A few years ago, I stood at the middle of a proverbial fork in the road. If I went right, I would continue to look at writing and publishing in the same light as I was (which was not a particularly great outlook). If I took a left, it meant readjusting my perspective on writing and publishing as a whole, which was scary and meant I’d have to readjust my expectations on the whole thing.
Looking back, I believe this was an important turning point in my “adult” life. You know those times where you make a decision for your future and the future “you” instead of making the decision because of instant gratification or the wishes/desires you have right at the moment? That’s what it felt like.
I was exhausted of my life — and that’s not unusual for most people in my generation who are working freelancing or consulting jobs. But it wasn’t so much my “work” life that was bringing me down to a miserable place. It was my side-hustle of all things. The “dream.” The one thing I’d always come back to when people asked me what I wanted to “be” when I grew up. (I still think about that question because I still don’t feel like a “grown up” btw). Writing and publishing had become both a blessing and a curse. But the transformation from enjoyment to dread started to take it’s toll on me.
I’ve never been a “follow the herd” kind of gal. I dance to the beat of my own drum and I resist conformity. Unfortunately for me, being those things doesn’t bode well in the publishing industry when you’re trying to make money. Sure, there’s a few exceptions and a few authors who are able to break through and become a “trend-setter” or “rule-breaker.” Again, unfortunately, I’m not an exception. So eventually, the time came when I had to decide which kind of person I wanted to be. Did I want to stay true to myself (and adjust my expectations) or did I want to conform a bit more (and meet my original expectations)?
It wasn’t an easy decision. But I realized that there is only one ME and that’s such a huge strength of mine. In spite of my “differences” or “deficiencies” (as some would call it), my accomplishments in life, my passion, my hobbies all stem from those things that make me… me. Why would I want to change all of that just to make money?
For some writers, it’s an easy decision and an easy transition between what they want and how they get there. They may have no problem switching expectations and/or processes to achieve what they want.
I’m not that person.
I realized that if I wanted to be in this “writing thing” for the long haul, I had better figure out my relationship with it sooner rather than later. In the last few years, I can’t tell you how many writers I’ve known that have decided to quit writing. They’re tired of the hustle, the marketing, the publishing rat race, the insidious nature of cliques and the rising snobbery in the indie community. But I wasn’t ready to quit.
And I don’t believe that’s the only alternative, either.
So what did I do? I sat with my “whys” for a long time. Asked myself questions like:
Why do you want to write at all?
Why do you write about the topics you do?
Why do you love writing?
Why do you feel compelled to keep going?
And when I felt really good about my answers, I sat with all the negative aspects of writing/publishing that I didn’t like and started a list on how to eradicate them from my writing life and how that would affect my future expectations.
I loathed the pressure to write fast and get out another book. The “they’ll forget you” mentality is fear based and I try NOT to operate from fear based decisions. It’s also kind of demoralizing to tell a writer (especially when you have NO idea how talented they are or are not) “oh hey, if you don’t publish another book in 60 days, people won’t remember who you are.” It breeds a sense of “not good enough” mentalities and soon, you have hundreds of writers walking around ashamed and frustrated and sad because they weren’t able to write or publish another book in the alleged time-frame, therefore making them “not good enough.”
Sorry, but no. I understand where some of these folks saying this are coming from. From a purely statistical and algorithm based approach — perhaps there’s a kernel of truth. But from a human-centered approach — it’s ridiculous. You’re not a shitty writer if you can’t write, publish and market a book every 90 days. You’re not a shitty writer if your process takes you 2 years while someone else’s process takes 5 months.
Sadly, this thinking is not compatible with the industry right now. So in order to eradicate this from my writing life, I readjusted my expectations in terms of readership base. I literally wrote down:
Eradication: No more pressure to be beholden to an arbitrary timeline
Expectation Adjustment: I may or may not see a decline in readers, sales, discoverability.
But it’s not just about setting expectations…it’s about being okay with them, too.
For me, personally, because I have a day job and other passions/hobbies I love, some of the expectations were easy to adjust and become “okay” with.
I was never a huge seller before I hit this crossroad, therefore, “losing sales or money” wasn’t a big deal for me. It’s hard to “miss” something you don’t really have, right? I also never relied on my books or writing to pay my living. Which I believe now is a complete luxury. Most people take the stance of “I can’t wait to quit my day job and follow my dream!” and yes, it’s great but it’s also hard and exhausting and sometimes no matter how GOOD or HARD you work — it still doesn’t happen for some. Six years ago, I would have said that having a day job hinders creativity and keeps someone from truly achieving their dream. Now, I realize that I fall into a completely different perspective. John Weiss actually wrote a brilliant article that describes how I feel about creatives with a day job.
It’s important to note that for me, personally, all the things I decided I wanted to “eradicate” from my writing/publishing life all had the same things in common: I hated doing them and I had a deep sense of guilt if I wasn’t doing them. These type of things include but aren’t limited to:
Writing quickly to put out another book
Writing a certain way to please readers
*Using tactics frequently that didn’t feel good to get more readers (Freebies, .99 sales, big newsletter campaigns that ended up with readers who didn’t even want to be ON the lists).
Writing certain topics/tropes/genres because they’re what sells better
Any marketing activity that caused dread and “icky” feelings
Pushing $ into things that didn’t really make a difference
Keeping up with the industry to stay “ahead”
Being in a community where I felt “less than” every. single. day.
*Note — I’m not opposed to some of the marketing tactics if used sparingly and intentionally. I’m talking about the way that people constantly use these things on an on-going basis so much that it just becomes white noise.
I’m about 2 years into my decision to change my perspective and adjust my expectations about publishing and I feel like I’m such a stronger individual mentally as well as a better writer.
I still struggle with #writerprobs (Aimless Plots! Forced Dialogue! Shitty writing!) but those are things everyone struggles with. It’s a universal pain. It’s a rite of passage. It’s called being a writer. But all that external junk? All the stuff that comes and goes in phases or trends? That’s exactly what it is — a passing phase. And I want to be in this for the long haul. I want to wake up when I’m 85 and say, “I’m proud of myself. I’m proud of the books I produced, the time I spent working on my craft, building a backlist, building a community of strong, like-minded writers to lean on for support and love. I’m proud of doing things my way, even if it meant that I wasn’t as popular, wealthy, successful as others.”
Sure, maybe if I’d taken the other path in the fork in the road, I’d be 85 and in a fancy mansion saying those things, but I’m doubtful that would be the reality.
I think the hardest part of the transition (and I’m still struggling with it!) is that deep sense of guilt when you’re not actively writing. Even though I’ve made peace with my expectations, there’s still a pervasive sense of shame when I’m not writing. Like, “you say you’re a writer…but you’re not writing…” Then I read a blog post from Rachel Giesel that changed my perspective yet again.
I really respected and loved the way she talked about seasons of writing and how she also believes that her day job sustains her and fuels her writing. It reminds me that I’m not the only one who has this stance. I’m not the only one who has had to readjust expectations in order to keep something so sacred in our lives. But most importantly — I love that she focused on the LIFE she was living while she wasn’t producing words.
I think we sometimes forget that life is big and amazing and there’s a lot to it. So much more than our tiny little corner of it and the writing that comes out of us. I think it’s important to remind ourselves of all the things we DID do when we weren’t writing.
For me, it’s been a busy two years of building companies, fostering animals, focusing on weight loss, discovering how to become a certified trauma recovery coach, how to custom code a Squarespace website, how to improve lettering and design custom orders. So yeah, maybe the last two years hasn’t been as prolific as before. And I definitely did not sell or make as much money as I have in the past. But the biggest difference is that I’m happy with my relationship to writing and publishing right now and that means I’m much more likely to produce authentic, passionate work that is true to who I am instead of a result of expectations I didn’t want to set or meet.