So, I know this is going to sound like I’m complaining—maybe even ungrateful—but bear with me.
I was talking to a book club recently, and I made a quip I’ve made often: that I went and turned my fun hobby (writing books) into a second job. It got the laugh it often does, but someone followed up to ask me whether that meant I found writing to be work, something I didn’t enjoy. Of course, writing is work I said, and of course I love it. What I was referring to is all the ancillary stuff to writing once you’re published—the promotion, the revisions, the endless decisions about cover art, and inside copy fonts and which festivals you should travel to and why. (See, I said it would sound like I was complaining). It can be a lot. And frankly, I literally had no idea about any of it before I got my first book deal. I’d never heard of Goodreads. Wasn’t on Twitter. And was about to quit Facebook (shocking, I know).
Six months later I was active on all those things and more, things I don’t even remember my passwords for anymore such as LibraryThing and MySpace. It was, in retrospect, overwhelming, and from July 2009 (when I got my Canadian deal) until January 2011, I really didn’t write anything. Oh, it looked like I was writing lots of things. I had three books come out in three years, but I’d written all of them before I got my deal. So while I was doing a lot of re-writing, there weren’t any new words, any new stories. I felt tapped out. I wanted to do something, write something, different, but I didn’t know what.
Then I slowly started writing the book that would become Hidden. Where I’d written my other books in about six months (for a first draft) Hidden took eighteen. I could say it was because I had all three of my books come out in the US that year, that promotion had gone into overdrive, but really, I think I was just tired. Tired of writing.
I finished that book and then…nothing. I mean, really nothing. No writing, not fiction anyway. Instead, I read 52 books in 52 weeks and wrote book reviews. I spent a lot of time on Facebook etc. But from September 2012 until September 2013, I once again wrote, essentially, zero fiction.
I could go on, but I think you get the point. I seem to have these bursts of creative energy followed by fallow periods where I’m casting around for something. The ideas have dried up and the task of writing a good story seems insurmountable. And all the promotion and blog writing and travelling and, oh yeah, my day job, leave me without the drive it takes to sit down in the chair every day and write.
This has been happening to me again lately, with a slight difference. I’ve written two books in two years (Smoke and the upcoming Fractured), and I’m proud of those books. But as I sat down to start writing this year’s book, I found myself pushing what I was supposed to be writing aside and starting something else. And when I had 60 pages of that, I went back to the book I was supposed to be writing and in a manic writing sprint, wrote 120 pages. And so now I have two manuscripts sitting there, waiting for my attention while I’m in the middle of copy edits and cover choices and…yeah, here I am again. Having trouble putting my butt in the chair and writing.
I’ve had some tough talks with myself in the last few weeks: what do I want to be writing? Why I am pushing myself to this pace? What is the next best step for my career? This is not usually how I think. Usually, I am caught up in one idea which I need to get down on paper and that gets done as it needs to. I enjoy it. I don’t tend to feel overwhelmed. I don’t tend to feel…exhausted.
Because that is what this is, I realized. I am suffering from publishing exhaustion. That feeling that I need to keep producing content, without giving the last book time to breathe. Time to have a life on its own once it’s out in the world. If my mind changes from one book to another right after I write “The End” am I doing the best I can? Am I being fair to my art?
Now, don’t worry. I’m not having some existential crisis—though I couldn’t fault you for thinking so. Nor I am going to hang up my hat and quite writing. I love the two books I’ve been working on, and one day soon, I’m going to decide which one I’m writing and put my butt in the chair, and write it. But I’m going to re-impose some rules I’d put on myself a long time ago, and had somehow let slip. Rules I hope can help you avoid going through the same thing, whether it’s your first novel or your tenth.
So here they are—my top five rules for avoiding publishing exhaustion:
- Learn to say “no”. This is a bigger life rule, really, and one I’ve struggled with forever. I do not need to be the one to do everything. I’m going to repeat that: You do not need to be the one to do everything. One more blog post. One more signing. One more Facebook post or Tweet. One of the crazy-making parts of this business is that it always feels as if you could be doing something to make your career just a little bit bigger. But the cost benefit analysis is minimal. Spend most of your time on writing the best book you can, and less on doing everything else.
- Take some time off between books. This is my Ferris Bueller advice: life goes by quickly, and if you don’t take the time to enjoy where you are once in a while, you’ll miss it. Read, see movies, enjoy time with your friends. These things fuel your creativity, they don’t take away from it.
- Let your books go. Somewhere between the first draft and the tenth is where your best book lies. Tweaking and tweaking and tweaking for perfection is probably not attainable for most of us. Doing the best you can with a reasonable amount of effort. Stop when it isn’t fun That’s usually a good sign.
- Speaking of which, remember to have fun. What got you writing in the first place? A crave for riches and fame? I didn’t think so. You, like me, probably loved telling stories and the stories you wanted to tell needed to be put down on paper to be their best selves. Find a way to keep that fun. Because publishing is a job, but it can be a fun one if you keep it all in perspective.
- Let others help you out. Part of being in a great community like Writer Unboxed is that there are plenty of others who have been through what you’re going through. Reach out, ask for help, get some advice. And that goes for me too, that’s what the comments are for, right?
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