Absolutely! If we stop trying, we have nothing to be uncertain about because we have given up. But then we never know what could have been, so I guess there is still some uncertainty floating around, huh? Thanks for stopping in!


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