Thursday, February 28, 2013

Five Tips On Managing Change

An emperor called upon a wise man and posed him this challenge: “Give me advice that will make me happy in a time of sadness, and sad in a time of happiness.” The wise man smiled knowingly and replied: “This too shall pass.”

With so many Luckies debuting this Spring—and dozens more coming throughout 2013, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and hope that the awesome will never end. The one constant in life, however, is change.   

Sometimes, like with the successful launch of your very first novel, Change can be a good thing. Sometimes it can be a change that’s both unwanted and feared. But we all have to successfully navigate the process of change if we want to grow and develop—whether as writers or as human beings.

But how do you manage change effectively when there is chaos all around you (like in your debut year, or say, the zombie apocalypse), when so much is out of your control (ditto), when you don’t have enough time to get everything done (ditto), and when your emotions sometimes get the better of you (you get the idea)?

Voila five tips to get you started! 

1. Be Prepared (aka Go with the Flow) 

Change is going to happen. It just is. For most of us, life won’t stay comfy and it won’t stay hard. You won’t always be a newb (or so I keep telling myself) or the smartest, most experienced person in the room. Don’t lament the fact that the times they are a’changing… that’s like lamenting gravity (although, I do that sometimes, too.)

How do you get ready for change? Be present in the moment, vs. living in the past. Don’t think of what was—focus on what is, and what may be. The more adaptable and flexible you are (while still keeping true to your ideals and moral compass), the more you’ll be able to manage change effectively. 

2. Pay Attention

Pay attention to your surroundings—both the people and your environment. What’s shifting? What are you intuitively picking up? You can’t control those around you, but you can recognize what they’re doing and make adjustments or decisions accordingly.  The best way to handle change, however, is to keep out in front of it…and you can do that by paying attention. 

3. Recognize Where You Are in the Process (and that there is a Process) 

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified several stages of coping with death, which is perhaps the biggest change many of us will face in our lives. But her stages work for many types of change. I’ll go ahead and tweak them for, say, revisions:

  • The early stages include shock and denial (refusing to believe what has happened and instead believing everything will be all right or that you don’t really have to gut your work and add an alien baby)
  • Then comes guilt (at not having done or said more…or for having done too much… or, say, not having read your work out loud)
  • and anger (at your work, yourself, your editor, the universe, the UPS guy…)
  • Later, you pass through the stages of acceptance (it’s your work, and it takes work)
  • and finally, you move on. (Chocolate may be involved with this step.)

4.  Keep the lines of communication open 

Whether it’s change that you’re dealing with alone, or if you’re in a group-change situation (say, the zombie apocalypse), don’t clam up. Talk to others—your support group, the people who are affected by this change, professionals—to make sure that you are understanding what’s going on and working through change positively. 

5. See the big picture 

Change is going to happen, and you’re going to get through it (unless it really is the zombie apocalypse; then, all bets are off.) It may be messy, you may be a little banged up at the end, but you’ll be stronger for the experience. I wish I could say once you are through it, you’ll be safe… but in the end, always remember, “this too shall pass.” So savor each tremendous joy, each precious experience… and let the bad stuff roll over you and right on by. 

Because just up there on the horizon, your next change is coming. And it’s going to be a doozy.

What about you? What tips and strategies do you have for change?

Jennifer McGowan has been writing fiction since well before she knew any better. A past Romance Writers of America Golden Heart winner and 2011 Golden Heart finalist, Jenn is represented by agent extraordinaire Alexandra Machinist, of Janklow & Nesbit.

Jenn's debut novel, MAID OF SECRETS, will be published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers on May 7, 2013. You can find Jenn at Goodreads, online and on twitter.

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