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Question of the Month: Out of Your Hands

By Posted on 14 2 m read 987 views

Talk to me about how you stay calm and emotionally present when important parts of your lives are out of your hands.


This is the ARC of The Flicker of Old Dreams. ARC stands for either Advanced Reading Copy or Advanced Review Copy. It’s a free book that still has typos in it, and it goes out early to newspaper and magazine editors who might review it, as well as to authors who might offer a blurb for it.

Up until this point, you feel like you still have control over the book. You can still make small edits to the text. You can still dream big about the life it will have. You still have time, perhaps, to lose ten pounds or become an extrovert before you go on book tour.

But then you arrive at this place. And the novel that was such a private affair for all the years you wrote in your garage office or in the back of a café has now become something public. The ARC is sent far beyond your circle of kind friends, who would never say anything to hurt your feelings, and to people who might hate it and say so loudly. Or they might interpret the book or the characters in ways you never imagined or intended.

It’s out of your hands.

Reviewers will have their opinions. The book will have its own life outside of you.


We learn this again and again. We’re not in control of as much as we like to believe. We can do things to help. We can be proactive. But the art we send into the world becomes one more thing (like illness, rain, and the choices our loved ones make) that may impact us deeply and personally, but is not ours to steer.

So how do you make peace with what you can’t control, and get busy with what you can?

Talk to me in the comments.

I’ll end, as usual, by sharing the books I’ve read since my last post.

Tyehimba Jess, Olio
Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, Bittersweet
Mona Simpson, Anywhere but Here
Julia Fierro, The Gypsy Moth Summer
Maile Meloy, Do Not Become Alarmed
David Niall Wilson, Gideon’s Curse: A Novel of Old Mill, NC
Robin Black, Life Drawing
Teju Cole, Blind Spot
Wendy Werris, An Alphabetical Life
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass


One last thing. Some sad news. We lost our beloved Steve in August and we miss him every day. I can’t say more here without breaking down, but I’ll be around in the comments.

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  • billie hinton
    September 4, 2017

    First, I am so sorry about Steve. I know how hard it is to say goodbye to animal family. There’s something about their dependence on us all their lives and their unconditional love that I think makes it especially difficult when we lose them. Big hugs as you move through this time.

    On coping with things not in my control: I used to put forth a super effort to do everything I could do to prepare/manage/even change the “thing” I wasn’t actually in control of. Hurricane possibly heading toward NC? I socked in horse feed, hay, dog/cat food, human food, water, batteries, charged every device in the house every few hours, topped off gas tanks, etc. etc. I still do this to a degree because certainly if the worst happened I want to have food for animals and for us, and the ability to make it through the kinds of things one usually gets in a hurricane. After seeing what Harvey did though I realize that even super prep can’t help you if the hurricane sits and dumps water to the point the entire area is under water!

    What I’m doing instead? Obsessing (as my 22-year old son told me last night) about things like him not yet having snow boots and living in Ithaca, NY. I’ve sent links to different pairs, asked for his thumbs up so I can order and have them delivered. He says what he needs right now is a new pair of sandals. LOL. I said thank goodness I got the winter coat even before he graduated from UNCA in May! Daughter told me Friday she needs business casual wear for her undergraduate research presentations starting in a couple of weeks. During a week when it feels like there are many larger things not in my control I seized on that like a lifeline and off we went to the mall, where we almost never go, and came home with a pricy but gorgeous blazer, slacks, blouse, and skirt. Check. I knocked that one off the list.

    After a lifetime of trying valiantly to assert control by preparation and organization, with some whirling dervish anxiety and panic in the process, I now know that at some point I can stop the cycle by admitting I don’t have control and that like everyone else on the planet, I will move through whatever happens, when it happens, one step at a time, doing what I can do to survive. As will my children. My brain goes to the worst possible scenario, sees it, then lets that go too. That’s when the peace comes.

    I can’t wait to read your book!

    • Susan Henderson
      September 4, 2017

      I’m an over-planner and love to be prepared, and so it’s been a process learning to give up control. Or, rather, learning I never really had all the control I believed I had. Same with my adult children, learning that my role has changed (even if my instincts haven’t) and that they are just fine without my advice or help.

      I love that we’re learning to be empty nesters at the same time. I like having the company.

      Thank you for your words about Steve and the animals in our lives. xo

  • billie hinton
    September 4, 2017

    Yes yes yes to your point that we’re not giving up our control so much as we are acknowledging that we never actually HAD it. And about the changing role as parent to young adults out in the world. I said last night to my son that it’s biological and I can’t help it, and it’s true to a degree, but certainly I have to put some effort into reminding myself that the instinct is not really needed at this point. Definitely feeling my way into this new phase of motherhood. 🙂

    A reading note: I’m in the middle of Claire Messud’s The Emperor’s Children and really enjoying her rich details and what feels like a luxurious sprawling story but is in fact well in hand, but seamlessly so that I the reader can just bask as it rolls forward.

    • Susan Henderson
      September 4, 2017

      I’ve heard such good things about Claire’s book. I’ll have to check it out.

      Yes to that biological instinct and the tricky navigating of this new phase. We’ll fumble through together! 🙂

  • Ric Marion
    September 4, 2017

    You hit the nail on the head about sending your hard worked prose out to a sometimes not receptive world. Back when I had a weekly column in a local daily newspaper, I would get requests from various right wing groups to promote them in my column, because I wrote about family, church and nature – so I must think just like they do. I asked my editor if I could write just one column – with my political and moral sensibilities – and she suggested it would be better to let them think whatever they wanted to, as I was unlikely to change any minds and they might just as well think the best of me.
    It was annoying, but every time it happened after that, I just sent a check to Planned Parenthood and called it good.
    Will they like it? Will they be changed in some way we don’t understand or foresee? All we can do as writers is do the best we can and put it out there.
    Sorry to hear about your pet. When our last one died, my wife said, no more. And, now we can take off at the last minute, just lock the house up and go, not worrying about who is going to feed the cats.
    I suppose it’s logical to compare our writing to our kids. You do the best you can, put them out there and hope they’ll thrive. Did I edit enough? Was that point clear enough? Was I too hard on them? How did they ever survive? Yeah, well, turns out the kids are all right. The one who wouldn’t read turns out to be a decent writer. Go figure.
    Your book will do just fine – can’t wait to get my hands on it.
    Am loving Caroline Leavitt’s book. Full of surprises. Thanks for picking my name out of the hat.

    • Susan Henderson
      September 4, 2017

      I always like reading your responses–they’re wise and grounding.

      That’s quite a story about being torn by the fraction of your audience that is dedicated because they misunderstand what you’re about. I like that you found a way to stay true to your core.

      And you summed up perfectly how editing and parenting leave you questioning if you could do more, do better.

      So glad you’re enjoying Caroline’s book! Did you get a painted bookmark??

      • Ric Marion
        September 5, 2017

        I did indeed. oversized bookmark, with coffee cups, a glass with ice and a straw, and a fork, signed, no less.
        And a marvelous dedication in the book itself. I am so delighted.
        So now, you get to play the waiting game, to see if the world is going to love your book (they will) and if all those months of writing will bring you the fame and fortune you deserve.

        • Susan Henderson
          September 5, 2017

          I love that you got such personalized gifts from Caroline. She is the best.

          So I’ve never been good at waiting. What I will probably do, rather than fret, is walk and run a little more. That seems to free my mine. And then I’ll dive into the next writing project that is still too unformed to call “a book” just yet.

  • GC Smith
    September 4, 2017

    Hi Susan;

    First, I’m sorry about Steve. It’s that part of life that we never want but can’t avoid. But still, it is difficult to lose a friend, a family member, a beloved pet.

    As to things being out of our hands that also is much of life. My novel, To Live And Die In Dixie is with several agents who have yet to get back to me. Meantime, we’re trying to sell our home in the South Carolina Lowcountry and buy another in Greenville, the western mountainous part of the State. We have a contract on a house contingent on selling our current home. So, that part of life is also out of our hands.

    Fortunately I’m sort of like Alfred E. Newman from Madd Magazine. “What me worry?” I don’t. I just keep busy with other things. As well as writing I do carpentry, auto and boat mechanics, golf, cooking, and I read, a lot. I’ve also written some short stories and poetry while I wait. Those things keep my mind from wasting time on what I cannot control.

    I’m spending a lot of time these days with medieval British history, of which my wife Mimi is something of an expert. She has me hooked. Confusing genealogies, not to mention the many similar names is a great puzzle. I think I like the royal bastards most. It’s a fun use of my time.

    Finally, while on the subject things out of ones hands, hurricane Irma churns the ocean. So, I’m watching that and hoping it does not track to us. Dissipation in the middle of the Atlantic would be its ideal end.

    So, in all, there’s not anything to be done with what’s out of ones hands. Keeping busy, which I find easy, is IMO the best interim activity.


    • Susan Henderson
      September 4, 2017

      Thank you for your words about Steve.

      I think there’s a lot of wisdom in the idea of keeping busy with many interests and moving forward, rather than fretting about something once you’ve let it go. Still, I hope you hear great news about To Live and Die in Dixie!

      Greenville sounds just gorgeous. A great place to ponder royal bastards and get back to your many, many skills and arts!

      I’ll be thinking of you and my southern friends, hoping Irma spins out into the sea.

  • Jennifer Haupt
    September 4, 2017

    Dearest Susan, first and foremost, I am so sorry for your loss.

    This post is so timely for me (as you know!). Honestly, it doesn’t help me to try and be of the mind that I’m not in control of anything or that I need to give up control… I love that philosophy but it’s not true to who I am. I am a card-carrying control freak — especially when it comes to my novels! So, 7 months out from publication of novel #1, I’m trying to control what I can — and, there is a lot that I can control. I can organize and plan. I can get a support system in place. I can ask for help from generous authors (like you) and friends who have skills/time to lend.

    And, here’s the thing that helps me most and I have total control over: I can remember who I am and what’s important to me. I love creative writing: fiction and essay and book reviews and memoir. I can work on my other projects every day, first thing in the morning, before the crazies set in. I can also be compassionate with myself when the crazies set in and I’m checking my Goodreads Giveaway 3 times in 2 hours to see if anyone else has entered. I can be ok with being depressed that not as many people are entering as I’d like or knowing that I’ll be depressed when I get a disappointing review. Compassion is, I suppose, a form of control

    End of brain dump. Big Love to you, m’dear.
    – Jen

    • Susan Henderson
      September 4, 2017

      Well, that just spun my head in an entirely different direction. I never ever thought about compassion as being a way to seize control of all the fear and anxiety that life brings. Wow. I’m just going to let that sink in. This idea may just change my life. xo

  • Lucinda Kempe
    September 5, 2017

    Hi Susan!

    Well, I’m not where you are with a work being shot into the world. But I am close. I have sent a draft I am very happy with to my thesis advisor. By Christmas, it will be to its other two readers–I only have one other reader but there’s time to gather a third. I have not given it to trusted readers yet. But I will. Then who knows. The next step will be to find a copy editor. I’m not looking for content editor – I’ve got this. What I wonder is if this non PC book will be published. It’s a book I love that I wrote the way I wanted to and it will remain that way or Not go into the world. That thought gives me terror and joy. I have a choice and no one’s going to take it away.

    • Susan Henderson
      September 5, 2017

      I’m glad you’re happy with your draft! Sending all good wishes as it lands in the hands of your thesis advisor! 🙂

Susan Henderson