When Does a Writer Rest? It’s Time to Talk About Self-Care

When Does a Writer Rest? It’s Time to Talk About Self-Care

Let’s start with some cold reality: My 2017 Q2 sales report is in.

I sold a grand total of 25 books, between two titles.

While my publisher assures me this is normal for a small press author between releases, I was somewhat distraught over this report.

There are a lot of reasons behind this dip in sales. As my publisher pointed out, I was in a lull between releases (my last true launch was March 2016, over a year before). Additionally, my personal life was in upheaval.

I had just settled back into my home in D.C. and returned to a full-time office job after two years of freelancing and flexibility. Additionally, a loved one was in the midst of chemotherapy treatments, and for whatever reason, the hubs and I had chosen to do an unusual amount of travel during this period.

In short, it was a busy and overwhelming time in just about every way. I was exhausted. This limited my ability to write consistently, let alone focus on marketing.

Sometimes, something just has to give.

There are a few caveats to this that soften the blow. I got 622 downloads of my freebie novella from new email subscribers during this period. Likewise, my social media following grew. And, I did the important work of finding a new, sustainable flow for my writing and marketing, within the parameters of my new life.

Amazingly, my life has only become more chaotic in the months since the time frame of this report.

So staring at these cold hard numbers prompted a question.

When does an author rest? And what is the cost?

At some point, I speculate that a writer’s platform begins to take on some of its own impetus, and that while one might see a modest dip in sales from a neglectful marketing period, it would be less significant.

But as a small press author early in my career, if I’m not hustling, the copies don’t get into readers’ hands.

That pressure is exhausting sometimes.

I’m not a machine. I can’t hustle-hustle-hustle without a break — and I’ve been trying very hard to summon the Energizer Bunny. But heck, even machines need to recharge.

Eventually, I must rest too. When I don’t, I start missing things. I make mistakes. My overall quality of work declines, and hard.

If I’m truly in this for the long tail, there is a much greater cost to not resting than there is to taking an occasional sales hit. Low numbers might hurt my pride, but if exhaustion leads to poor writing quality, there is no recovery.

No quarter is the end-all or be-all

This is about the long tail — growing a true career as an author. And if I’m going to do

that, I need to remain sane and release one knockout story after another.

Faster would be better, sure, but quality is my queen.

And if I go on trying to function on four hours of sleep, coffee and cortisol, quality is

just not going to happen.

So when I power down for bedtime or allow myself the occasional much-needed morning to sleep in, instead of write, this is what I tell myself when the guilt and ambitions start rising up.

writing restHarder vs. smarter: Playing the long game

Work harder all the time is not an option. Thus, I must learn to work smarter.

My key way of doing this has been to constantly reassess what I’ve done and look for ways to do it better. I also constantly study what other authors are doing that leads to success.

For example, when I created my freebie novella, I intended to only offer it through my website. But my publisher edited and formatted it, and thus they placed it for purchase on the usual sites. It first showed up on my website, then quietly later released digitally, then in print, for purchase elsewhere.

If I’d really been thinking ahead, and taking the time to communicate better with my small press, we could have turned this into a proper launch instead of a gradual trickle out. Missed opporunity to gain some serious momentum.

Lesson learned: An author who is working smarter thinks ahead and sees this type of opportunity. Don’t ever let a new release hit shelves without a bang of celebration around it.

To take care of your author career, you have to take care of yourself

So as 2017 continues to escalate the chaos on every single front of my life, I’ve been forced to try a new approach: Resting. Looking out for myself. Slowing down. Saying no, sometimes.

It’s not easy. But it’s necessary. So I’m trying to retrain my thinking, calibrating for the longer target.

Call it self-care if you want. I’m calling it a strategy.

How do you find balance between your author work and rest?

Filed Under: Marketing, Craft
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  • Carl says:

    I really try (not 100%) to disconnect on weekends and have at least one day of no screen time. Taking care of my brain from the constant flickering of newsfeeds and blinking cursors really helps me get the most out of my week, instead of slogging through a 7 day grind.

    You make a great note at the end by calling it a “strategy,” because that’s what it is. You have to stick to your self-care times and building a strategy around it is really the only way one can pull it off. I’m happy you put it that way. Just wanted to say that.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Karen Ingle says:

    “Working smarter” and saying “no” judiciously are my new goals. Thanks for the pep talk!

  • mike borderat says:

    If you stumble into something worth saying, go ahead and work 20-hours a day on it until you exhaust your creativity. The Muses visit us only once in a while.

  • I couldn’t agree more. Writing (in any genre) takes so much more energy than many of us realize. I’ve noticed that if I make time for fun writing and not just paid writing, it actually fuels me to do more and gives me more creative ideas.

  • So true! I think burnout is especially a problem if you write while working a full-time job, taking care of your family, keeping the house in order, etc. And, I have not yet been able to find the balance.

    I am a freelance direct response copywriter who has been slammed with work all year. I’ve been working 10-12 hour days for most of the summer! And, I’m trying to write book #2 while marketing book #1 — while trying to keep up with errands and housework.

    Frankly, I’m exhausted.

    I’m booked with copywriting projects through year end, but I’ve had to come to a difficult decision to save my brain from complete breakdown — talk with my clients about cutting down on my freelance hours next year. It will mean less income — but more sanity. Seems to me the trade-off is worth it!

    • That really is a lot! I feel you. It’s hard when so much of what’s keeping you busy (like all your freelance clients – so great!) but all the same, overwhelmed is overwhelmed. Get some rest!

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