If you've made it this far in the series, I applaud you. I know it's been long, maybe not so entertaining, but this topic is important. You must know that, meaning you have a higher chance of avoiding these dangerous pitfalls. The less stress you have, the better! For life in general and especially here.
Today we'll be tackling stress management for the Veteran writers. I admit I'm not entirely a Veteran, since I've only been published since 2013, but as I watch my own career change and I observe what others are going through, I hope I can offer some insight into what lies ahead.
I remember going to a signing with two incredibly insightful Veteran authors—Sara Zarr and Gayle Forman—and listening to them talking about the evolution of their careers. Sara said something to the effect of "the first five years as a published author are the worst, and then you kind of settle in."
I really hope that's true. I'm in year four here, and I can feel that a bit. The rejections don't gut me like they used to. My failures to remain traditionally published don't haunt me as much. The harsh business doesn't get to me, make me angry at its unfairness like before. I don't feel as helpless, as if I've accepted my fate in ways.
Basically I'm saying it gets better, stress-wise, for Veterans. At least in some ways.
That isn't to say there are no major stressors. There are still many, but it seems they are more episodic.
Sources Of Stress For The Veteran
• Trying to STAY published. I think this is the one that, so far, has given me the biggest source of stress. Mostly because I have failed to do it, but I have seen in my friends that every new project they sub...it causes them stress. The more you sell, the more you realize just how damn lucky you've been because you see other authors aren't so lucky. It's like reapplying for your job every time you write a novel. And yes, a lot of those reapplications get rejected! No one wants to be that author that can't get published again, but some will end up in that category and knowing that alone is a source of stress.
• The feeling that you can never change where you "ended up" in publishing. When you end up as a "mid-lister" or a "bottom-lister" in my case...well, it feels like you are sentenced to a life of obscurity. You'll never be successful. Never be financially secure. Never be recognized. Or whatever never you want to use. It can get easy to label yourself and lose hope in your work ever doing anything of note. All of this is in your head—you totally can write a book that changes this, you just don't know which it'll be—but it can be stressful to love something and feel like you can't succeed at it the way you want to.
• OR. You can actually be successful, a big bestseller, and feel incredible pressure to continue to deliver. People underestimate the stress of success in this business. It can wreak havoc on stress levels. Sure, you have a "next book" more likely than most authors, but people EXPECT things of that book. Publishers expect it to sell better than the last. Readers expect to have their minds blows and are disappointed if it doesn't meet their ideals. You can feel like you're at the mercy of strangers who want you to write exactly what they want, not what YOU want. And that is very unpleasant for most creative folk.
• Travel and events while on deadline. A lot of the time, Veterans have to be drafting the next book WHILE they are promoting the one just published. Whatever writing routine they established? Ha. Throw that out the window. You now have to learn how to write on a plane, in a hotel, driving to events, sneaking it in at the conference green room, whatever snippet of time you can snag. That can be hard for even a Veteran. It's exhausting to travel, the last thing you want to do is use your brain to create, but you don't have a choice when that next deadline is looming and not even half the book is written.
• Okay, deadlines in general are stressful. Currently, I miss them because having deadlines means you have a job. But that doesn't mean they aren't stressful, especially when the book isn't coming out of you as expected. If you realize you have to rewrite it all halfway into the draft? You don't just get extra time. The deadline is still set. Yeah, extensions happen, but every author I've met who has had to extend a deadline feels awful about it and hello more stress.
• The comparison game doesn't end. If you haven't figured out how to curb that jealousy and comparison monster as a debut, it certainly has PLENTY to feed on as you continue to author. You can compare yourself into the ground. Sometimes on my worst days I still do this and I know better! It kills you. Don't do it. Keep your eyes on your own paper.
• Life. Eventually, life is gonna get in the way of writing. You write long enough, and some crisis or hard times will make writing nearly impossible. The first time it happens you may feel guilty. Your routine! You're not doing it! Or you might think people will forget you because you can't be online marketing or you can't be publishing at the same pace. Okay, they may forget you. But it's not so big a deal...or at least I tell myself that. But life outside of writing is also important, and it's okay to step back and take care of things and NOT write.
Results Of Veteran Stress
More than ever, it really comes down to the person. Some writers figure out how to deal with their stress and have it mostly figured out by the time they've published a few books. Others? Not so much. The not-so-much group tends to have to figure out stress management in this phase of their career.
Either their health will catch up to them and force them to slow down, or their career will do that for them (meaning it'll slow down and what now?). Or both. I fall into this category. I sort of attempted to reduce stress as an Aspiring Writer and Debut, but not really. I was putting band-aids on a gaping wound that was bleeding out. But I figured if I could just put band-aids on I'd be fine. I treated the symptoms instead of solving to ultimate problem, which was the unending stress I put myself under.
And then my body fell apart.
Not only did I hit the worst depression since the one that got me on medication, but I got shingles, then strep four times in three months, leading to a tonsillectomy. Not six month later I lost a pregnancy and was hospitalized for the ensuing infection. Four months later I was diagnosed with Latent Autoimmune Diabetes (some call it Type 1.5). Three hospitalizations in a year, when I have been generally healthy my whole life. I THINK my body was trying to tell me that I hadn't slowed down at all. I was more stressed than ever before all this.
Oddly enough, being forced to put my writing career on hold—because I couldn't physically write or market or do anything really I was so exhausted all the time—helped me realize I had been pushing myself too hard. My stress levels began to go down as I accepted that work would just have to wait until I got better...whenever that would be...IF I would ever be better...
My health had to come first. And in putting it first, taking one day at a time, the stress of the last decade finally began to wane. There's so much still left that it's hard for me to face writing still. I just don't want to be stressed! Hopefully at some point I'll find my way back into consistent writing, maybe even get lucky enough to publish again, but right now I still have to take it one day at a time.
Ways To Reduce Veteran Stress
Sometimes there's no escape for the Veteran, I admit that. When you're on tour? That's high stress with traveling and being "on" and it will drain you. When you're on a tight deadline? You're gonna be under stress and you can't just take a month off to find center.
It becomes about "self-care" as a lot of people label it now. That means a lot of different things depending on the person, and that's what the veteran needs to find. If it's holing up in your house and not going on the internet until the manuscript is written, then that's what you gotta do because it's the least stressful for you. OR, if those Twitter breaks make the burden less stressful because you miss people, then do it.
You have to find small ways to cope when your schedule is unavoidably stressful. It could be lunch at your favorite place while you write. It could be meditation in the hotel before/after your event. Or maybe sneaking some gaming in after a particularly hard chapter. Rewards. Tiny breaks. Music you love. Gosh, the list can be endless because it'd personal to every writer.
And when you DO have time to NOT write? Take it! That whole "you have to write everyday" thing sort of goes out the window when you are a Veteran. If you don't have an immediate deadline or event, that is the time to freaking unwind! That's when you take a month and stare into space or go on vacation or drown yourself in Netflix or get to that place called "outside." And you most definitely DO NOT feel guilty about it. That just ruins it and makes it stressful. You savor that time, because you are refilling your batteries and you can't keep writing without those.