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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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Author Identity: The hero must discover who he is

Remember Luke Skywalker in the very first Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope? He was a clueless farm boy stumbling into one of the greatest power struggles in the galaxy.

Luke Skywalker on Tatooine

Now think about Luke as he appeared in The Return of the Jedi. He was confident, he had a plan, and you could see peace and determination shining through his every word and deed.

He knew who he was. He had embraced his identity as a Jedi with power of the Force and as the son of Darth Vader, right-hand of the evil Emperor. He had decided to save his friends and continue the fight against the Empire. When hardships hit, he did not waver. When things looked impossible, he did not give up. Ultimately, his unwavering faith saved his father and defeated the Emperor.

Luke and Vader after the Emperor is defeated

When you know who you are, you are unstoppable.

Take a look around the entertainment world. It is not the most talented, most unique or wealthiest that are the most popular.

Successful entertainers know who they are and what they are about. They have found effective ways to communicate their identity to the world. This is often called branding and authors need it, too. People are drawn to others who have a sense of purpose or a strong sense of identity. It speaks to our shared inner need for meaning in life. When we see someone who is committed to a passion or a cause, we admire it and often we yearn to be part of it.

But how do we get there?

Brand Identity is a process

Sometimes, you know from the very start what it is you want to be. When I was in my late teens, I wanted to become “the Stephen King of light and goodness”. His stories were amazing, but so dark. I wanted to be prolific and popular with stories that focused more on the light than the darkness. My goals have shifted somewhat over the years, but that’s a good example of choosing an identity up front. If you choose a memorable identity and gear every story and every aspect of your online presence towards that end, a strong brand can be established very quickly.

Other times, you begin knowing only that you want to write. Stories bubble out of you. Maybe they’re all similar, maybe they aren’t. You write what you feel like writing. Over time, an author’s style and voice and story tendencies come through. A brand can occur organically and over time.

Authors have built their careers both ways in the past, but in today’s saturated market you need a strong brand now. Don’t worry about getting it perfect. It can change over time. You may need to experiment a bit to make it memorable and engaging.

Your brand identity is the magnet that attracts others to you and your work. But it also has great benefits for you. It provides a compass for direction and a way to assess priorities and measure success. We’ll talk more about these benefits in future posts.

Action Item

Make a list of 6 well-known authors. Next to each name, write down what you think their brand identity is. “Suspense author” or “writer of creepy, complex plots with large casts of characters” or “the queen of forensic murder mysteries”.

Now go to their websites or scan through Amazon.com’s descriptions and endorsements of their books. What identity do you find reflected there? How are they described by others?

Share one or two of your findings in a comment below.

 

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