Seeking Success as a Writer? Hurry Up & Slow Down

Aug 05, 2015

Can you hurry the creative process? When you launch a book, is it possible to blow through everything on your marketing to-do list? If you’re suffering from creative block, should you fill a journal with daily ramblings, just to have gotten some words on the page? Do word count goals help or hinder you, psychologically? Is setting yourself deadlines the best way to finally get that challenging piece of work completed? Do the same rules apply to fiction and nonfiction?

Do writers drive themselves crazy asking these questions?!

Oftentimes, I sit down at my desk at 7:25 a.m. after I’ve dropped my youngest child at the bus stop, and I don’t get up again until five, six hours later. I could step out of my office and get myself a coffee, or take a short walk, or go for a run, or get lunch, or even just stretch my legs but it’s in my nature to keep working. Once I start, it’s hard for me to stop. After dropping my daughter back at home at 3pm, I hurry back to my office. By the time I get home in the evening I am as exhausted as if I’d done a triathalon.

In some ways, this is a good thing. It allows me to be highly productive and gives me a sense of achievement. But in many ways this is bad. Very, very bad.

Like all writers, periodically I just dry up. I’ve used up all my energy and enthusiasm and I just can’t scrape anything off the bottom of my bone-dry well anymore. I’ve gone from ecstatic flow to a complete stop. It’s not a good feeling. It not only cuts into my momentum, but I also feel psychologically spent.

We see this a lot at Launch Lab, where we help debut authors figure out how to market their books over the long term in a way that feels authentic to them. They’ve learned all about the many steps they should be taking to promote their work, and their intentions are noble (I’m going to do everything in my power to sell this book!!!) and yet before they can even blink they find themselves wrung dry. Nothing seems to be working and they feel like they’ve already failed when they’ve hardly even started.

It’s at those moments when the best action to take is no action at all. Hurry up and slow down, if you want to succeed. In fact, better yet—slow down before you burn out.

We’re constantly being given contradictory advice. Modern day lifestyle gurus say our brains are overloaded with stimuli and human beings can’t function optimally under that kind of constant pressure. They tell us to slow down.

But writing coaches often advocate the exact opposite: Set yourself a daily word count goal and stick to it, no matter what. Busywork is still work, and eventually you’ll tap into something good. Get your butt in the chair. Write a book in a month (NaNoMo). Stay relevant. Don’t just write one book, write a series. Don’t just write a series, write multiple books a year!

And once you’ve got a book out there, it’s your responsibility to sell it. Write to-do lists, set priorities, aim high, don’t give up. If you’ve got an opportunity, grab it. Don’t just blog, get a column. Don’t just give talks, run a conference. Don't just be in the paper, get yourself some national media! Go, go, go. Do, do, do!

Of course, a lot of this advice works, and that’s why we hear it all the time. But what we tend to forget is that each of us is different—not only are we are motivated by different things, but we also have different goals. We beat ourselves up unnecessarily by applying someone else’s rules to our processes. That can lead to stress, bad work, unhappiness, and creative drought.

As writers, we must invest the time to get to know ourselves better—it’s the only way we can nurture our creativity. So I say, figure out who you are as a writer and what makes you tick. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that productivity is the answer to all your problems. Understand your strengths and weaknesses. Be kind to yourself. Think deeply. Corny as it sounds, nurture your spirit by respecting who you are as an individual.

Pick up a book that's nothing like the one you're working on. Have lunch with a friend. Sleep in for once. Instead of writing, go to an art gallery. Instead of another hour in the chair, take a walk around the block. Get out and about. Remind yourself of those things that make your heart speed up. Pursue your interest in indie movies, or Jui Jitsu. It's not a waste of precious time.

Slow down, and let yourself dream. You'll be amazed at what it can do for you as a writer.


PS. In my next post, I’ll answer the questions I posed at the beginning of this article.