One of the biggest challenges I’m facing as a published author is actually writing. It sounds stupid, I know. You think that once you’re published, some of the stress is off your back and writing becomes freer and easier, not more constricted. I’ve found the opposite to be true. Publication brings a whole new set of responsibilities and time sucks that mean you write less, not more.
It also brings a mental shift: Now there are deadlines and fears about “staying” published. There’s pressure. Having cracked that door, can I continue to produce work that keeps me inside the publishing realm, or will my next effort get me kicked out of the club? Can I write fast enough to appease publishers and readers who demand “content” ever faster?
All of this combines to make writing more difficult than it was pre-publication. I kind of miss the days when all I had to do was do my day job and write my book in my free time. Now my writing time is sucked away by all the extra “stuff” that goes along with marketing, platform building, appearances, etc. I have three full time jobs: Freelance writer, author, and marketer. While these are sometimes great problems to have, it does mean that the writing suffers because I just don’t have enough hours in a day.
What I’ve (too) slowly realized, though, is that it’s the writing that’s most important. While this should be obvious, it’s way too easy to get sucked into the netherworld that is “other stuff.” All that other stuff seems important at the time, and it is in some ways, but it’s not more important than the writing. Writing more books is the number one way to boost visibility and sales. Backlist sells frontlist. (This great article illustrates the point.) This means that you have to, oh, I don’t know, write. All the time.
But I’ve gotten caught up in the vortex of stuff, to the detriment of the real work. I’m working on changing that, but it’s not as simple as saying, “Dump the other stuff!” It’s more a matter of making a conscious effort to put the writing and all that supports it first. The other stuff gets whatever time is left over.
So what does this look like in practice? First, I made a list of things that are essential to writing. These are the things that must consume the bulk of my time/energy. They support the writing and keep me healthy. Then I made another list of stuff that has its place in a writing career, but which can be dumped/moved to another day in order to protect the writing.
Things That Are Important to the Writing and Must Be Protected at All Costs
Time. Time is the number one thing that needs protecting. I’m getting better at saying, “No” to unnecessary obligations that steal away my writing time. I’m also getting better at ignoring distractions like the phone, internet, email, etc. Protecting my prime productive hours is my first priority.
Exercise. Exercise helps me get rid of anxiety and other stress that makes it difficult to write. It drowns out the, “You suck” voice. It also keeps me generally healthier so I don’t get as many colds, etc. which cost me days of work. I haven’t been as diligent about this as I need to be and I’m working to get back on track.
Quiet time/reading. As a card-carrying introvert, I need quiet time in order to think and recharge. That’s been hard to come by lately as the demands on my time have increased. I also need to read since reading fuels my writing. I’ve noticed lately that I haven’t had much time to read and when I do, I’m not enjoying it as much because I’m tired and feel guilty that I’m not doing something else. I need to get better at shutting out distractions and using my time to do the things that fuel me, not the things that drain me.
Proper nutrition. I don’t have time to cook as much as I used to and it’s showing up in my health. A diet of processed crap makes me tired, cranky, and sluggish, all of which hurt the writing. I’ve got to get back to cooking good food instead of relying on restaurants and processed crap. This goes back to protecting time and saying no to less important things.
Good sleep. I’ve been fighting through a bout of insomnia lately and it’s killing me. Part of it stems from anxiety and overwork and some of it comes from my disrupted routine. Whatever is causing it, I need to fix it because good sleep is essential to brain function, something that I cannot write without.
Things That Are Useful But Non-Essential And Come After The Writing
Blogging. Blogging is a lot of fun and can be a great way to boost visibility, but if it’s a choice between updating this site or working on the next book, the next book has to take priority.
Social networking. Social networking is a major time suck. It’s too easy to get caught up in looking at other people’s posts or creating engaging content and images to feed that monster. It’s fun and necessary to increase visibility, but it has to take a backseat to the books. When I do use it, I’m trying to get better at sticking to time limits.
Giveaways. You’d be surprised at how much time it takes to run a giveaway. I really enjoy doing them, but setting them up, creating graphics to showcase the prizes, and promoting the giveaway is time consuming. They don’t get a great response, though, so this is an easy thing to cut down on.
Appearances. These are fun and I love interacting with readers, but whether they are virtual or in-person, local or far away, they eat up time that’s better spent writing. I haven’t yet reached the point where the sales and visibility I generate from these recoup the costs of lost time (both from my books and my regular job), so these need to be limited to one or two per year. Maybe I’ll do more Twitter chats that just last an hour and have low/no demands on time, setup, and travel.
Miscellaneous promotion. I’ve spent a ton of time submitting my books to “deal of the day-” type sites and sites that aggregate free books. So far, I can’t see that there’s been any boost in downloads. I’ve also lost a lot of time designing swag, doing blog posts for other websites, creating newsletters, and chasing reviewers, none of which seems to had any effect on anything. I’m sure these things pay off over the long term but, again, they take time away from the writing and need to be pursued in small doses only as time allows.
The writing is the only thing in this whole crazy publishing universe that’s within my control. Everything else relies on luck, that strike of lightning, and the simple passage of time. The only thing I can really do to ensure a successful career is write. And I can only do that if I’m healthy, energized, and sane. All of the other stuff has its place, but its place is after the writing. Not before. Not during. After.