How Can a Writer Plan for the Future When the Future’s So Unpredictable?

But seriously, how?

You don’t know.

You wish you did. You think you do.

But you don’t.

All writers have dreams. We’re good at imagining hypothetical scenarios that may or may not happen — it’s how our brains are wired, so to speak. We can picture in our heads where we want to end up. Signing copies of our own books in a bookstore. Speaking at a writing conference. At the front of a room, responsible for teaching young writers. On the scene, ready to report the details of a breaking news story.

Any of these things could happen. Or not.

When I was 17, I composed a private journal entry in which I laid out everything I was going to accomplish in the next five years. Most people don’t make plans like this, but I wanted to. I needed some certainty in my life. I craved it.

That journal is in a box somewhere in storage, but I remember bits and pieces of that plan. Mostly, I was going to have an agent before I finished my English degree three years from then. That’s what I wanted. That’s what I’d been told I could make happen, if I worked hard enough.

That — and many other plans I laid out on paper that day — did not, or have yet to, happen.

I am a writer — it is my profession. But I do not write in any capacity I would have expected to write within all those years ago. Nothing’s like I planned.

But is that really so bad?

OK. Fine. You get it. Plans change. The future is uncertain. Writing, as a career, is pretty weird.

But. How. Do. We. Deal?

How are you supposed to set goals and keep writing when everything could change tomorrow?

What if the book you want to work on never gets published?

What if the pilot you’re pouring your heart and soul into never gets made?

What if your dreams never come true?

What if?

What if?

Then what?

You write.

When you’re tired of working on the same story and it’s no longer the thing you believe you’re meant to do, you write something else.

When things throw you off course and you no longer know what you want to do with your life, even if no one else ever sees it, you still write anyway.

When you’re not sure if you’re good enough or unique enough or worthy enough, when it doesn’t seem like you should even bother, you just keep writing, because there’s nothing else.

You write poems. Songs. Plays. Epic fantasies. Anything. Everything. Until one day, something clicks.

There’s no planning for the future. It just happens.

You write your way onto the right path somehow. It happened to me. It will happen to you.

As long as you never stop writing, it will remain part of your future. Maybe in a big way. Maybe in a very small one.

You can make all the plans you need to. What you can’t do is fall apart when things change. Writing will get you through it. You just have to trust your creative instincts, and find the path that suits you. It might be the one you’re most passionate about. The one that will support you financially, for now. The one that will serve as your springboard to where you really want to be.

Write, always. Your future is uncertain because your life is a story. You’re not supposed to know the ending. You’re not supposed to figure out how all the loose ends fit together yet. Not now. Someday.

Until then … you know what to do.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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