There are many opportunities for a writer to put his attention where it shouldn’t be. Perhaps you have just sold your first book and you are wondering what the reviews will be like; perhaps you have just finished a draft and are getting ready to show it your writing group and are worried about what they will say; perhaps you have just begun your first short story are and wondering if you will be able to finish it. There is no way to absolutely ensure you won’t be sucked into this kind of deadly prognostication. Contentment, which always lies in the moment, is not a fixed point on a grid. You will never locate contentment and go to it and stand there, feet nailed to the floor.
Rather, the job of the writer, and of anyone trying to get from one place to another, is balance. It is as if you are crossing on a narrow beam. Your job is to learn to balance on that beam and find your way across. You will certainly lose your balance from time to time; you will certainly think about other writers or critics or sales – but that does not mean you cannot regain your balance.
I was once told that the best way to walk across a ledge is to keep your eyes on a spot a few feet in front of you. This is good advice for writers. Keep your eyes just ahead of you, enough to know where you’re going. Don’t try to see the other end of the beam, and for God’s sake, don’t look down. Balance takes practice, nothing more. It’s not complicated, it’s not for the gifted, it’s there for anyone willing to take another step.