First, a couple of announcements: This blog is up for a Goodreads “Independent Book Blogger” Award and we'd love your vote. If you’re a Goodreads member, you can vote through the vote button on the sidebar. Unfortunately the Goodreads icon seems to have been eaten by the Blogger elves, but the button works. You can vote once in each of four categories, Publishing Industry (that's us) Young Adult, Adult Fiction, and Adult Nonfiction.
AND: Ruth Harris has a brand new book out! It’s OVERRIDE—another hold onto-your-hat, fast-paced thriller written with her husband, Michael Harris. More about it on Ruth’s Book Page.
This week we have a returning guest, literary author and college professor Samuel Park. Last year when he visited us, Samuel had just published his first novel, THIS BURNS MY HEART with Simon and Schuster. (And he told us NOT to kill our darlings.) His spectacular reviews are the kind most of us just fantasize about.) Now he’s preparing for the debut of the paperback. (I just love the new cover!)
Yes, there still are hardbacks and paperbacks coming out from the big publishers! And yes, there still are success stories like Samuel’s. People magazine and the Today show do still pay attention to debut authors. Congratulations, Samuel!
And how did he do it? Turns out he didn’t torture himself with overwork and 20-hour days filled with endless publicity gigs.
He took care of himself. He thinks you should, too.
Take Care of Yourself: (Emotionally) Healthy Living for Writers
by Samuel Park
Being a writer is full of highs and lows, with lots of opportunities for anxiety. For instance, I can’t think of anything more frustrating than waiting to hear from an agent after a query. Or the emotional yo-yo of being in a relationship with your book—one prone to fits of joy, followed by bouts of self-doubt. Being a tortured used to be part of the persona of the artist, but these days, everybody wants happiness. Even writers.
Here are 8 Tips for (Emotionally) Healthy Living:
1. Delegate Anxiety
If there’s a particular part of the process that sets your teeth on edge, see if you can get a spouse or friend to do it—somebody who is less emotionally invested than you are. If querying agents is getting you down, see if you can get someone to take care of that for you. That way you can avoid the emotional rollercoaster of waiting to hear back.
I’m not suggesting you hire someone—I don't believe in paying for that kind of service. And you absolutely have to write your own query. But if you can get a writer friend or spouse to manage the submission of the queries and the follow-up (maybe trade query duties with a fellow writer?), that'll remove you from the daily stress of the waiting game.
2. Be Delusional
According to what I’ve read, delusional people tend to be happier, richer, and more successful. For a writer, being deluded can be an effective antidote for writers’ natural propensity to be pessimists. It may, in fact, be the only way to have a more clear, truthful perspective on your situation.
I have a friend who published book a few years ago and it didn’t do as well as she’d hoped. Recently, her former editor got in touch with her to find out what she was working on.
Because I was an impartial observer, I knew that the editor was checking in in the hopes of possibly snapping up my friend’s second book. My friend, however, read it as the editor simply being nice and feeling sorry for her.
In this case, my friend thought she was being realistic. My advice for her was to be more delusional, and tell herself that she was brilliant, talented, and that editors were desperate for her next book.
In her case, “being delusional” actually provided a more accurate reflection of reality.
When writers act “delusional” and tell themselves that they’re fabulous, there’s a good chance the “delusion” is a necessary corrective for writers’ natural tendency to doubt themselves.
3. Use Up Your Brain Cells
Sometimes worry and frustration come from your writerly brain not having being used enough that day.
When I first started writing, my mentor Don Roos stressed to me that I should write for an hour a day every day (except weekends).
I thought it was for the sake of discipline and productivity, but he said it was actually to stave off the self-loathing that every writer feels when she hasn’t produced that day.
When you don’t write, the guilt starts inching forward, and makes you feel bad. When you do write, the world feels terrific. And the brain post-writing (and post-FLOW and post-high of creating) is too tired and spent to indulge in negative, self-sabotaging thoughts—its capabilities have been used up by the plotting and scheming for the day.
4. Let Out the Anger…But Don’t Become a Rage-a-holic
One of the easiest ways to escape the writer’s blues is to indulge in anger. If you’re feeling bad, you can probably start feeling good almost right away just by letting out your repressed anger.
The problem with that, though, is that you become an angry person. If a rejection from an agent stings, go right ahead and let out some expletives. It’ll make you feel better.
But for the sake of your friends and family, get out of that mode as soon as you can! Nobody wants to be around someone who is mad all the time.
5. Take Care of Yourself
Evolutionarily speaking, we weren’t born to work indoors all day, or to be writers in the modern sense of the profession.
Being sedentary and solitary may be conducive to producing work, but it’s not conducive to producing happiness.
Exercise; get vitamin D either by going outside, getting a sun lamp, or by taking multi-vitamins; be social, ideally in a “tribal” scenario—that is, with two or more other people; watch your favorite TV show; or better yet, do all of the above.
6. Avoid Avalanche Thinking
Being turned down by an agent is not bad if you maintain things in perspective.
But we’re writers, we have big imaginations, and it’s hard to resist avalanche thinking: “Agent X doesn’t want my manuscript, which probably means that Agent Y won’t either, and no agent will ever want me, and that’s because I have no talent, and if I have no talent, then I’ll never sell a book, and if I never sell a book no one will ever love me, and no one will ever love me then daddy was right when he called me a loser, and so on and so on.”
If an agent turned you down, all it meant was that he wasn’t right for your manuscript.
The right writer-agent combo is something worthy of a matchmaker, and dependent on personality, work styles, and temperament. It takes a while to find the right one.
Don’t read too much into things.
Avoid negative chains of thought; chop them off from the very beginning. If you’re prone to avalanche thinking, try reversing it by replacing it with a positive thought, or by feeling gratitude for something.
Think about something good that happened to you and focus on that in your mind, and focus on how you feel about the person who helped you or made that possible.
7. Take the Lesson Contained in the Conflict
I hate to sound like Polyanna, but every time we feel bad about ourselves or others, there’s a lesson there waiting for us.
The lesson may be to be more patient, or to write a better query letter, or to improve one’s writing by attending a conference.
Instead of dwelling on the rejection, rewrite it as a teaching moment, and try to squeeze a lesson out of it. And then focus on that lesson.
Instead of dwelling on what went wrong, focus on what will go right next time.
This will help you get over the negative emotions surrounding the event (disappointment, anger, frustration) and focus on the positive emotions that come from focusing on the future (hopefulness, more inner strength, satisfaction from self-improvement).
8. Think About Being Down When You’re Happy
When you’re happy, the last thing you want to do is think about the worries and frustrations of being a writer, but I’d argue that when you’re happy is the exact time to set these behaviors and habits into practice.
When you start feeling beat down is actually too late, because by then you’re in a funk, and it’s much harder to get out of a funk than to prevent one in the first place.
If you’re feeling bad, you won’t be able to gather the motivation to do any of these things. When you’re feeling good, you can’t imagine that you’re ever not going to feel good, but that’s a mistake.
Anticipate the inevitable lows of the writer’s life, and prevent them rather than ignore them.
Originally born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Korean-American author Samuel Park graduated from Stanford University and USC, where he earned his doctorate in English. He is the author of THIS BURNS MY HEART, which was chosen as one of Amazon’s Best Books of 2011, a People magazine “Great Reads in Fiction,” and one of the Today Show’s “Favorite Things.” THIS BURNS MY HEART was also a Kirkus Reviews’ Best Fiction of 2011, a BookPage Best Book of 2011, an Indie Next List Notable Book, and a Starbucks Bookish Reading Club Selection. Translations of the book are forthcoming in Norway, Germany, China, and South Korea. He lives in Chicago, where he is an Associate Professor of English at Columbia College.
What do you think, scriveners? Do you feel better about yourself if you write every day? Do you think being delusional is helpful to writers? (I wonder if I’d have gone down this road if I hadn’t been a little delusional myself.) How about trading query duties with another writer? I never thought of that, but it sure would have made it easier. (Misery loves company.) Do you have any other tips for keeping your sanity in this crazy business?