This is my current mood, and if any of you have had to push back writing your book for other things that keep popping up, you know the feeling.
I don’t know what is worse: burnout or being unable to write even though you have the desire to do it. Each has its obstacles. The thing is, in burnout, you’re relieved when some unexpected thing pops up because it gives you a valid reason not to write. When you want to write (and have the ideas coming), it’s extremely frustrating when things get in the way.
The woes of being a writer who is bombarded with things one can’t control…
Some things that come up can’t be avoided. No matter how much you try to abide by a routine, some wrench is going to find its way into your plans. It’s called life, and while I know this can’t be avoided, it makes me want to pull my hair out and scream. I’m sure others have felt the same way. Maybe you’re currently going through this, too.
What people often miss is that writers NEED to write. If we don’t write, the book never gets done. In order to write, we need time. It’s best if that time is free of stress and free of distractions, but in the real world, it often doesn’t work out that way. Anyone with a sick parent, financial problems, school-aged children, or health issues know this. Sadly, most people in a writer’s life don’t understand how important uninterrupted writing time is. I don’t know how often I’ve told my family I need to write, only for someone to come into my room to tell me about something they saw on TV that is of little consequence to anyone. They just don’t get it. Most non-writers don’t get it. Since you’re sitting at home on a computer, people just figure you’re goofing off. And people outside the home figure since you don’t have a “real job”, it’s not a big deal to ask you to drop everything to take care of something.
So what does a writer to do? You can’t make people understand what you do requires time and work. You can’t prevent unexpected things from creeping into your life. But there are some things we can still control. The last thing we want to do is add to our stress by letting this feeling of frustration take over. Like this weekend and this morning when two things popped up, I found that my frustration was taking over my ability to know what to write next. I was letting stress take control of the situation. We do our best writing when we don’t let stress take the wheel.
Here are my tips to overcome the woes so we don’t let them get the best of us and ruin our ability to write:
(If you have any you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them. The more ideas we have, the better.)
Take a deep breath and regain your equilibrium.
I’m here writing this post to make myself do this. Sometimes just sharing the frustrations is enough to offset the stress. If I wasn’t writing this post, I’d take a walk. But you can do anything so long as it relaxes you. Whatever helps to take your mind off of the source of stress, do it until your head clears, and your muscles relax.
In cases of distractions, I’ve learned it’s pointless to remind people that writing is a “real job”, so if the distractions get to be too frequent, I’ll either drive to the park and write, dictate into a phone, or I’ll give up for the day and work on the non-writing tasks of the job instead since those are easier to bounce back to after being interrupted. If you can’t go away or do something else, write in 10 to 15 minute sprints. I had to do this when all of my kids were too young for school.
Focus on a small goal.
Instead of thinking, “I need to write 1,000+ words today,” try for a smaller goal. I like to go in 250-word increments because it’s not as daunting, especially when I’m overwhelmed. A little done that day is better than nothing. If you don’t think in terms of word counts, you can use time. Say you usually set an hour to write. Instead of making an hour be the goal, aim for 15 minutes.
I’ve found that if I can tackle one or two rounds of the small goals, it gets easier to write, and I end up with a decent word count for the day. For example, my word count goal used to be 3,000 words for the day. Ever since this summer when everything got turned upside down, I lowered that goal to 1,500 words. Then I pushed back my release dates. Sometimes you have to cut things in half in order to remain steady.
It’s far more important that you can still do something, even if it’s at a slower pace, than to work yourself to the point of burnout because you pushed yourself too hard. There are a lot of books out there. I know it’s scary to think your readers might forget you exist. We have email lists, social media, and blogging to announce when we have a new book, but in the back of our mind, there might be that doubt that the reader will even be excited about the new book if we take too long to get it out there.
Our instant gratification culture of binge watching stuff and (now) binge reading has made this a very real threat to some of us. (I know it worries me that my readers will get bored of waiting and drop me.) But I remind myself that the quality of the book must be more important than how long it takes to get the book out. If I can’t give a book my best, then it’s better off not going out in the world. I’ve rewritten several books in the past, so I say this from experience.
Avoid comparing yourself to other authors.
This is a hard one. I had to drop out of some author groups and walk away from some YouTube channels and podcasts from superstars in the indie writing community because listening to them talk about how frequently they got books out, how they were making a bazillion-gillion dollars a year, and how they excelled at marketing made me feel like crap. Some might have found the examples inspiring and helpful, but quite frankly, I didn’t. All it did was make me wonder, “What am I doing wrong?” I know that is not a popular thing to say, but it’s the truth, and I see no point in lying. This writing gig is harder than it looks.
But you know, maybe those authors don’t have a spouse and kids to take care of. Maybe they have more discretionary time than someone who needs an outside job to help pay the bills. Maybe there are no aging parents that need help. Maybe they’re in the prime of their health. Or, maybe, they are sacrificing time with their family to write, which is easy to do if you’re not careful. Maybe they’re writing books that they don’t really like but are fitting into the market, and deep down, they’re not happy with the process of writing. It’s easy to make money the number one goal. It’s easy to sacrifice a lot of things (like God, family, friends, health) for the sake of getting more books written at a faster pace. We never see into their personal lives. We only see the smiles and the sales’ reports. Who knows if they’re not crying when no one is looking. I did a lot of crying when I made $200K a year because the pursuit of money had taken the place of enjoying the writing. I make less now, but I’m happy. Money isn’t everything. Those sales aren’t everything.
So really, the best thing we can do is focus on things we have direct control over and make the most of them.
Write what you love.
If you love what you’re doing, writing is still work. It’ll feel like play at times, but it still takes commitment to finish a book. There will be days when you won’t feel like doing it. However, if you love what you’re working on, it helps a lot in being able to push through the “eh” days you’re going to face.
I’m currently reading The Relaxed Author by Joanna Penn and Mark Leslie Lefebvre, and one interesting thing I picked up so far was this point on why passion matters so much: think of what you want to read. As the author, you will be going over your books to edit them. You have to go through and read that first draft. Imagine how miserable it would be to have to read through and edit a book you didn’t care about? Even if you wrote it, that would end up being a chore if you were doing this for years. At least when you enjoy the story, the process of rereading and editing is a lot easier to manage. Plus, years from now, you’ll want to go back and read your own work.
If you can look forward to what you’re doing, the stress and frustrations of the unexpected stuff that comes up in your life, then writing offers you something you can anticipate. For me, the writing is a reward after dealing with all the other things that aren’t so pleasant.
Talk to other authors or write a blog post.
Both work great for me, and this blog post has been very therapeutic. Sometimes you have to talk or write out your frustrations in order to ease the stress. No one understands the frustration of not being able to write more than another writer. It does no good to hold it in.
Now I’m relaxed enough to write. 😀 Hopefully, my tips will help someone out there.