N is for Nope

Hello, and welcome to the April A-Z Blogging Challenge! Over the first 26 days of April, we will explore aspects of writing and marketing books – authors, feel free to weigh in, and readers, feel free to observe and ask questions!

-M

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You know, one of the finest pieces of the indie (or self-pub) author community is the general willingness of authors to pass along advice to newcomers. This is usually couched in terms like, “don’t do what I did,” and today I am going to be a part of that proud tradition. Don’t do what I did. Learn to say no: to other authors, to readers, to editors, to agents, to publishers, and above all to yourself.

I said yes to almost everything when I started out: interviewing other authors, running social media accounts everywhere, hosting giveaways, and assigning myself writing targets anywhere in the range of inadvisable to utterly insane. No matter how over-scheduled I was, I would tell myself that it was only a little bit more effort. I was paying my dues. I was helping other people out, and what sort of sad person couldn’t take an hour to help out another author? What sort of person couldn’t get another book done within the month? (An over-scheduled person, and a normal person, respectively. That’s who.)

My burnout took two and a half years to arrive. In the Walker Art Center sculpture garden near my house, there is a series of granite benches with little truisms carved into them. One of them says, “There is a period when it is clear that you have gone wrong but you continue. Sometimes there is a luxurious amount of time before anything bad happens,” and my burnout was a lot like that. It went on for long enough, with me promising myself that I’d stop for a rest after the next book, the next interview, the next clever advertising push, and still somehow not burning out, that I managed to believe it wouldn’t ever happen.

The thing to remember here is that everyone watching could see what was happening. In lucid moments, even I could see it. But just as an author’s brain is capable of both believing their book is the greatest book ever written, and the worst book ever written, so we are capable of believing that we are approaching burnout, but we are also not approaching burnout and everything is fine. It’s a Schrodinger’s author thing.

All the more alluring is the siren call of art-ly misery, the longstanding myth that True Art comes from depression and alcoholism. Pardon my language, dear readers, but bullshit. True Art in the form of writing comes from writing, writing, more writing, editing, rewriting, honing, and writing some more. Like any craft, it becomes art by dedication, passion, and discipline. Though you will undoubtedly go to dark emotional places while writing, your art no more requires your misery than any other part of your life. You’d never think cooking a good dinner required unending emotional pain, would you? No. But when we’re tired, over-scheduled (because being busy is a virtue, you know), and courting situational depression, there’s that little voice telling us that this is how things should be.

Learning to say no is a solution that takes a lot of guts. We’re authors, so we’re mainly introverts. We may write epic space battles, but in reality a lot of us have trouble getting the courage to call for pizza. And what’s more, we generally like being helpful. “Oh, sure, I’ll just whip up a book that contains every painful lesson I’ve learned in this industry, it’ll take a few days, tops. Hopefully I’ll still be able to finish my manuscript in three weeks like I planned, though.” We know it’s conflict avoidant, but most of us still don’t have it in us to say no.

So say it to yourself first. Yeah, Stephen King got up at 4AM to write. Yeah, you could do another blog post. Yeah, you could spend some more time interacting on twitter. Yeah, you could get that book out in 9 weeks instead of 12. But maybe try saying no next time. Pause to think before telling yourself, “of course I can do that!” It takes a lot of willpower to say no to yourself, and a lot of practice, but if you can learn to stick up for your health when talking to you, you’re golden!

One thought on “N is for Nope

  1. This is one of the wisest blogs I’ve ever read. It applies not only to young (as in, just starting out) professionals in any vocation. It is a life-long struggle for most artists. So, learn to do it now or, at 45, 52, 60, 78 you will still be over-extended and under-nourished.
    Thanks for posting this!

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