Zen and the Art of… Disappointment

by Laura Anne Gilman

I often refer to “Zen and the art of writer maintenance,” and I’m only slightly tongue-in-cheek.  But achieving even a hint of Zen-inspired serenity is difficult, especially when you have a brain that’s trained to look at a scenario and spin off potential threads.  “Shutting down our brains” isn’t something that happens easily, if at all.

One of the many ways we screw ourselves up is that faint thought in our heads that says “when I hit X, everything will work.  Everything will go smoothly.  I won’t get dumped on or overlooked or screwed over any more.”

You’re laughing right now, because you know that’s insane – but there’s part of you that recognized the thought, wasn’t there?  Even when we know better, we still believe in this mythical “X” point.

The truth is that, along with the occasional joys and successes, into every writer’s life come the things that fall through. The options that are never picked up, the movie deals that stall, the projects that are cancelled, and endless variations through every year and day of your career. They’re not even things that you can maybe use later: it’s dead, Jim.

Recently, I finally had to accept the probability that a project I’d been really excited about isn’t going to happen.  The checks are cashed, so I can’t even say I’ve been hard done by, but after a few years of saying “well, maybe…” about the publisher getting their act together, I’ve put the project on the shelf of “forever pending,” and closed the cabinet door.

My point is that this happens to everyone.  Everyone.  Newbies, famous folk, and the rest of us in-between.  Not everything is Midas-touched.  Sometimes, you get the Gorgon.  And it’s not even a dread Learning Experience.  It’s just something that happens.

So how do you escape the ohcrapohhellnowwhat of disappointment, much less reach any level of serenity,  when that’s forever on your shoulder?  You learn to roll with it, because the only other option is to throw yourself onto your sofa, sobbing at the Unfairness of the World, and that gets boring the fifth or sixth time (trust me on this).

Don’t linger over it, don’t hold a grudge – or a wake.  Let go. Go on.

It may not achieve serenity, but it will let you get to the next project without baggage.  And may even be better!


About Laura Anne Gilman

Laura Anne is a recovering editor-turned-novelist, with an Endeavor Award, a Nebula nomination, another Endeavor award nomination and a Washington State Book Award nomination under her belt. Her most recent series is the award-winning "Devil's West" trilogy, starting with SILVER ON THE ROAD, and her same-universe story collection, WEST WINDS' FOOL, AND OTHER STORIES OF THE DEVIL'S WEST. The novella GABRIEL'S ROAD was published by Book View Cafe on April 30th, 2019. Her Patreon, featuring original fiction, writing advice, and original Rants, is at https://www.patreon.com/LAGilman Learn more at www.lauraannegilman.net, where you can sign up for her quarterly newsletter.


Zen and the Art of… Disappointment — 2 Comments

  1. This is very good advice. There’s an aspect that often makes it hard for me to follow this advice. It comes down to Right and Wrong. Sometimes “moving on” amounts to saying something isn’t Wrong. That’s where I get hung up. I don’t want to condone the Wrongness.

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