In the usual fashion for me, when I find myself faced with the notion that “I must do something or else,” nine times out of ten, I am compelled to dig in my heels and say, “uh uh.” This is where I found myself about six months ago, faced with an emerging paradigm amidst Indie authors to jump on the bandwagon and write, publish, write, write, write, publish, at such a crazy pace that I personally can’t be comfortable with my own processes.
If you’re reading this as a reader of my books, the one thing I want to most convey is that I still want to—and plan to—write ALL the stories you want me to write. They just won’t come quickly.
If you’re reading this as a writer, let’s talk. First of all, I want to say that I realize there are a handful of amazing writers out there who naturally write at break-neck speed. If you’re one of those who can do it and produce quality stories, with an editorial process in place that complements your writing pace, and somehow you still manage to spend time with the kids and grandkids, keep a date night with your husband, tend your garden and generally have a life—and even more importantly, you’re paying attention to your health—then wow. I’m in awe of you, and you should keep doing that. I will watch you and pull for you and be amazed by your energy, your tenacity, and your talent.
But if you’re one of those authors who cannot keep up, and you’re trying to do it anyway, you’re the one I want to chat with right now. I’m a private person, but I’m going to shed that natural instinct today to confess I have tried. It didn’t work out for me. I found myself stressed, neglecting everyone around me, working too many hours to pay attention to healthy sleep habits, blood pressure, posture, return phone calls, etc. I woke up every morning and dove for the computer, got sucked into emails, promo opportunities, etc. And once I wrested myself away from that (a monumental feat in itself), I tried to write, while managing foreign translations, audiobooks, etc. In short, I turned myself into a publishing machine with a single purpose and to the exclusion of everything else that mattered to me in life. The first thing that gave out was my health. A lack of sleep, poor diet and exercise, and long hours at the computer with poor posture led to an all-out rebellion of my body. I developed a very sudden and frightening allergy to NSAIDs (which I was popping indiscriminately at the time). Then came the posture issues, with debilitating arthritic pain at the back of my neck—an issue I am STILL dealing with after two years of massage therapy. And still, through all of this, I continued, attempting to keep up in a market that was changing at lightning speed.
Until about six months ago.
And then this happened: I wrote two books back to back—two very important books for me. One was for a publisher I had been dying to work with, the other strictly for my fans. I was proud of both books, but because of the timing, I had NO new books out in 2015. Zero. Nada. Zip. And yet, I worked harder in 2015 than ever before. There was simply no product to show for it—not yet. So I stressed a little more. “Oh my God!” I thought. “I’m going to be forgotten!”
It seemed to me that everyone was passing me by. Friends I won’t mention here, because they are not the point (they are clearly working with different parameters), were putting out books every six weeks. In the meantime, I was a stressed-out, pain-filled pretzel trying to keep up. I was so out of sorts this past November that when I took a trip to New York to meet with my new publisher, the sales director took one look at me and said, “I hope you don’t mind my saying, but I can see you’re in pain.” I was! And I needed it to S.T.O.P.
So I came home and brought everything to a screeching halt. That pressure to “do something, or else” smacked me upside the head… and I responded as I have come to know I will. It wasn’t the first time. Back in the late ‘90s, with a thriving career, I took a 10-year hiatus from publishing. I jumped off a speeding treadmill only to get back on, and this time I was by far “meaner” to myself than any publisher could be. By this, I mean that I gave myself tougher deadlines, berated myself for EVERY SINGLE misplaced comma. EVERY TYPO. The perfectionist in me was given free rein to bop me upside the head with the “perfectionist hammer” any time it wished to. It was no wonder I was slowly beginning to not enjoy writing again. And this was the biggest tell of all. I was beginning to look for ways to avoid writing.
Those who know me well know I’m not a complainer. The only reason I’m writing this today is because I found a solution—for me. On the off-chance that my solution might work for someone else, I’m sharing, so that if you’re on that brutal, life-sucking treadmill and you don’t belong there, maybe you’ll give yourself permission to get off.
An amazing thing happened after I dug my heels into the sand so firmly I couldn’t get a word out of my brain without complete and utter agony. “Oh, my God,” I thought at first, “You have XX number books to write, because, well, you HAVE to!”
But did I really have to? I took stock of where I was. After a full year with no new books out, I had a stable, if slowly growing market. I hadn’t faced a sudden and catastrophic collapse of my career. “So what now?” I asked myself. And despite the nearly irresistible urge to try to dive back in, I did the unthinkable: I slowed down even more. I quit writing for two months to heal my neck and make time for my neglected husband. I gardened. I cooked. I went to dinner with friends, and whenever my friends asked me what book I was working on today, for the first time, maybe EVER, I said, “Nothing. I’m taking a break.” What I discovered was this: I began to want to write again. I couldn’t wait to get back to the keyboard to tell the stories I want to tell. I rediscovered my joy.
I’m still dealing with neck issues, but the neck has begun to improve. My blood pressure went down (114/74). I ate breakfast with my husband out on the deck and enjoyed the scent of the roses I’d planted—so, literally, I stopped to smell the roses. I remembered that I’m not twenty-something anymore. On the day I close my eyes that final time, I’m pretty sure I won’t wish I’d written one more book.
This is an amazing time for us as writers. We can do whatever we want; I firmly believe that. For some of us that goal is quite lofty and money is very important, but I had to stop and ask myself what my goal was—what was important to me? Was it fame? No, not really. Obviously, I want my fans to recognize my name and buy my books. So was it money? Umm, well, I do need money to live, but how much is enough?
Ultimately, I realized that what I wanted most was pretty simple: I want to earn enough so I can write full time and so I can be an asset to my family. Check. I want to love writing because it’s in my blood, and I need it the same as I need that morning cup of coffee. Check. I want to continue writing and growing my brand until the day I kick up my toes, all the while writing books I truly love and can stand behind. Only time will tell if I accomplish this one. But these are a few things I have decided are important to me and have become part of my personal bible:
- In the future, I will not make decisions that devalue or undervalue me or my work
- I will do my part to ensure a stable and growing marketplace, including partnering with vendors for the sake of healthy competition
- I will be a source of strength to my community (both writing and living)
- I will pay attention to my health and choose it first (kind of like putting the oxygen mask on myself before others)
- I will enjoy writing and protect the mindset that allows it
- I will keep better office hours and learn better time management
- I will read at least one book a week (because that’s where this joyful profession was fostered)
- I will exercise at least five days per week
- I will not publish so fast I cannot comfortably employ a proper editorial process
- I will put the computer down when people are talking to me and listen to what they are saying
There are many more, but these are the highlights. I’ve made a list I can refer to every day.
After all, I feel the need to point out that just because you are not writing a brand new book every six weeks doesn’t mean you can’t stay relevant and in the game. I believe most of us are not exploiting our works to the best of our ability. There are ancillary products we still don’t properly exploit: audiobooks, foreign editions, promotional sets. One thing I did in 2015, because maybe some part of me sensed the coming rebellion: I pushed myself to do audiobooks and put in place a structure and support team to expand into foreign markets. So while my frontlist and backlist wasn’t growing, my list was still growing. Today, I feel very comfortable with my foundation in this business and I expect to be doing this for a long time to come. I also feel compelled to point out that labels don’t behoove us so let’s not pigeonhole ourselves. Traditional, indie, hybrid, whatever. We’re authors. Everything we do in the publishing landscape affects us all, both short and long term.
I realize this business is ever-changing and tomorrow I might make a different decision, but I’m no longer racing against time to produce new works. In fact, I’ve purposely slowed down to the point that I am focusing on my contemporary works, and unfortunately this means it’ll be a while before I can return to historicals. If I have readers who have stuck with me thus far, please take heart: I love historicals as much as I do the contemporaries, but I can’t do both in good health and I owe it to myself to explore this much ignored aspect of my career. Plus, I am working with an amazing publisher and that experience deserves my all.
For those of you who keep that crazy schedule and thrive in it, please don’t feel this is in any way a criticism. I’m in awe of you. More power to you, and I will look forward to seeing where you carry your torch. But if there are writers out there who, like me, are sacrificing health and wellness and peace of mind just to keep up with this crazy business, maybe it’s time to stop, take stock of where you are, and ask yourself, “how much is enough?” I’m here to say you will not become irrelevant. If anything, you might find yourself able to devise ways to grow your brand with a clearer head and partner with fellow authors and vendors in ways that not only grow you as an author but help improve the industry as a whole. If we are not healthy, we’re not making healthy decisions for ourselves or for the market that supports us. That’s all. Life is short. It truly is. Don’t make it shorter than it has to be. Love yourself. Love your writing. I plan to. And it feels great to finally come into my own.