Self-care is something we could all stand to get better about. At the risk of dating this post, when there’s a pandemic happening and some leaders seems totally unequipped to handle a real-life crisis, you gotta take shit into your own hands, you know what I’m sayin’?
I’ve always been one of those people you want to be with when the ship is sinking: I will make sure we LIVE, GODDAMMIT!! I’ll find a way. Leadership can’t make a decision? Screw that. I’m the captain now.
Writing is sort of like enduring a pandemic that never ends, but on a psychic level. You’re isolated, you’re uncertain of the future, you’re trying not to freak out over things you can’t control, success or failure seems random, and you’re probably worried about your finances (especially if you write full-time). So self-care is critical to getting through tough times…which for a lot of aspiring authors never ends.
Here are six basic tenets of writing self-care that’ll get you through tough times:
1. Give yourself realistic goals you have control over
A realistic goal might be a daily word count goal, or a certain number of submissions within a month (I recommend no more than five at a time), or booking a few ads if you’re gearing up to publish. The key is to make goals you can achieve through your own willpower, that don’t depend on luck or someone else’s decisions. Being able to control something in your career is a great way to assuage anxiety and feelings of despair.
2. Temper expectations for things you don’t have control over, specifically goals involving the publishing process
A lot of authors have the goal of simply getting a traditionally published deal. The problem with this goal is that it depends almost entirely on things you can’t control. Whether or not your book gets picked up by an agent is only marginally dependent on its quality. A publishing deal usually comes down to what a specific agent is looking for on any given day, what’s currently hot in the industry, and how well your query letter is written based on standards that constantly change.
Still, the dream of being the next Stephen King is a powerful one. Dreaming big is not a bad thing, as long as you always keep in mind achieving that dream depends a lot more on luck than your own skill.
3. Always keep writing
If you enjoy writing, keep writing! The vast majority of authors don’t become bestsellers with their debut novel. Your average “overnight success” is usually on their fifth or even tenth book, sometime more. If one manuscript doesn’t hit it big, focusing on your next effort is the best way to keep hope alive.
4. Put most of your energy into things that bring you joy; minimize spending energy on things that don’t bring you joy
I mentioned this in my marketing blog, since marketing is a necessary evil for a lot of authors. Don’t forget why you write: for the joy of it. If you find yourself dreading doing something, reorient yourself away from it, and find the joy again.
5. If you fail hard at something, whether it’s your fault or not, let yourself be angry and sad…for a limited time; then bounce back
The “bounce-back” mantra is a staple for POWs: if you break under pressure, don’t give up or flagellate yourself for being a failure. You’re a human being, not a robot. Cry and eat some ice cream, then pick yourself up and try again. Just the fact you’re making a serious effort to be an author is miles ahead of people who dream about it but never even finish a book.
6. Don’t give up, BUT don’t keep doing things that don’t work, or things that make you miserable
Sometimes you need to adjust your goals in order to achieve them, or adjust your execution. For instance, if your dream is to get a traditional publishing deal, but you’re writing in a genre that’s dead right now—i.e. YA dystopia—then switch genres, or shelve that book until the genre comes back around again (often what’s hot and what’s not is cyclical) and write something else. Or maybe you’re on your way to becoming a successful romance author, but cranking out four books a year is killing you. If something’s not working, or you find yourself dissatisfied with where you are in your career, take a moment to stop and ask yourself if what you’re doing is really working for you.
And that’s how you keep on keepin’ on.