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Eliminate 80% of author angst with these two things

A lot of energy is wasted — days, weeks, even years out the airlock — when an author’s head isn’t in the game. The days we spend wishing we were further along in our journey. The weeks we procrastinate, dreading failure (or success). The months that depression about our lot in life… about the value of our writing… about the amount of time we have… about how well other people are doing… (the list of reasons goes on) gets us down and keep our fingers from the keys. Wasted.

Have you felt it? Some form of angst over your writing life? This malady often strikes when we begin to work on marketing ourselves and our work. We are most vulnerable when we are comparing where (or who) we want to be with where (or who) we are.

We all want to be Superman

Superman: Man of Steel

(Unless we can be Batman. Then we all want to be Batman… Just kidding. You don’t have to like Superman or Batman to get what I’m saying. Substitute your favorite superhero in this spot.)

There are many reasons we feel author angst (call it frustration, anxiety, anger, fear, dissatisfaction or whatever flavor most often assaults you), but there’s one I see crop up again and again. It has to do with not liking where we are and who we are in a given moment.

We want to be on top of the world. Signing that publishing contract. Selling those hundreds of books a month. Dominating that best-seller list. Or maybe our goals are smaller, but they are still ambitious. We want to be writing those thousands of words a day, finishing that first draft within a few months.

But then life happens

And instead of being where we want to be, we are here. Working that day job (or two). Homeschooling the kids. Suffering with chronic fatigue or pain. Squeezing out a mere couple hundred words a day, if that. Reaching the end of the work day without enough energy to do more than sit on the couch and watch a TV show before falling into bed. Our creativity ebbs low, and time goes by, and we still only have — what? That same unfinished draft. That same, single published work. Or those same ten books, still only making one or two sales a month.

Meanwhile, it seems the world passes us by.

Time to tell yourself a story

Supporting characters: Samwise and Obi-Wan Kenobi

What if it’s okay that you’re not Superman right now? What if right now, you need to be Samwise, or Obi-Wan? Maybe right now is the marshes, a time of slogging through mud and dealing with the ghosts lurking in their depths. Maybe right now is holding that ground, distracting Vader so those you are protecting can become what they need to become. Maybe you are Luke on Dagobah and it’s time to learn and practice your skills.

When you find yourself embraced by angst over your writing journey, there is a powerful one-two punch that I find dissipates that attack nearly every time.

  1. Acceptance: Find the beauty in where you are.
  2. Hope: Find the motivation to move forward.

“Nobody wants my story!” If you have an impressive collection of rejections, don’t let it get you down. Read the accounts of now-famous authors about their early days. Even some of the best writers were rejected (here’s a list of 50 if those other two articles weren’t enough). Have faith in what you’re doing and just keep writing.

“I’m not getting anywhere.” Well, you certainly won’t get anywhere with that attitude. The truth is that if you keep putting one foot in front of another (however slowly) you will move forward. Re-center on why you’re writing. Re-discover the joy of it. And when you feel like giving up, check out the many excellent tips out there from this simple Google search. Even if you’re in the Swamps of Sadness, don’t let the sadness get to you. But if it does, I hope that (like Atreyu in The Neverending Story), you make friends along your journey who can pull you out when you’re going under.

“If I keep going at this rate, I’ll be 102 before I finish this series.” Sounds like you need to make a tough call. Either walk away from it or keep going. And if you keep going, stay hopeful: don’t wear yourself out, but look for those opportunities to make more time for your writing. Take them when they come. Forgive yourself when you miss them. And maybe you need to make a more aggressive change: start looking for a new job, one that would give you more time or leave you less exhausted. Also ask yourself, “Is this a season of life?” You may have children to attend to, and waiting until they are grown may feel like forever. But guess what? There are many top authors who didn’t start writing until later in life. Be Obi-Wan for your children. It’s worth it.

“I don’t even have enough finished work to begin building a fanbase.” Sure, the most effective marketing tactics work best for authors with a bigger body of work. First of all, you can be thankful that during this season of your writing career (yes, go ahead and call it a career!) your best approach is to put 90+% of your energy into the thing you love best: writing. You heard me: If you don’t have 3-5 stories already published, the best thing you can do is WRITE. Ignore marketing and just write! Or…. you actually can start building your fanbase before you’ve published a bunch of novels. We’ve touched a little on that in our past Author Branding lessons, and there’s more to come. But the good news is that you don’t have to. Just write.

“I’m a nobody.” Nobody is a nobody. You are amazing. You are a shining star in this universe of spinning galaxies, and if you don’t know that yet, you need to find the kinds of friends who will notice it and tell you as often as you need to hear it. As time goes on, I hope this #SpecFicCollective community will become that kind of place. A place where you can find others who are strange like you, with that weird mix of [whatever you are] or at least a mix that is compatible with you. Like peanut butter and chocolate. Like apples and cinnamon. Like pepperjack cheese. Hmmm, I must be hungry.

What’s your story?

This article is already 1,000 words long. Too long. And I know I didn’t cover all the reasons authors have ever been stuck in a rut. Is there some fear or angst that has been hounding you lately? Share it below in the comments. If you can, try to find a way of looking at it that gives you hope. If that’s impossible, just share the problem. Often an outside perspective can help.

Sometimes when even hope feels out of reach, the most important thing you can do is be willing to hope. Even when you feel stuck. I will never forget Neil Gaiman’s Sandman tale of A Hope in Hell. I hope you won’t either. Here’s the one-minute-twenty-seconds version of the story:

I say it a lot here, because I believe we need to hear it a lot: “Never give up, never surrender!” And when you start angsting against where you’re at, remember to tell yourself a story. A story that helps you accept where you are and gives you hope for future change. A story that reminds you that you are a hero, right where you are. The hero of your story.

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The Blinding Power of the Green-Eyed Monster

It’s one thing to talk about celebrity authors or authors that we’ve been in love with since childhood. Madeleine L’Engle, Stephen King, Neal Stephenson, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Isaac Asimov. There are few quibbles about their right to be in the hallowed halls of fame.

But what happens when a “nobody” rises to fame? What happens when somebody much like yourself (or — horrors! — even less experienced than yourself) becomes popular or is touted as great by those around you?

Have you ever heard that little voice whispering, “Why are they getting all the attention? What about me?”

The Plight of Boromir

Boromir fell into this trap. From the beginning, he was envious of Frodo’s assignment as the Ring Bearer. He could not believe that this inferior little person was being given this enormous responsibility and the much-desired Ring of Power. Why was this fluffy-footed little halfling getting all the attention?

boromir-council-of-elrond

Eventually, his envy (which was really rooted in his pride — another dangerous thing that twists our view of the world) caused the breaking of the Fellowship and the departure of the Ring to Mordor in the hands of two unprotected hobbits. His blind desire for the Ring and contempt for the chosen Ring Bearer put the world into more danger than ever. Instead of protecting and supporting the one who was chosen to carry the burden, he drove him away and into the grasp of the treacherous Gollum.

Envy clouds your view

Envy has never ended well for fantasy characters. The Queen step-mother of Snow White was obsessed with being the most beautiful and it twisted her into the most wicked. Whatever you focus on and give attention to will loom larger in your mind. The step-sisters of Cinderella were terribly envious of her beauty and overall sweetness. They mutilated themselves, trying to fit her mold (the slipper). They could have had a wonderful life as the sisters of the new Queen, but instead their eyes were pecked out by vengeful birds or they were relegated to servanthood, depending on the story version.

When you are busy envying someone else’s success, you are wasting energy. Not only that, but envy leads to blindness and poor decision-making. Two common pitfalls: either you will try to copy the other person’s success (without considering whether it fits your own brand and personality and goals) or you will reject their entire approach (missing out on some excellent tactics because you simply Will… Not… Be… Like… Them).

The cure for green-eye disease

The next time you see someone promoted for something they’re doing well, and you get the greens, try this recipe for a cure. I have it on good authority that the success rate is over 95% if applied consistently whenever symptoms appear.

First of all, remind yourself of the truth. Put it on a post-it note: “Envy is ignorance” – Ralph Waldo Emerson. “There are enough readers for everyone.” Bookmark a few statistics or articles that remind you: today’s marketplace rewards cooperation, not competition. Return to them when you need a reminder.

Next, take positive action towards the other author. Congratulate them. Learn from their success. Share their story on social media. Celebrate with them. Don’t let the green-eyed monster climb onto your back and wrap his long, slimy fingers over your eyes.

Envy isn’t new and it isn’t just you. Here are some articles that may help:

We are stronger together

One of the core values of the #SpecFicCollective is that we are stronger together than we are apart. Today’s publishing landscape is not the same cutthroat situation that it was when a few publishers had only a few spots each year for a few books. There was a time when authors might have been rewarded for acting competitively instead of cooperatively.

But today is not that day.

Today, an individual author may have what it takes to succeed alone. But a Fellowship of authors will always do better — if we are working together with the shared understanding that success for one contributes to the success of all. Acts of generosity, mutual promotion, shared readership and collaborative marketing are exponentially more effective in today’s world of social media and book marketing.

Action Items

  • Search online for an author in your genre who received an award or recognition. Someone who is being interviewed on a big name website. Now promote their book. Say something nice about them. Celebrate their success.
  • Think back to the last time you were attacked by the green-eyed monster. Write a private journal entry stating what happened and why you envied the other person. End the entry by saying something nice about the person and with this statement: “Their success does not detract from mine. There is enough success for both of us.”
  • Leave a comment below and share your thoughts. Do you agree that we are stronger together than apart? Or do you see other authors as your competition? Why or why not?
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