It's the New Year! Some Writerly Resolutions
Last year, I didn't make any New Year's resolutions. Frankly, I was tired of pushing myself so hard, and I thought: hey, how about I just try my best this year? It felt like a gentle enough goal given that I had just started a new job and my first novel was about to be published. While I knew quite a bit about what was ahead (I'd published nonfiction before), I had very little idea about whether the outcome for this book would be good, bad or indifferent, and how I would end up feeling about it all. I wanted to cut myself a bit of a break.
This year, there are fewer unknowns. For one thing, The Forgotten Hours launched and I went through the entire cycle of fear, joy, anticiation, disappointment, envy, satisfaction, astonishment, and finally exhaustion. Wow.
By a lovely and serendipitous turn of events, my second novel publishes on March 1st. It is a less mysterious experience this time around because I have a sense of what to expect--and, perhaps most importantly, what I need to watch out for.
Thinking about my "resolutions" this time around, I decided it might be time to re-assess and set some writing-related goals. As such, I gathered together advice from debut authors who became friends over the past year. I asked: What's the top valuable lesson you learned about writing or publishing?
Universally, there was a deepened understanding of how little control we really have over our sales and public reception. That feeling of not being in control is unnerving, and can lead to insecurity which in turn makes it hard to write new material. It's all too easy to feel like a failure when you're categorically NOT a failure.
So what did we all learn?
"How random publishing can be at times," was a pithy takeaway from Kris Waldherr, author of The Lost History of Dreams. This was echoed by Mike Chen, author of Here and Now and Then, who said, "There's very little you can do to control the success or failure of your book because so many variables are involved."
You've heard this before, but it crops up again and again since making peace with relinquishing control is practically impossible. We blog and tweet and run around doing promotion... and it's all okay unless we think our success or failure is based on these efforts. What we can and should do, really, is re-focus some of our energy on creating new work. As Stephen Cox, author of Our Child of the Stars explained: "It is a marathon not a sprint. What you have under your control is writing the next book and making it better."
"The most important thing is to write the best book you can," says Tyler Dent Hayes, author of The Imaginary Corpse. "Your writing is the part of your success formula you have actual control over."
What are some of the practical things we can do during the publishing process so that we enjoy it and retain our sanity? Mike Chen emphasizes community, and I wholeheartedly agree. Leaning on fellow authors for support, advice, and joint promotional efforts is a huge help. And having an opportunity to share and give back feels great. "The best thing to do is to get to know your community of other authors, both for emotional support and also because they can lift you up over your career," says Mike, "and being nice is something you can actually control."
Another practical thing to do to protect your spirit and creativity is to avoid comparison (I'll admit, this one's a real doozy). "I keep going back to this lesson: comparison is the thief of joy," says Nicole Bross, author of Past Presence. "Every book is on its own journey and you can lose sight of everything you’ve accomplished if all you do is wish you had someone else’s success."
Many of my past posts have been about how hard writing can be. It's lonesome and when things aren't going well, it does a job on your psyche. One conclusion I came to right before getting my two-book deal was that if I was going to continue writing, I better damn well like doing the actual writing. I had to find a way to enjoy the process. Breanna Teintze, author of Lord of Secrets agrees. "There's no reason to do this writing gig if you don't love it. It'll eat your heart, so you might as well have a good time."
One way to have a better time throughout the process is by giving ourselves proper credit--to literally focus on emphasizing the positive. "Art is hard and subjective, fame and success from it is a gamble, but the satisfaction of knowing you’ve crafted a piece of art in your book is what really matters," says Eve Syler, author of The War in Our Hearts. "There will be that One Person somewhere who needs what you created." Sometimes I'll read my grateful-reader-emails over again, just to remind myself that my book actually changed people's lives, that it mattered to someone other than myself.
Thinking ahead to 2020--to the upcoming book launch and tour, the ups and downs of reviews and lists--I made just three simple resolutions:
1) Keep writing
2) Pay it back in every way you can
3) Read more