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Worry Well

I’ve received a lot of very good advice in the last six months. Some of it I can’t keep in my head because too much has been swirling around. The remainder I repeat to myself daily. Like this:

If you must worry, don’t worry in quantity. Worry in quality. Worry well.

I am a champion worrier. Apparently a key component of my makeup is the phrase, “why be happy when you can brood?” I wouldn’t even hesitate to call my propensity for worry downright Olympian. Or even pathological.

Part of the problem is that I was trained as a child to anticipate and care for the needs of everyone around me before even thinking about my own. Part of it, I suspect, is inborn. Another part is my habitual insomnia. Sleeplessness breeds worry like food and oxygen breed Tribbles.

There’s been a lot of changes lately, not the least of which occurred yesterday and involved a metric ton of paperwork as well as some serious cash. I collapsed at home afterward and thought, my God, what have I done? My writing partner saved the day: “It’s called buyer’s remorse, and you should ignore it. This will make you and your kids safer. The way things were before wasn’t sustainable.”

She was right. This is just another instance where I have to worry well.

I often worry that my career will evaporate and I’ll be left with two little ‘uns to support and no means of doing so. It takes a physical effort, sometimes, to remind myself that pessimistic thinking has never really gotten me anywhere and can be downright unhealthy. I have to tell myself, sometimes out loud: If you think about that, Lili, you also need to think about what you’ll do if it doesn’t tank. What if you have a long, successful career? Focus on that, and what you need to do for that. This is healthier and strengthens your odds.

It’s that last part that really convinces even my muscular, overworked Inner Sceptic. I strongly believe that I got published because I work damn hard and I’m willing to learn. Discipline and teachability (in other words, the ability to admit I’d made a mistake and do better next time, which is critical if you’re thinking of getting published) are things I have some control over, and they’re incidentally things that up my chances.

I can’t control what happens tomorrow. I really can’t. But I can control how hard I work today, what priorities I set, and I can definitely control whether or not I admit I’m wrong. Those things happen to maximize my chances of having a good career–or, if the writing tanks, they prepare me to do other things.

I don’t honestly expect my writing career to tank. Sure, tomorrow the publishers could decide I’m not a good risk or readers could decide en masse I’m a hack who isn’t worth the cash spent on a paperback. It could happen. But it’s far more likely that if I keep my head about me I will eke out a living by the written word, seeing as how I’ve come this far. And there is a great deal of this that is up to me.

You see, worry is only very rarely about what you’re actually worrying about. Just like anger is most often about perceived or real helplessness, a lot of worry revolves around control. (Which is, I guess, another response to perceived or actual helplessness.) Realizing that is a huge component of worrying well and effectively instead of flailing around at three in the morning, exhausting yourself and just generally being an idiot.

So now I have to go worry well over these revisions. The book doesn’t suck as much as I thought it might. Then again, I’m only halfway through and there’s plenty of time for things to go wrong…

…or really, really right.

See what I mean?

Over and out.

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