Sue, training her knee to work again post-surgery
This is a love letter to my fellow writers.
I'm hearing a lot of crying out for balance - writers who are tired after being in the game five years or more, newbies who are burning out fast and convinced they can't succeed, friends who have sacrificed family time and health to build a publishing career only to hit the wall.
Even before I blew out my knee and embarked on an epic journey of physical therapy and surgery (still doing PT, but getting better!), 2015 was the year of Finding Balance for myself. I knew I wanted to do this writing thing for the long-haul, and that required getting serious about my mental and physical health in order to keep in the game. I hadn't hit the burnout stage yet, but I could see it coming like a runaway train. I've learned a lot in the past year about how to keep writing, keep publishing, keep building a career, and yet reclaim my health, time with my kids, the occasional day off - you know, the things that matter and keep you sane.
Here are my tips to help you do the same in 2016:
You're a Work In Progress - even as I type this, there's an obnoxious voice in my head saying, "But you're not perfect yet! Who are you to give advice?" I stuff a figurative donut in its face and tell it to sit in the corner. Because the whole point is that we (me and you, and also the voice) are a work-in-progress. We've got a good idea of the balanced life we want to have, and it doesn't include perfection - we don't have to be the perfect mother/wife/husband/dad at all times, perfect baker of holiday treats or maker of holiday greeting cards. It's about authenticity - you becoming the person you're meant to be, unlocking the potentials you have - not about Facebook Perfect postings. As long as you're moving toward the goal, you're good. As long as you're working the process, you're exactly where you're supposed to be.
Don't Mistake Activity for Accomplishment - Blogging is a good example of activity that doesn't accomplish much (yes, I understand the irony - I'm typing this because I enjoy it, not because I think it will sell books). Facebook - another thing I do that generally doesn't accomplish much. The seduction comes when that activity accomplishes *a little* - and convinces us that it's Important To Our Careers. Trust me - there are very few things that get the Capital "I" Important when it comes to making a career with books. Writing is one of them. Publishing is another. Understanding your market is pretty substantially important... unless you're just lucky. Very little marketing or social media gets the Capital "I". Most activities are time-wasters that stress you out. Ditch them.
Focus on the Joy of Writing - this isn't a consolation prize for not selling a million ebooks; this is literally the reason you write. If it's not, seriously, go do something else. This business is too hard to do if you're not enjoying it (even when you're writing those For Money books). The best way to do this is immersing yourself in your work whenever possible. Forget the deadlines (you won't beat them by being stressed). Forget what other people are doing (that doesn't change what you should do). Turn everything else off (phone, internet), immerse in your work, and be fully present while you're doing that creative thing you do so well. Then come up for air an hour later or whenever the urge to check Facebook strikes. Take a walk instead. Get a drink. Stretch. Pet the cat. Then come back for another round. Rinse and repeat for all the time you have that day to devote to creative work.
Stop Working - for a little while each day, STOP WORKING. Part of the stress of self-publishing comes from the constant nature of it. Always filling our brains with story, or worries about the stories not written, or stress about deadlines, or anxiety about sales. Turn it all off for a while and be fully present making pumpkin muffins or chatting with your teen/husband/friend or simply taking a half hour of time to make tea and read a good book. Everything needs rest, including your brain.
Track Your Work - not only will you write more (we get more of what we track), but you'll understand your creative process better. So the next time you have to set goals, you'll know what you're capable of and you'll set more reasonable goals... rather than guessing wildly, then feeling stressed as you try to hit those targets.
Consider Dictation - higher wordcounts, less physical stress, the ability to walk while writing... there are a lot of benefits, and the software just keeps getting better. If you're writing for the long-haul, eventually the physical effects will catch up. It takes a month or so to make the switch, but I'm so glad that I've got this tool in my toolkit. I still type a lot, but dictation gives me the flexibility to give my hands a break but still make wordcount. Join my Facebook Group Dragon Riders if you want to learn more.
Self Care Is Necessary - this is the one I've always fallen down on, my entire life. I'm ambitious, I'm a work-a-holic, and really, who needs sleep? THIS GIRL. Getting my sleep patterns wired, getting regular exercise, taking the time to shop for and eat healthy foods... it's PHENOMENAL how big an impact those simple things can make. I was on my way to getting this balance right before my knee injury... but having to balance meds, physical therapy, and an urgent desire to get better - all while still trying to write and publish - really put the no shitting around now into my program. My life works when I'm practicing good self care; it doesn't when I'm not. It's pretty much as simple as that. I've been excessively slow in learning this lesson, but I have a high respect for practicality.
Worry Less; Write More - worry that the book will not sell, or not sell enough, or that it will be reviled, or that you'll never "make it" (by whatever measure you think you will measure that)... all of these things do absolutely nothing to help you succeed. None of them will sell a single copy more. They'll only stop you from writing the next book. And you should always be writing the next book... because that is what brings you joy, remember? Take the time to make your plans and schedule your marketing, but once that part is done, forget it and immerse in your art.
You'll be more productive and rediscover the reason you wanted this Writer Life in the first place.
I love you guys! I hope you find the balance you seek in 2016.
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Indie Author Survival Guide (Crafting a Self-Publishing Career, Book 1)
For Love or Money (Crafting a Self-Publishing Career, Book 2)
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