Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Coping With Writer Stress: For The Veteran (Part 4)

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 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.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Coping With Writer Stress: For The Debut (Part 3)

Congratulations! You've gotten that agent, said agent has sold your book, and you're set to debut in 1-2 years! Or, you've finished prepping that indie book, had it edited and designed and formatted, and you're ready to hit "publish" and see what happens next.

Welcome to being a published author and all the new stresses that come with it!

Not to say that being published is all bad, but as I said in Part 2, even good things can be stressful because they add more tasks to your life and you have to figure out how to get them all in. This is especially true as you start your path down the Published Author Road.

If you haven't prepped as an aspiring author to handle the stress, debuting may put you over the edge. The stress can be so overwhelming. I've seen friends' bodies melt down under debut stress (mine included). I've seen authors get hives right before launch, Bell's palsy (where one side of your face become paralyzed), shingles, horrible colds, intense bouts of anxiety or depression or both, panic attacks, or even just crying "for no reason" they are so stressed out.

Let's review the added stressors for the Debut.

Sources Of Debut Stress
Please note that these are added ON TOP OF what is listed for the Aspiring Writer. You have to keep doing all those Aspiring Writer things because they're really just writer things. The stress of creating, editing, and submitting a novel never goes away.

• Pressure to do well. You feel it about four hours after you get that call/email that you have an offer from an editor (or a couple editors, or a slew of them!). Or you've just hit "publish" on your Indie title and now you have to sell it to readers. It's hard to put in words just what it feels like, but it's sorta like you want to impress people and somehow prove that you were worth the investment. Except much of this is out of your control but you don't know it yet. You honestly think you can make your book successful and you WILL do it.

• Realization of the Publisher's "Author Monetary Ranking System." That's not a real name, it's just what I'm calling it. They don't really rank just feels like it. Because you will start hearing stuff—this author at your publishing house got five times your advance and is a lead title, that author went to auction and for a six figure deal, that other author is getting rushed publication because their house is so excited about their book, etc. and so forth. You might start to think, "Why didn't I get that? Do they think my book sucks? Is my book going to FAIL?" Enter stress monster.

• The strong urge to compare. Speaking of comparing your book deal to others (or lack of a book deal at all because you went Indie), there's about a billion things you can start comparing when you are a debut. Covers, print runs, marketing plans, who's going on tour and who isn't, swag, contests, reviews, blurbs, conference appearances, signing audience sizes, how many bloggers are talking about your book, and the list goes on. You can fall into this and begin to think that your work will never be seen or how in the world do you stand out in all the noise? It can get ugly fast if you aren't careful, and this kind of toxicity can stress you out and kill your creativity especially.

• Taking criticism you can't fix. Once it's published, you can't go back and change it. Then you get a one-star review—and you're naive enough to read it though most authors will tell you not to—and it guts you. Of course you pretend it didn't, but the words repeat over and over in your mind. That person HATED your book. And they flamed it. With gifs, even. And lots of swear words. Other people will read that review and might not read your book because of it. And there's literally nothing you can do.

• Marketing. On top of writing books, you are now expected to talk about those books and sell them as much as possible. Some people are super good at this and aren't stressed at all. Others, like me, dread this and melt their brains over how they could possible talk about their work without sounding like a conceited idiot. It's hard to know how stressful it'll be for you until you get here.

• The sheer busyness that will crash on you. Because you're supposed to be WRITING ANOTHER BOOK during all this! While you're distracted with interviews and promotions and contests, you're also supposed to write that sequel or the next book. Oh, and live the rest of your life that isn't writing.

• The feeling you have to best yourself. It feels like a miracle that you even pulled off the first published book—now the next one has to be even MORE awesome and MORE everything. And how did you even write a book in the first place? You can't write another one that good. People are bound to be disappointed in you, right? Cue negative thought spiral while watching Netflix.

Results Of These New Stressors
Mayhem. I mean, I wish I could say that debut is a perfectly graceful time for some writers, but from what I've seen everyone is a tense ball of terror and stress. It doesn't matter what kind of publishing you pursue—it's NEW and your FIRST TIME and thus it is a frenetic, joyful, awful, confusing, hilariously clumsy time.

Yes, you ARE going to make too big a deal out of stuff. You are probably going to be jealous of at least one author and probably more. You will have doubts about if your book will ever be read. You will feel like crap over a review. You might not handle any of this well.

I think that's where the stress gets even more compounded—Debuts are usually trying really hard to be the PERFECT Debut. They don't want to be THAT Debut, the one I just described that is a mess and crying and stressing and losing their mind over all this. And in trying to hide all this stress and pretend it's not there...

Well, you're gonna make it worse.

There's an interesting phenomena in humans. We think that if we stuff the emotions down that they will eventually go away. Spoiler: That is never true. If you're pretending you're not jealous of anyone, if you're pretending you feel like your publisher loves you the most, if you're pretending that those means reviews don't cut...eventually all those bottled up emotions are going to burst.

And then what might have been a small outburst three months ago becomes a huge outburst instead. For some reason you're yelling at your mom for reading said bad review and bringing it up and WHY DOES SHE HAVE TO CARE STOP TALKING ABOUT IT. Not that I've done that...Or your friend or spouse or kids get the outburst instead of your mom. And after you feel really bad and why can't you control yourself?

So you double down on hiding the stress because you need to be the Perfect Debut and this is certainly not Perfect Debut behavior. You're supposed to be better than this.

Reducing Debut Stress
With the pressure to be the Perfect Debut being probably the overarching stress, I think the biggest way to reduce stress if to talk it out. Find a safe space, safe people, who you can TALK to about all this stuff. Maybe it's another writer, maybe a friend who isn't a writer, maybe a spouse or a parent or a sibling. But find someone.

Because just talking about all these feelings helps reduce stress. Notice a lot of debut stress doesn't necessarily come from outside, but instead from inside. Yes, there are additional activities to add to the schedule, but really mentality takes a big role in this. Some do better at staying positive and hopeful than others, some death spiral into doubt and despair long before the book even comes out (that would be me).

So find someone. Say these though thoughts OUT LOUD. Say you're jealous of so and so even though they're the nicest person, but you wish you had that book deal. Say you're scared everyone will hate your book. Say you have a sneaking suspicion none of these interviews you're doing will actually help sell your book.

And then pick up and move on, feeling a bit lighter.

The wait can be long for traditionally published debuts (not as long for Indie, but that fast pace comes with it's own stressors!), so don't forget to slow down! Debuts were just recently Aspiring Writers who had control over when to send out queries and when to write a new project and get it critiqued. Now? You have to wait for your editor. And they can take months before you see that first edit and another few months before the next. It can feel stressful to have nothing to do all of the sudden!

So have things prepared. Projects you can do as you wait—they don't have to be writing but they can be. But be prepared to "sit on your hands" with writing and maybe do something different. Don't feel guilty about it! Take it as a reward, a break now that you've sold a novel.

Another important thing to do as a debut is to cut stuff. Debuts tend to think maybe they have to do everything to promote their book, or they have to go to everything, or they have to always be online replying to every comment. Where Aspiring Writers have to learn to fit the basic writing tasks into their life, debuts need to remember to KEEP the basic writing tasks as a priority. The rest doesn't matter nearly as much.

It's more important to write the next book than to hold a contest for your arc. It's more important to edit your sequel than to do a Q&A. It's more important to love writing than to let that love die because you have to sell those words.

Take a deep breath. Turn off the internet (even me). And never forget why you got into this mess to begin with. The words should always come first.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Coping With Writer Stress: For The Aspiring Writer (Part 2)

Welcome back to our discussion on the impact of writer stress and how, hopefully, you can manage it. Today I'll be addressing specific thing pertaining to Aspiring Writers (those who aren't professionally published yet, but are working towards it in one way or another).

Before we get to that, I want to give you a bit more information on what chronic stress does to your body and mind. While small episodes of stress can be handled by the body just fine—this is what stress hormones were designed for—prolonged exposure to "stress hormones" has a negative impact on your body.

There are three stress hormones: Adrenaline, Norepinephrine, and Cortisol. Adrenaline is that "flight or fight" hormone that is your first line of defense in a dangerous situation. It's the hormone that gets released when you're crossing a street and a car almost hits you but you jump out of the way in time. Norepinephrine is basically that backup to adrenaline, with similar function should adrenal glands not do their job. In small spurts these hormones are great—they heighten your awareness and reflexes and focus so that you can survive a situation. In the long term? They fray your nerves because you're in a constant state of overdrive. This is where insomnia and anxiety/depression can come in.

And then there's the last stress hormone: Cortisol. You have probably heard of this one. It acts slower than the other two, but it released within minutes instead of fractions of seconds. Ideal amounts of cortisol help you maintain blood pressure and fluid balance and other non-immediate body functions in a stressful situation. But prolonged release, thus too much Cortisol, can cause a whole slew of trouble—suppressed immune system, high blood pressure and sugar (both of which contribute to a risk of obesity and diabetes), decreased libido, and even acne can be increased by excess cortisol.

It's like your body is stuck at top speed. Imagine if you always drove your car with the petal to the metal. And then you'd have to break hard at every stop. That stress on your car would run it into the ground. That's sorta how chronic stress runs your body into the ground.

For writers, this starts the moment we decide we want to publish.

If that stress goes unmanaged, it will continue until our bodies or minds or both give out and force us to slow down.

Sources Of Stress For Aspiring Writers:
So let's talk about where Aspiring Writers may find extra stress being added to their lives. Some of these sources are different from Debuts or Veterans, but that doesn't mean they aren't significant and hard to face. *Activate List Mode*
• Learning how to write a novel. It's hard! It never stops being hard, but those first finished novels are a huge, stressful, wonderful deal. 
• Learning how to edit a novel. This might be more stressful than writing, because as a newer author you may not know the rules. You have to learn the rules. 
• Learning how to take criticism and employ it in your work. You've tried so hard. You are proud of what you've done but also a bit terrified because deep down inside you know it's not good. Criticism hurts. Trying to accept it can be a struggle. It's stressful to admit that your work is flawed and you might not even know how to fix it.
• Queries. Everything about that process is stressful. The end.
• Rejections. While there's rejection at every phase of publishing, it's new and especially stressful for the aspiring writer. And you can get pummeled with it. I once got 10 agent rejections in a day. Talk about a mental beating. 
• Figuring out Indie Publishing. While Traditional Publishing is stressful, that doesn't make Indie any less. If you've chosen that route, your first time is not just trying to figure out the writing but the printing and editing and marketing and taxes and it's A LOT. And you don't have any idea if it'll pay off or not. Maybe you're not getting agent rejections, but you're bracing yourself to be rejected by readers and even by those who still look down on indies.
• Establishing a writing schedule. It can be hard to find time and rhythm at first, especially with a family, job, friends, etc. 
• Facing new social situations. Maybe you're going to your first conferences. First book signings. First writing classes. While exciting, it can also be stressful for writers who tend to skew introvert. 
• Jealousy and wanting and waiting. You've made writing friends you love! ...but then one gets an agent way before you and another sells in days while you're being rejected left and right. When will it be your turn? With it ever be? That prolonged wait of torture is the very definition of chronic stress.
• Social media. You might be new to it. You might be using it as a writer more than before and it feels weird. Either way, you'll see All The Things and why don't you have that? And why is that thing so awful and sad? And there's this huge fight in the writing community. And omg do I need to weigh in on all this? 

Results Of All These New Stressors:
Whew, writing all that down made me stressed! The most difficult part of Aspiring Writer stress is this: You can't really get rid of most of these stressors. If you want to be published, you MUST improve your writing and take criticism and finish novels and query/indie and face rejection and get involved in the community. That's part of being a writer! So it's like you're trying to stuff all this into your life, which I imagine is already pretty busy. That is a recipe for stress.

Now, I need to be clear here, that I'm not saying writing is a horrible thing. Some of this you might LOVE. Not all of these things are stressors to everyone. Some will eat up criticism but struggle in the writing of a first draft. Some will stress over the query where others will find it easy. These are all possible stressors, and all these new tasks combined add up to additional tasks and thus additional stress in your life. You can love being a writer and still be stressed by it.

Got it? Okay. Good.

So if you're adding all this new stuff that comes with being a writer, the next logical step is this: Other stuff in your life might start taking a back seat. It's a natural result because humans can only do so much (despite what many a woman has been told, you cannot actually do it all and not suffer the consequences).

Here's where I caution you that this can be dangerous if you're not aware of what you're doing.


It's one thing to stop watching so much TV because now you're writing. It's another thing to stop paying attention to your spouse or children because you're writing. Ignoring cleaning the house might not be so bad here and there, but ignoring that exercise routine you once had could actually contribute to even more stress. Skipping dinner in favor of fast food here and there doesn't hurt, but if it's instant food everyday because you're so busy writing...that will change your health. Skipping a date with a friend once might be okay, but ignoring your friends for weeks on end because you've fallen into the wonder of the writing community will hurt people in your life.

Take a pause. Assess your priorities. Evaluate how your actions are impacting your life.

Writing (or anything really) shouldn't be hurting the rest of your life. Publishing is great, but I promise you it is not worth losing friendships over. It's not worth losing your family over. And it's most definitely not worth losing your health over.

Some Aspiring Writers run the risk of rushing. Wanting publishing so much they put the rest of their lives on hold. They ignore all the stress warning signs and brute force through the pain. They end up paying the piper later if they're not careful.

Reducing Aspiring Writer Stress:
So what do you do to stop this dangerous spiral? Well, a lot of that depends on what you're specifically struggling with. If social media is causing you tons of stress, that one is relatively easy to turn off and reduce that stress. But if it's drafting that is killer for you? You will need a fully different coping plan, such as timed writing sessions or alpha readers to cheer you on or working on your "it's okay to write crap" chant.

We can talk about specifics in the comments if you'd like. Here are some general question to assess in this phase:

What in your life can go without dire consequences? Maybe it's your afternoon nap. Maybe it's that TV show you can watch on weekends instead. Maybe it has to be that part time job or hitting every PTA meeting or even skipping picking up the living room. I don't know what yours are, but something has to go. Me? I stopped quilting. Yeah, I quilted a lot before I wrote books. But I was poor and it was expensive so writing came first. I miss sewing, but I could not do both.

What might you need to keep in your life to reduce stress? I highly suggest not giving up that exercise routine or your healthier eating habits. If you go for a walk each day, keep doing that! Studies have shown that there is a link between physical activity and creativity. If you love that nightly Kdrama, for the love, watch an episode or two! (Maybe not five and sleep deprive yourself oil 3AM.) For me, I need to do yoga consistently. Sometimes I stop and I become a huge ball of stress though nothing else in my life has changed.

Are you feeling rushed to publish? Rushing, feeling like you're running out of time, feeling like if you don't publish NOW you NEVER will...all of this is a huge stressor. There is no rush. The rush is in your head and it will suck the joy out of writing so fast. Try to figure out why you're rushing it. Try to find a way to slow down.

How is The Long Wait impacting your life? For me, that was the silent killer of my mentality. The extra stress of hoping for that email everyday wore down my heart and body until I had a mental breakdown. But if I had been wiser I would have used that time more positively. I obsessed over the wait, made it my whole life. Everything else in my life? I acted like it all sucked and didn't matter because I couldn't get published. Tip: DO NOT DO THAT. Tip: Find positive things to do that aren't writing to do during these long waits. I bake, draw, play video games, yoga, garden, etc. Having a full list of things that bring you joy—combined with an acceptance that you can't control when publication will happen—eases that waiting stress a lot.

Are You Ignoring Warning Signs? Anger. Despair. Outbursts or wallowing. These are signs of stress—they're "fight or flight" reactions triggered by chronic stress. I was so angry when I was trying to get published...I just didn't realize how bad it was until I saw fear in my kids' eyes. I was sad and constantly wallowing in my failure and eating my feelings and having epic pity parties. Sleepless nights. Lack of motivation for things you previously enjoyed. No desire to connect with friends or family or spouse. That is not actually normal. You are experiencing the effects of prolonged stress. You need to take a step back and reevaluate how you can reduce stress.

There Is Light At The End Of The Tunnel. Sorta.
Eventually, you will figure out how to be a writer and also be a person who isn't a writer. It takes time to find the balance. It also takes time to learn how to adapt when things go off kilter again. But you will learn, and you will get used to writing and publishing being part of your life. The rejections will start to hurt less. Your writing will improve and you will grow accustomed to criticism. The stressors will lessen, though they won't entirely go away. And new ones will come.

It's essential that you find your ways to cope with stress in this phase, because, I'm afraid, it only get more stressful as you sell a book and become published. If you haven't established stress management now, your risks for health complications only increases. So why not take it seriously now? I wish I had. It would have made the last five years a lot easier if I had made stress management a priority.

Questions? Need help with stress? Feel free to ask in comments or email me if it's personal. I'm happy to listen and help where I can.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Coping With Writer Stress: The Reality (Part 1)

Writing is a stressful job. If you haven't felt that stress yet...well, I'm gonna guess you're still in the early, honeymoon phases of being a writer. Pursuing publishing, becoming a debut, and continuing to publish are all hugely stressful things on their own—combine them with high competition, few traditional publishing spots, and a populace who, in general, prefers video to reading and you have a veritable blood bath for your hopes and dreams.

Even success brings a certain amount of stress: To stay successful. To meet your publishers ever-high expectations. To live up to readers' vision of what you should be and should write. To navigate social media in ever-growing hostile territory.

Stress. It's a beast. Do you know what stress can do to you?

This is a list from the MayoClinic:

Common effects of stress on your body

  • Headache
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Change in sex drive
  • Stomach upset
  • Sleep problems

Common effects of stress on your mood

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation or focus
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Irritability or anger
  • Sadness or depression

Common effects of stress on your behavior

  • Overeating or undereating
  • Angry outbursts
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Tobacco use
  • Social withdrawal
  • Exercising less often

Maybe these don't seem like a big deal to you, but take a moment to imagine the impact not over one day or one month but for years. Writing is going to be your career, your life. Imagine facing these everyday for the foreseeable future. Take a moment to think about what this might do to your overall health and happiness. And not just your health, but the health of your relationships as well. Prolonged stress can change you, and as a result is can hurt your spouse, your family, your friends if you aren't careful. 

Spoiler: Stress wears you down. Some people deal with it better than others, but we all deal with it. Make no mistake. You are not immune, and it is unwise to pretend you are.

Writer stress has taken a huge toll on my own life. I can check off almost all those things on that list, which have led to even more health issues. That much stress has killed my immune system and my anxiety breakdown of 2010 was directly related to publishing. I've been medicated for anxiety and depression since then. The MayoClinic says stress can lead to health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Well, guess what? I'm 33 and I was diagnosed with Latent Autoimmune Diabetes this last November, after a year filled with sickness and hospital visits, and a year previous laden with a deep depression. 

This is what a decade of writing and poor stress management can do.

I don't think any of this is coincidence. The stress of my writing life brought out, perhaps accelerated, health issues I was already at risk for. And because of this, I've now become a huge advocate for the importance of managing your health as a writer, both mentally and physically. I can tell you from personal experience that creativity struggles when you're sick. Productivity is crippled entirely when you are suffering from the effects of stress and other health issues. And if you push yourself regardless? Well, you ARE going to pay for it. Somehow, in some way, your body will push back. You really don't want it to push back, because it will show no mercy.

So how does one manage writer stress? I won't pretend I have all the answers, but I have found some I want to share. Because this is important, and I don't want any of you to end up like me. I want writers to be happy and healthy as they create. It is possible. There are general "de-stresser" principles out there, sure, but I want to also talk about writer-specific tactics. Stay tuned over the next few days to finish this four-part series.

To come:
Coping With Writer Stress: For The Aspiring Writer
Coping With Writer Stress: For The Debut Author
Coping With Writer Stress: For The Veteran

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

When You Get Good Enough And Yet...

Learning to write is a long process, one that is challenging and frustrating and rewarding in many ways. There's always something to improve, always more to do, and that's both the fun and torture of it all.

I remember when I was just starting out. I had a vague sense I wasn't good enough to be published. And I was right, though I didn't necessarily know how to improve. For the most part, a new writer will start out not being good enough to be published. It's okay! You're at the beginning.

I didn't realize at the time how nice the concept of "sucking at writing" was. That sounds weird, but let me explain. Back when I was struggling to get to a level of publishable writing, I could always go back to that very conclusion: My writing isn't good enough yet. Better keep learning and practicing and growing.

That's actually a really cool place to be. Where there is room still to grow. Where you can go back to the drawing board and tell yourself that if you just try harder and learn more and get better at writing, THEN you will get published. As you hear at just about every conference out there, "If you just keep going, eventually it'll happen." Right? Right.

But then something weird happens.

You actually REACH the writing level that is considered publishable.

Not that you still don't have room for improvement. Not that you have mastered all the writing and can rest on your laurels. That's not what I'm saying here—I'm only saying that, yes, there is a "level" where your writing becomes good enough. The actual words and sentences and plot and characters all make sense and work together. You've become a decent self-editor who can see the flaws in your work. You can resolve those mistake in revision and make a damn good book. You have crossed the threshold, so to speak.

At this point, some people get published. Some. People.

Conferences and inspirational posts and those who constantly say "Never! Give! Up!" will perhaps imply that ALL people who reach publishable writing level will get published. They may even imply that those same threshold-reaching authors will STAY published. I wish I could tell you that was true, but I think we all know deep down that it isn't. There just aren't enough spots.

So what do you do when you're the author who is "good enough" and yet you can't seem to get published or stay published?

Honestly, I don't actually know.

But it's hella frustrating, isn't it? I mean, it is for me. It's the number one thing that crushes my love of writing and stories and publishing and all of it. Because I'm sitting here nine books in (4 traditionally published [2 U.K. only] and 5 indie), and I still can't seem to convince anyone in the U.S. that I'm worth buying a story from. It's been five years since my only deal in America for my original work. It looks like it'll go on indefinitely at this point. It's not as if I haven't been trying. I have been on submission to editors all this time. I have been "writing the next book." And the next and the next and the next. I'm pushing closer to 30 novels written now, and still nothing. It took me 8 years to get published that first time, maybe I got three more to make it another eight. Who knows?

It would be so much easier if I could just say to myself "I'm not good enough yet. I'll just keep learning and improving." But...well, I don't want to sound cocky but I AM GOOD ENOUGH. Not that I'm perfect by any means, but I have been published and I have worked to improve with every novel. I do truly believe what I'm writing now is my best stuff...

...And yet...and feels like none of that matters. For whatever reason, my stories aren't on market or not the editor's taste or "good but not quite alluring enough to offer." And that makes me want to pull my hair out and give up so much of the time. The stubborn teen in me is all "Well if you hate me then I HATE YOU TOO." And I want to stop writing forever and flip the bird to publishing and move on with my life.

But I can't. Cuz the stories don't go away no matter how much I want them to.

And I know I'm good enough, which surprisingly hurts more than when I knew I sucked. Because it reveals the truth of the matter—that sometimes being good enough doesn't mean a thing. There are so many authors who are good enough and in the same shitty place that I'm in.

At this point it feels like I'm beating my head against a wall that refuses to pay attention to all the damn effort I've put into this. No one ever tells you that, yes, while all your hard work may be worth it and you may get and stay published, the opposite is also true: Your hard work could be ignored indefinitely. No one wants to deal with that reality. I'm still trying to decide if it means something when it gets you "nowhere." People here will probably tell me it does, but it sure as hell doesn't feel like it most of the time.

I'm not entirely sure where I'm going with this, except to say that if you are in this boat I FEEL YOU SO MUCH. You aren't the only one. Whether you are published or not, there are so many authors around you who are in this boat of being "close but not close enough." And it's just the worst. I wish there were more spots, for me and for you.

I don't have much advice, but the only thing that has helped me stay remotely sane is just doing whatever the hell I want to at this point. If I want to write, I do. If I don't, I don't. Not like I have deadlines to meet. If I want to spend weeks doing house projects or getting fit or bingeing on video games, I just do it. And I don't feel guilty about it anymore. Because at this point, I know it's not me who has the problem. And you don't have a problem either. This is just the shit side of the business people don't like to talk about, and we get to be on it. May as well find happiness in other stuff while we're here.