by Megan Haskell
There are a lot of things about this writing life that I love. The flexibility to work when and where I want to. The joy of creating something out of nothing and providing entertainment — and at times a necessary diversion when life is hard — for readers who devour every word.
But there are also challenges that must be overcome. One of the biggest is the inevitable ups and downs in every aspect of the craft.
We all know how it goes: one day your muse is sitting on your shoulder pouring words in your ear faster than you can type them onto the blank page. Everything flows smoothly and quickly. Every sentence seems to sparkle like gems on the screen.
Then there are the days when nothing is working. Every word is a tooth pulled straight from your head. The smallest problems become insurmountable issues. Your plot is stagnant, your prose dull and brown.
We all go through it. You’re not alone. I’m not alone. But if we want to be professional writers, we have to maximize our ups and minimize our downs.
When the going is good, do everything you can to keep it flowing. Forget about the housework. Say no to unnecessary social obligations. Avoid distractions. Sometimes you have to say no to say yes to your writing.
But when a project begins to get sluggish, you have to find a way past the creative bottleneck holding your words hostage. Sometimes brute force works — putting your butt in your chair day after day until it gets easier again — but not often for me. In fact, my fastest path to recovery is to hit the pause button on the project and work on something else. Don’t stop writing, don’t lose your hard-won daily habit, but give your troublesome manuscript a break. Then, after you’ve written that short story that you’ve always wanted to write, or the blog post that’s due next week, or the big battle scene at the end of the story, you can come back with fresh eyes and renewed spirit to face the problem head-on.
You might just find that the roadblocks to your creativity have been knocked down, and with a couple of tweaks or a minor revision, your story is back on track.
How do you overcome the writing famines?
The act of writing is hard enough, but when our work is inextricably tied to our sense of self (if you’re not personally invested in your creative projects, you’re doing something wrong) the emotional toll is profound. One day you think your work is brilliant, the next you feel like a hack, thinking your words can never compare to the great book you just read. A positive review can send you sky high, only to crash and burn when a different reader fails to connect. One minute you’re celebrating your latest release, the next you’re chewing your nails, hitting refresh on your Amazon dashboard every two seconds to check your sales and rankings. It’s a never-ending rollercoaster.
For my own sanity, I have to attempt to level-out my ride. Of course I enjoy it when the going is good, but I try to temper the highs with realistic expectations, and bolster the lows with reminders of the highs. For example, with the launch of the third book in my series, Sanyare: The Rebel Apprentice, I celebrated with a nice glass of wine and an excellent steak. I didn’t spend thousands of dollars on a big party, expecting that I would make that money back with my first week’s sales.
I forced myself to shut off the computer and walk away. At least for a few hours.
At the same time, when I receive a negative review, I always make sure I go back and re-read the positive reviews on the same book. For every one person that didn’t connect with the story, there are four more who went on to read the entire series and join my newsletter. I remind myself, those are the readers I’m writing for.
What do you do keep yourself emotionally balanced, neither stuffed nor starving?
It’s not often discussed, but just like your creativity and your emotional state, your pocketbook will also have its highs and lows. Regardless of publication path, you’re going to have good months and bad (or if you’re lucky, less good), finacially speaking.
From the traditional perspective, your advance will probably be paid out in a series of checks based on contract milestones: signing, final manuscript acceptance, and publication date are typical. You won’t get it all up front, and if you’re delayed at any point, your checks might be delayed as well. That could mean that your six thousand dollar advance is really three payments of two thousand, spread out over two (or more!) years. In other words, don’t spend your money all at once or you’ll definitely be facing that famine.
But indies might have it even worse. Sure, we’re paid more frequently, but the highs and lows can be a bit less predictable. Your best months typically occur when you launch a book. After that, income tends to drop, at first slowly, and then precipitously…unless you have another book ready to launch or some major promotions (which can cost major money.) Some books might get “sticky,” meaning they sell well for a longer period of time without much effort, but eventually every book starts to get stale in the market. Indies have no guarantees of income.
My advice? Make sure you’re conservative in your feasts and saving for your famines. Don’t assume that your income this month will continue or be even better next month. Level-out your spending as much as possible so that you’re not risking more than you can afford to lose.
Right now, I’m making a small but steady income from my writing. I set a minimum allowable balance in my business account so that I always have the funds I need for the next project. Boom months replenish the coffers, then I slowly draw down the account to pay for necessary but optional expenses, like a new work computer or my daughters’ extracurricular activities.
Full-time authors responsible for their family’s livelihood have it harder, of course. You have to make sure you’re paying the bills and covering expenses every single month. For some, perhaps most, that means producing lots of words and publishing quickly to keep that income high and steady…of course then you’re back on the rollercoaster of words.
How do you make the most of your financial feasts?
What other feasts are you enjoying these days? How do you survive the famines?
Legend has it, I was born with a book in my hands. Thirty-ish years later, I’m a stay-at-home-mom who prefers a good story over doing the dishes. Only now, I’m building my own fantasy worlds! I’m the Award-Winning author of the Amazon bestselling series,The Sanyare Chronicles, co-author of Aspiring to Author: A Guide for Your Publishing Career, and Program Director of O.C. Writers. You can find me on my website at www.meganhaskell.com, Facebook, and Twitter.
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