Blogger: Rachelle Gardner
Want to be an unhappy author? Here are twelve surefire strategies.
1. Stress about the things you can’t control.
You have enough to worry about, between writing great books, trying to promote them, and staying on top of your crazy schedule. There’s no sense stressing about the things over which you have no control. Namely: outcomes. Sales numbers and Amazon reviews are simply outside your purview. Do your best on the things in your territory, and try to let go of the rest. (Tweet this.)
2. Feel entitled.
Entitlement is a feeling of “I deserve” or “I’m owed.” It may be hard to identify this in yourself, but if you’re ever feeling disgruntled or unhappy with the writing life, consider it. Do you feel you deserve better than you’re getting? Entitlement is a trap, because in truth, none of us deserves anything.
3. Make sure your self-worth is dependent on your book sales and reviews.
As an author you’re putting yourself out on the line. You’re open to criticism and rejection from strangers. That is not easy. So your task is to diligently guard your heart and not let those external circumstances define who you are. Being a happy author depends on it.
4. Underestimate the amount of work a successful writing career takes.
It’s like any job—even a dream job. It’s still a lot of hard work. There are still parts of the job that stink. (Tweet this.) There are setbacks and disappointments. Don’t discount the difficulty of the path.
5. Spend substantial time in comparison.
You know it’s true in every aspect of life. Comparing yourself to others is a recipe for unhappiness. There will always be people whose book sold better than yours, got better reviews than yours, has a more awesome cover than yours. Do the hard work of resisting comparison, unless you can use it to learn and grow.
6. Never celebrate your small victories.
Write for two hours without ever checking Facebook? Finish that chapter ahead of schedule? Figure out a thorny plot problem? Celebrate! (Tweet this.) Acknowledging small “wins” sets you up for more. And reminds you that there is plenty to be happy about.
7. Resist the realities of book publishing, such as the need for marketing.
Resistance makes you unhappy because it doesn’t allow you to fully take charge of your writing career. Why spend energy denying or decrying the state of publishing, when you could use that energy to move your career forward?
8. Don’t distinguish between big dreams and unattainable goals.
You need big dreams to get where you want to go. But along the way to fulfilling those big dreams, be sure to set reachable goals so that you don’t get discouraged.
9. Get derailed by rejection and disappointment.
Every worthwhile pursuit will have setbacks. Happiness (not to mention success) depends on the ability to bounce back.
10. Believe in writer’s block.
We all occasionally have a bad day at the desk. Sometimes the words just don’t flow. But to chalk it up to writer’s block is to perpetuate it. Instead, take a break. Get some exercise. Do other kinds of creative work. And get back to work. Don’t be afraid to write some really bad pages—it happens! At least you’re writing.
11. Listen to everything your friends tell you.
Information about publishing flies fast and furious out there, and so does misinformation. Check your sources. Get multiple opinions. Understand that everyone is biased. Ask a lot of questions and stay well-informed.
12. Expect that being published will be completely life-changing.
Fulfilling a big dream is a wonderful milestone. Reaching that goal will feel GREAT. But you’ll still be the same person. Your friends and family probably won’t like or respect you more. And you’ll still always get into the slowest line at the supermarket.
What keeps you from being an unhappy author?
What keeps me from being an Unhappy Author? Easy. This community. This place, these friends, this love and support…this is the payoff, this is the victory. I started writing as an aloof and solitary man to make a difference…and the difference found me, and was worked in my heart.
* Show me the money, and go ahead and give it to someone else, for I am richer than Midas. I have friends.
Andrew, we are always advising people to find a writing community in which to participate. We’re honored that our little corner of the web is your community. We wouldn’t be the same without you!
And you’re so right. The support of a community is an important element in keeping yourself from becoming the classic Unhappy Author.
Forgot to add this…did y’all ever think of having your group shot on the header Photoshopped onto a picture of the entrance to the New York Public Library, and renaming the blog “Between the Lions”?
Totally made me smile, Andrew. We’ll take it under advisement! 🙂
Its a good list Rachelle, but it reflects on how we tend to let the cart lead the horse, as in being led by our emotions, thoughts and circumstances, instead of restoring order by letting the spirit rule. There is a lot that can steal our joy in life and far too much that is beyond our control. All I can truly manage is the narrow purpose or mandate that God calls me to, yet even then I can only sow and water, whilst trusting Him to add the increase. Outcomes, as in sales volumes, reviews, awards, achievement, success, whatever … belong to Him. I own the inputs, the responsibility to just faithfully do what I believe I should do, day-by-day, plod-by-plod, until He makes sense of that – and He will, because sooner or later a fitly prepared heart will find an open door of opportunity. Thus Paul puts us at ease by saying, “Having done all (that we can do), just stand firm and hold your ground”.
I sometimes envision myself placing my writing at the foot of the Father’s throne (in my head, it’s a stack of 8 1/2 by 11 sheets wrapped in a ribbon–how old school!). It’s my visual reminder that I write for the Lord, first and foremost.
I have so often laid it down. I knew that trying to own it would only hurt me or cause problems if and when I enter the publication process. Not owning it keeps me objective. Thanks Shirl. Let Him own it all. How’s this for a thought – David said, “I set the Lord at my right hand”. You know that a right hand man is a trusted counselor or king, so I submit that God sees you as the hero in your life story, you as having to get there, write in your name and deliver the book – while He walks at your side to help you get there.
Absolutely, a wonderful way to put it, Peter. He owns the outcomes.
Great article! Thanks so much for sharing and encouraging all of us who struggle with these issues. God bless.
Malinda, I’m so glad you found it encouraging! My hope is that people will realize they’re not alone in these struggles.
I think being surrounded by a community of writers helps me in a lot of ways. They help me keep a realistic perspective. They talk reason to me when I can’t see my way out of a thought process. They help me see the strengths (and areas of improvement) in my stories and writing. And, I’m also able to do the same for them.
I couldn’t agree more, Jeanne. The community of writers is such an integral part to any and all “success” I experience, every tiny one. 🙂
Jeanne, I think the community is one of the best ways to stay grounded as a writer. It can be a double-edged sword, though! (Comparison, etc.)
All of these are so true and apply to me. Number 3 especially touched my heart.
Jessica, we are all so prone to letting those external circumstances affect how we feel about ourselves. It helps to be aware of it so we can work to protect ourselves.
It seems to me that a large part of Writers’ Unhappiness is self inflicted; we’ve bought into the cultural stereotype of the Anguished, Haunted Writer, spilling his or her soul, slave to a heartless muse, bleeding onto the pages.
* In a sense, we WANT to be unhappy, as if that is somehow a rite of passage, that it’s what separates authenticity from the superficialities at which we affect to turn up our noses. I have a Weiner Dog who sometimes turns up her nose to watch the birds, and she inevitably trips over her own feet. For whatever that may symbolize.
* Another aspect may come from the conflicts we set out in our plots. We have to invent and live, in our heads, opposition and strife of some sort. A lot of writers talk gleefully about ways of killing off a villain that everybody loves to hate…but think about it. Is that really healthy, by any stretch of the imagination? Does that stress on enjoying a necessary writing evil ‘accentuate the positive’?
* What would happen if we altered the paradigm, that we let Sylvia Plath rest in peace and looked to examples of happiness? What would happen if we treated even the characters we create to be loathed with some degree of respect?
Much truth here, Andrew. This is the third time Sylvia Plath has come up for me in less than a month. I remember reading The Bell Jar in college and wondering, as an English Lit major, if being an author would make me that miserable. Why write if it only creates internal anguish and turmoil? Thanks for the reminder that we need to get our focus off of the stereotype and on the One who inspires us.
Exactly right; I would drop writing in a minute if it made me unhappy. The focus of my blog, trying to help the caregiving spouse of a dying husband or wife, has required a lot of posts that were hard to write. I had to go deep into areas that were at best uncomfortable, and sometimes frightening. But it’s not a downer. The feedback I get is positive, and I find that sometimes writing clarifies things in a helpful way. I can’t imagine doing it if it added to the discomfort of current circumstances; that would be really, really stupid.
Great encouragement. Especially the part about not believing in writer’s block.
It’s easy to get stuck and blame it on writer’s block, but if you refuse to believe it exists, I think it helps to move past it!
This is right on point, Rachelle. I think it’s important to point out that several of these are probably natural tendencies for many of us. So, it’s a matter of acknowledging them as the elephants they are and moving forward despite them. Which, I believe, is a point you’re making. Food for thought! (Geez, how many metaphors can I squeeze in to one short comment?)
Teresa, you’re so right that these are natural tendencies. That’s why we have to work hard to overcome them! Acknowledging them and moving forward – that’s the key.
“And you’ll still always get into the slowest line at the supermarket” … this made me laugh. You mean this doesn’t just happen to me? 🙂
“None of us deserves anything” … amen to that. Oh, I feel that continually. And when the most precious lady, Courtney Ballinger, stood to accept her Genesis award and said, “I don’t deserve to be here” … I broke into tears.
That made me laugh too, Shelli! 🙂
I even get the slowest line while pushing the cart that I have to keep horsing left because I picked the only one with the randomly sticking wheel.
Hope you had a great conference experience, Shelli.
Carol, thank you. It was a wonderful conference. I met several people who comment on this site … some who are too bashful to comment but recognized my name and introduced themselves to me. 🙂 I can’t wait to meet you.
And there is nothing more humiliating than picking the loudest cart in the store … everyone hears you coming down the aisle. And does anyone else call them buggies/buggy? Is that a southern thing? 🙂
It’s a southern thing. I don’t mind the loud ones as long as they’ve got good rhythm for me to hum along with. Have I ever mentioned that the absolute best disciplinary tool for teenagers is the willingness to do something embarrassing?
That’s so funny, Carol. Yes, the loud cart is so embarrassing to my girls. They’ll even offer to walk the extra mile to exchange it for me. 🙂
Shelli, I’m not sure how it could be possible that we ALL get into the slowest line at the supermarket!
Great meeting you at ACFW.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Ha ha, Shelli. I know what is more embarrassing than a simple noisy cart. A husband who, when you walk up to the cart to put something in, turns to you and shouts out “Hey lady, stop following me, stop putting stuff in my cart!” and then runs off at top speed. I had to pick the one who thought he had a sense of humor, right?
After writing and self publishing 3 novels I have come to realize that if you write for any other reason other than you enjoy doing it you are bound to be disappointed. For me a guy with an 8th grade education who has Aspegers and was homeless at one point in life I am happy that I was able to fulfill my dream of publishing a book and one that many people were moved by. That is all I could have ever asked for.
Morrie, I love this real life example of tenacity and pure joy in the writing journey. Thanks for sharing it.
“… if you write for any other reason other than you enjoy doing it you are bound to be disappointed.” That’s a good word, Morrie.
Morrie, this is beautiful.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Well I don’t know what keeps me from being an unhappy author as I have to wait two more days for that and honestly, I’m feeling pretty happy! But I do know that I wrote all through grade school and high school and 3 years of college and then started trying seriously to get published in 2001. It’s been a long long time since 2001. Why keep banging my head against the wall? I wanted to live in the woods, marry my true love, have a family, and publish my writing. God has graciously granted me everything else, the writing dream was the one I had to strive for and toil for years to find. He knows best, my writing has improved so much, but it is my dream, that is why I keep going and what helps me to keep from sinking into the traps you mentioned Rachelle.
I am so proud of you, Kristen. Your book trailer had me laughing myself silly. I love it! I can’t wait to read it … it may take me a bit because I’m preparing to speak at a women’s retreat … but it’s definitely on my list to read. I love your humor.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Oh Shelli you made my day. Sharing my words with a friend, that is the dream right there!
Kristen, you are already an author, you don’t have to wait two days! 🙂 Having been working on this for 14 years, I think you qualify. Sounds like you’ve done a great job of staying happy.
Kristen Joy Wilks
I have so many people who gave me permission and encouragement to work and dream, even when my writing was terrible. But dreams, you gotta hold on if they are precious to you. I was just working on updating my website and there is his document where I recorded most of the steps it took to write all of the manuscripts before the one that sold. Even then I know there is stuff I never wrote down. But I went over it for spelling errors before uploading it and man the process was excruciating…and glorious. I’d forgotten so much of the work I’d slogged through. Looking back over each step is amazing, I did that? I revised that unsold ms. 10 times? I sent that ms. out to agents every year for 8 years and it never sold? I finally wrote something a publisher wanted? Memory lane is worth preserving, then you get to amaze yourself years later.
Number 1 is a killer not only in writing but in life. Right now it’s the temptation I’m shelving. Our city fathers decided to tear up Main Street in a revamping project and parking is nonexistent. Guess where my book signing is Oct 3! But like you’ve mentioned, Rachelle, I cannot control that. However, I can control my attitude of welcome for each customer that does make it through the construction zone to the book store and offer them a memorable visit. Even if it’s only one! Thanks for a great post.
Davalynn, that reminds me of Debbie Macomber’s book, The Shop on Blossom Street … construction zone … but everything turned out wonderful. I saw pictures of you at the conference, but I was disappointed I never got a chance to meet you. 🙂 Next time!
Yes, Shelli – so many faces … and name badges at ACFW. Surprising that we didn’t meet everyone we wanted to, but it happens. Next time, indeed!
You’re so right, Davalynn, we control our attitudes and how we respond. Great point!
Carole Lehr Johnson
Rachelle, thanks for the encouragement!
My pleasure, Carole. I was hoping people would find it encouraging.
This is a great list, Rachelle. Right on point, and doing any of these can make an author miserable. Comparison is especially hard to avoid. There will always be those doing better. Just have to accept where I am while working as God shows me! Great to see you at ACFW.
Thanks, Cara. Great to see you too! You were so busy and did a fantastic job. 🙂 Yes, comparison is sure a thorny issue. I doubt anyone is immune to it.
#9 Happiness depends on the ability to bounce back. Those words read like a maxim for life. They are so true in regard to almost any of the misfortunes in life. How we respond to any given situation will determine the outcome, positive or negative. It’s not enough to remain in a static place, we must change the trajectory and our will, to push and motivate ourselves to move forward. Self evaluation is in there some place too. Sometimes it’s good to hear it from someone else, because we get stuck and lose sight of the big picture. You just did that for us. Super.
Norma, I agree. It’s “resilience” and it’s so important in every aspect of life!
Reading and learning. Keep the great posts and comments coming- this newbie is very appreciative! I love writing, but it certainly comes with its own set of challenges.
Thanks, Rachelle. I’m an email subscriber, but had to click through to comment today. Thanks for this reminder, with truth and humor. I’m grinning and nodding.
Writing away on my project,
This is fantastic! And so true. I am going to bookmark this to remind myself of it in the future! And what keeps me from being an unhappy author? My awesome writing group. I don’t know if I’d be where I am today without them.
I just want to say that I LOVE your last point! Here from Jon Gibbs’s live journal, btw.
You made my evening, Rachelle. Thanks for the good writing/life tips and encouragement.