Hold Your Rudder

If there is one thing all unpublished writers would agree they have in common it would probably be their desire to be published. This is so obvious it would seem not worth mentioning if not for this: unpublished writers do not actually want to be published. All a writer seeking publication wishes is the feeling he or she believes will accompany the experience of having their work published.

This difference may sound like so much semantics, but do not be fooled. Nobody knows for sure what anything will be until they get there. Nothing. Not publication, not marriage, not children, not a job—nothing at all. We’ve heard rumors, we’ve made educated guesses, but the future remains its same inscrutable self until it becomes the present.

So you set your sights on some distant landmark and begin traveling. But you keep your eyes open, because you remember that you are only looking for what feels good. If you start off headed toward novelist and find poetry makes you happier, change course. Or perhaps teacher, or literary agent, or editor . . . or, perhaps in fact novelist, just as originally planned.

The physical outcome does not matter. No one has ever actually wanted to be anything but happy. Just as you must learn to listen to your characters and allow them to guide you where they wish to go, so too must you listen to yourself when you feel pulled from some plan you laid once upon a time.

The worst and easiest trap to fall for is: I must be such-and-such to be happy. No. You must be happy, period. Let your contentment be your rudder, and the details of your life will shape around the course it steers. It is not that you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket, it is that the basket doesn’t even exist because there is nothing to hold. Your hopes are not a pile of eggs to be treasured and coddled—your desire is a river, and the only thing you need to be happy is to stay on it.

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