Good morning and Happy Sunday! Author TT Thomas is here with some suggestions for how to cope with burnout. This is a discussion that every author I know has had at one time or another. We (the folks I know) all have slightly different philosophies and coping strategies, but no one knows of a magic key to creativity. The really fun part? The approach that worked last time, may or may not work this time. My point? Check out TT’s blog even if you feel as though you’ve got this creativity thing nailed. You never know when you’ll need to add a new trick to your trusted routine.
Are You a Royal Blenheim or a Crappy Castlebrite?
by TT Thomas
I bring your attention to Exhibit A: A lovely photo of one of two old Royal Blenheim apricot trees in my yard. I will return to this.
Lately, I’ve been hearing from an alarming number of writer/author friends that something has gone astray with their desire to publish. But they are authors, and authors publish, right? Well, yes. And, no.
Most of the people continue to write. Oh, they may not be killing the word count every day, and they still “love to write.” But they have no plans to publish in 2015, and maybe not in 2016 either. Now, in the scheme of things, with hundreds of authors in the les-fic niche, a couple dozen may seem a small number.
But I study trends. I watch for red flags, I listen for the sounds of silence that portend burnout in my fellow writers/authors and me. Plus I’m Irish, so I’m a bit superstitious! So let’s look at what my small and unscientific control group has told me. In order of what I hear THE MOST:
1) Even the flaming extroverts, the naturally gregarious, the party girls and those inclined to the kind of repetitive and shameless self promotion that makes them slap 30 pictures of the same book cover up on the same Pinterest or FB Group—even they despise, loathe and detest the social media promotion aspect of publishing.
2) The second most terrifying word in the writer-as-author lexicon is: Discoverability. And how are we told we will be discovered? On that earlier mentioned social media hamster wheel—and it doesn’t much matter whether it’s FB, Twitter, Goodreads, Yahoo groups, Google circles or LinkedIn contacts, Instagram photos, WordPress blogs (60 Million posts a month—not too many dollops of discoverability here!) or Tumblr blogs (225 Million of those—discoverability? Surely, you jest!).
3) “The headlines and news from around the world…oh G-d, just the pictures…” Uh-huh. Leave you feeling a little bit like the insignificant specks we’ve heard we are? Make you wonder what on earth, or what in the hell, you’re doing playing footsies with some werewolf love story when children are dying in war-torn areas and animal abuse has reached a new level of low?
4) “I just can’t afford it, anymore, financially or emotionally. Plus my GF left me,” or “I just got a new GF.”
So, what to do about this social media ennui, this feeling of planetary insignificance, this please don’t post one more freakin’ positive you-can-do-it, fall seven times get up eight message burnout? I have an answer.
OK, in order of importance, these steps have helped me. I must also acknowledge these same steps have forsaken me, betrayed me and made me feel like hell, but…but for when they worked, they worked beautifully.
Number 1: Stop comparing your insides to everyone else’s outsides. You feel like hell, and 290 people on FB are doing some bizarre, probably socially inappropriate, possibly even illegal happy dance. Fuck ‘em. Move on to #2.
Number 2: Compete only with your last book. You used to think you had talent, and now 29,783 lesbians think they do, too, and each one of them has a new book out this year—probably next week. There is, you decide, too much competition. Fuhgeddaboutit. Move on to #3.
Number 3: Change your home page. Change from Breaking News to Pictures of Kittens Reading Shakespeare, unless you prefer Dogs reading Trollope. Move on to #4.
Number 4: What’s Love Got to Do With It? Uh, nada, zip, zero! Somebody you heard about just lost the love of her life to some obscure disease known as “fear of intimacy,” but she has written 17 books in the 17 weeks since her heart was broken. And you? You just can’t get out of your jammies in the morning and are reasonably certain you will never write again. Now this may be because your mom always said get your teaching credentials, but you didn’t. It may be that someone on some message board accused you of being alive, and you feel half-dead, or alternatively, expressed a wish for your demise. It may be that your once-beloved-but-now-brazen-blob-of-banality GF left you, or you don’t have one, or you do, but she’s not helping. Spare us the worst of the details, please. No really: Shut. Up. Move on to #5.
Number 5: Not enough money to launch or sustain an Indie presence? Hold off until you have enough to do it right or find a good publisher. There are some. The les-fic niche is saturated, but there’s always room for very good and/or very popular (not necessarily the same thing, but not necessarily not, either!) so make the publishing end of book writing count. Lower your expectations and increase your productivity. If money’s not your problem, but your last good book idea was in 2009, take the whole year off! Don’t ask your parents, don’t ask your friends. But choose your freedoms wisely, my friends. Move onto to #6.
Number 6: If you’re feeling creatively wan, inspirationally anemic or just plain sick of being creative, read what others are writing. The genius books will inspire you, but the clinkers have value because the very act of reading so much crap will soon reverse your situation, and you’ll be writing again in no time!
This is not the “Publish or Perish” scenario of academia. It really doesn’t matter why you find it hard to write and/or have no driving need to publish—your reasons are valid, your emotions count. But basically? No understanding needed: This happens to virtually all writers and authors, sometimes briefly, sometimes for extended periods.
Just eat right, sleep well and move your body in whatever way you dislike least. Also, don’t kill anyone.
Again, like the picture of the California Blenheim apricot tree in my yard (Exhibit A), first come the buds, then the flowers, then the fruit. Everyone knows that the Blenheim are possibly the world’s finest, most delicious fruit, brimming with juice and sweet nectar; but does everyone know their numbers are in sharp decline, that they run the risk of becoming extinct in California and that only a few dedicated Blenheim apricot growers of any size are left? It’s true.
Janet Fletcher a reporter for SF Gate wrote last year:
By the end of the 20th century, most of these orchards had been turned into office parks and tract homes. For the few remaining Blenheim growers, the dried market has all but collapsed with the growing dominance of cheaper Turkish dried apricots.
Rick Knoll, who sells some of his 30 acres of Blenheims at San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market, says shoppers choose the full-colored Pattersons 10-to-1 over his tastier Blenheims.
Knoll believes that the Blenheim is on its way to becoming an heirloom — a backyard fruit, perhaps, and the exclusive province of niche growers. “It’s being taken over by those crappy Castlebrites,” he complains. “These varieties have been developed for the early market and they taste like cardboard and they turn people off from apricots.”
Crappy Castlebrites? LOL…so that’s what we call Best Sellers? I’m afraid we do, sometimes. If you don’t write what the majority seem to read and purchase, don’t blame them!
If you didn’t win a contest, or even make the finals, rethink contests, sure, but leave your ego at the door and Get On With It, whatever that is for you.
If you’re going to take the year off writing and/or publishing, make it count! Watch, listen, observe, learn. Spend time helping others write, publish and promote. Stunning and shocking as this may seem to some, it is all about you, but perhaps not in the way you once thought.
If you are thinking you might be a niche within a niche, you might be. Some are very much like the Royal Blenheim Apricot. Rare and unique and frightfully close to extinction! LOL, but listen, here’s the thing: You might be or become a good writer. You might make a living publishing. And you might not. At some point, we all have to stop hoping for a better past. It is what it was. Writer is who you are, and Author (published writer) is just what you do with it. Sometimes. All the time. Or never.
Give yourself a Blenheim Break. Let some nurturing and nourishment and maybe even some high def, disconnected nothingness replenish your stock. Let it be kept safe from extinction, and give it time to refresh the hope and promise you started out with. Remember that? Remember how that tasted.
Writing and publishing are two very different activities. But they do have one thing in common with one another and the lovely Blenheim apricot: They aren’t for everyone. You only know delicious when you taste it.
T.T. Thomas has written and published four novels, two novellas and five short stories. Her Amazon author page is http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B005F15GWG. You can also visit her web page and blog: http://www.ttthomas.com