Writing is a lot like driving in the snow.
It takes a fair amount of practice before you are able to confidently keep yourself from careening into a snowbank. You need to stay focused, proceed slowly and with caution. Be mindful of others on the road, but don’t get too close – in other words, pay more attention to your own vehicle rather than worrying about what everyone else is doing. And mostly, be prepared for the skid. That moment when you feel a loss of control, your tires are desperate for traction, and slamming on the brakes will only make it worse. When your instinct tells you to turn the wheel in the opposite direction because that will keep you on the straight and narrow.
But anyone who has ever driven in snow knows: when you start to lose control, take your foot off the gas and turn into the skid. Don’t ask me to explain the physics, just trust me on this one. I learned to drive in Buffalo. We know snow. And I’ve had my fair share of HOLY CRAP moments when the car does the opposite of what you want it to. My first vehicle was a rear-wheel drive that I nicknamed The Boat. That bad boy fishtailed like nobody’s business. And once, in my little Civic, I made a left hand turn that kept going until I faced in the complete opposite direction of where I had intended to go.
Writing has its share of skids. You’re cruising along, slowly and carefully. Then you send your story/novel/query letter to a beta reader, or if you are feeling especially brave – an agent or editor. Then feedback comes and suddenly you feel yourself careening off the road. You want to slam on the brakes. Give in and slide right off the road and into the shoulder. Or try to crank the wheel in the opposite direction, saying forget it – I’ll never make it as a writer.
Don’t. Ride the skid. Turn into it. Let yourself be out of control for a moment or two. Maybe you’ll end up in the snowbank anyway. It happens. That’s why you carry a shovel in your car, extra blankets, and a bottle of water. After the feedback, you may need to dig yourself out. That’s okay. The important thing is to get back on the road. Cry a little first. Eat some chocolate. Pet the cat. Call a friend.
You are the driver on this journey. You can’t control the weather, you can’t control what other idiots are on the road trying to keep you from getting to your destination. But you are the one behind the wheel. You know when to put your foot on the gas, when to apply the brake, and when to let go of everything and turn into the skid.