Wednesday, May 18, 2016

When It Feels Like the Race Is Passing You By

I've been writing this post in my head for longer than I care to admit, but a part of me hasn't wanted to come out and just say it. I didn't want to sound like a whiner, and I certainly didn't want to come across as ungrateful. Because I've been extremely blessed. Most writers are still waiting to see one of their books on the shelf, let alone two. But I've been inspired by the insightful, honest posts that my friends have been sharing. When your motivation starts feeling less like circumspection and more like cowardice, you know you have to take the leap.

You probably haven't noticed that it's been almost three years since I announced my last book deal. You probably haven't even wondered what I've been working on because you've just assumed that I've been being a Published Author. But I'm never too busy to write. Writing is just what we do. Even when we don't have time. Even when we want to sleep. Even when we're so hopped up on cold medicine that we can barely string three coherent words together. I'm sure you know what you mean.

It's just that none of the things I've written in the last three years have sold*.

How I feel about this fact changes from day to day (and sometimes from hour to hour). It's unfortunate that the qualities that make us good writers--like empathy and internalization--are the very qualities that make the publishing industry especially difficult to maneuver. Here are several ways I cope:

1. Step away from the computer. There is nothing wrong with taking a few days, weeks, or even months to reorient myself. I usually remember why I love telling stories and crafting pitch-perfect sentences when I'm not actively doing it.

2. Take breaks from social media. I love keeping up with writing friends, but sometimes I do have to turn off Twitter. The constant deluge of good news can get overwhelming, and while I don't think it's okay to succumb to bitterness and jealousy, I do think it's okay to know your limits and stop torturing yourself.

3. Do something nice for someone else. There is absolutely no substitute for genuine service. When I'm focused on another person's needs, I spend a lot less time and brainpower worrying about myself.

4. Pick up a new hobby or develop an old one. When I got into genealogy almost six years ago, I never imagined that it could or would become such an invaluable lifeline. Anytime I need a break from this mentally and emotionally draining business, researching my dead people always fills my well back up.

5. Read, read, read. Most writers were readers first, and that's certainly true in my case. I love digging into a new find or rereading an old favorite. That said, I'll be the first to admit that I sometimes avoid certain books. Some authors are so out of my league that I can bask in their amazingness without feeling threatened, but that brilliant debut that's getting all kinds of awesome press and winning all kinds of awards? Yeah, I'm not going to appreciate that book when I'm down in the dumps, so I hold off on reading it until I've dug myself out.

6. Develop meaningful relationships with other writers. Only other writers can really understand what it's like to be a writer. Also, I've found it's easier to be genuinely happy for a writer I've taken the time to get to know.

What do YOU do to keep your head above water?

*But that's not accurate, either. I probably should have said, "It's just that none of the things I've written in the last three years have sold YET." Against all odds, I'm still plugging away. If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, then fit me for a straitjacket and book my padded cell.


michelleimason said...

I definitely think you should stress that YET! But as we've discussed, I am the eternal optimist :).

My favorite line in this post is: "researching my dead people always fills my well back up." It may be your real-life truth, but it sounds like the first line of a novel ...

Noelle Henry said...

Love this post. I relate to so much of what you said and how you feel. I've been coping by stepping away from the computer a lot. Getting out and about more has helped my sanity and my mindset a ton.

Carla Luna Cullen said...

This post really speaks to me! I've felt this way a lot lately, especially after splitting with my agent last fall. The best thing I did was get a PT job in a spice shop. In the past 6 months, I've started to embrace cooking, rather than regard it as a chore. I've been having so much fun with it, and the rewards are immediate!

A.J. Cattapan said...

I have a similar sort of situation going on. My first book came out at the same time as yours. My second book comes out in August, but ask me when I last worked on writing a novel . . . 2012. I haven't written anything but short pieces and one nonfiction (that hasn't sold) since then.

It's good to hear of another writer who is having her ups and downs. Some of my writing friends just keep cranking novels out! I guess some of us just aren't that kind of writer.

mph2003 said...

Thank you for being so open and honest. Makes me realize we all have these moments of doubt, that none of us is alone. Also, THANK YOU for writing about giving yourself a break and stepping away at times. Trying to work on giving myself permission to do so without the guilt.

RC Hancock said...

Thanks for such an honest post. A lot of us needed to hear it.

Ellie said...

Thank you for sharing this! I love the honesty of how hard the publishing world really is. I think too often we only hear the miracle stories. The unicorns of the publishing deals one right after another, and the constant releases. And I think that makes us assume that it's that way for everyone, when it's the rarity!

Elaine Pease said...

Kristin, I have to think most creative people go through this occasionally, because, as you said, we are fine-tuned to "empathy and internalization." Blogs like yours reach out and tell a universal truth, so we can all feel more connected and hopeful. Thank you.

Ben Spendlove said...

I fix up old bicycles. Like writing, this is something that I could make money doing. (Also like writing, the hourly rate would end up being abysmal.) Right now I'm not even trying to sell bicycles or novels, and I've all but disappeared from social media. MaƱana.

Rena said...

Thank you for posting and sharing this part of the journey. I know people who think that once you publish everything is roses, and you don't have set backs anymore. This business is so up and down. And yes, your books will sell.

G.L. D. said...

I suspect many may assume the genuine reason for one's passion and acomplishments is obvious. Yet often the success of the enterprise is more evident in the peripherals. YOU are an author....congrats. Yet the real, longterm impact may be in a matrter of mentorship, a calling likewise dependent on gracious communication, the ability to light a candle in the dark. Your ability to ripple the meanings of relationships, to touch the horizon of thought and imagination, may well be more efficacious in the souls you touch here, on this blog. Books will yet come....already you have more to your credit than the vast majority of all the rest of us. Yet here, in this mirror you term a blog, ripples spread, and thoughts are directed, tears mended, hope flourished. My own theatrical/artistic endeavours, avail me not of fame nor yet of fortune, but rather the coinage of satisfaction, in lives touched.

Krista Van Dolzer said...

I need to find a way to work genealogy into a manuscript someday, don't I, Michelle? That would be an interesting first line...

Thanks, Noelle. It can be easy to forget that there's a real world out there full of people who, by and large, don't think much about the publishing industry. If I weren't such a reclusive introvert, interacting with them would probably be fun:)

You know how much I love your new job, Carla. If your spice shop ever has a job opening... :)

Oh, I keep cranking out novels, A.J. It's just that publishers haven't wanted to buy them (yet). Silly publishers.

Why are we so good at guilt-tripping ourselves, Maria? PLEASE use this post as validation to give yourself a break.

You're welcome, R.C.

So true, Ellie. I don't think it's good to be a Debbie Downer, constantly dwelling on the negative, but I do think it's important to be real and let people see that it's not always sunshine and rainbows.

Thank YOU for your kind comment, Elaine.

It sounds like you've got more figured out than most of us, Ben.

Thanks for the encouragement, Rena. One of the takeaway points is that this business is hard no matter what stage you happen to be at. (Speaking of which, Veronica Roth recently Tumblred about the anxiety that set in after ALLEGIANT came out. It's well worth a read:

Aw, thank you, George. (And yes, I know the G doesn't really stand for George:) )