Thursday, April 17, 2008

Avoiding Burn Out

One of the things we talk a lot about here on SVP is how introverts can make marketing work for them, how it’s important to find what you can do comfortably and let go of the rest. I was struck again this week by just how important—critically important—it is to find one’s comfort zone and stick with it.

I’m on an email list with some other kids’ authors and this week they started talking about burn out; as in, how incredibly burnt out they are. They are scrambling all the time, booking events and school visits, promoting their books, worried because they have to carry most of this load themselves, with their publishers providing little material—indeed, even moral—support. And they’re tired, and frustrated, and at this point in their career, they are beginning to question if it’s worth it and if writing is even something they want to be doing.

And there, in a nutshell, is why balance is so vital. It’s a juggling act every writer needs to perform, weighing the needs of a creative endeavor like writing against the business demands of publishing. The two do not mix well, sort of like putting ground up liver in your brownies.

But here’s the thing; for most writers, writing is an act that feeds our soul. The act of writing, while it may be horrendously difficult sometimes, fills some deep, creative need within us. This is a gift we’ve been given in this life, and we need to cherish that and nurture that. And that often means striking some kind of devil’s bargain with Publishing. Because the very last thing we want to happen is for Publishing to destroy our love of Writing. And it can happen.

Interestingly, just like in relationships, it is often the person who wants it the most who has the least power. The more desperate you are to be published, stay published, etc. the more subject to the random vagaries of publishing you will be.

Luckily, there are ways to structure your writing life to minimize this sense of desperation and burn out. One critical way is to find your comfort level with promotion, and do that and no more. You really don’t want to make yourself sick and run down from forcing yourself to do things associated with your writing career that you hate. Soon that negativity leaches over into your writing, which is the kiss of death.

One of my most beloved rules about writing is this: Protect the work. That is our job as writers, to protect our creative work from negative or corrosive forces. You have to come to terms with publishing and marketing in such a way that it protects your work; even, or maybe especially, from the rough and tumble affects of publishing.

You need to protect yourself, too. Step back from the edge, take a deep breath, remember cream rises, and that for most of us, it takes time to build a marketing presence in the book world.


Anonymous said...

Hello! That's really true - it's so difficult finding that balance between flogging yourself to death, and sitting back to let things take their own course. I'm pretty new to this game, but I've still been amazed by how much you don't get told, and how little support there is. I don't want someone to hold my hand particularly, and I do love getting out there, taking charge of things, but especially in the case of school visits I was totally thrown in at the deep end with no-one giving me help or advice. I was told I'd be fine! Luckily they've been going OK, but it would be awful to die on your feet - that could really ruin things for someone.

It's almost like there should be support packs, with hints and tips. Although I must admit, finding blogs like this sure does make you feel that you're not alone in all this! Lovely to read your views!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Robin--

I definitely needed to hear this. Even pre-published, I sometimes feel like I'm jugging a hundred things just trying to get to the next phase. What I find is that when I push myself too hard, I end up pulling WAY in, further in than I wanted to go. Then its time to dig back out!

Shari Green said...

Another great post. Thank you!

Barbara O'Connor said...

This post came at the perfect time for me...I could just KISS you.

I will read this 42 more times, take a deep breath, step back from the edge - and get back to writing.

Thank you. (This blog is my savior)

tanita✿davis said...

Speaking of protecting oneself, girlz, what do you do about reviews?

I just got my first one. I have to LITERALLY breathe in a bag. I am fighting the urge to break out in hives.

It was a *good* review. But they won't all be. Do you consider not reading reviews as protecting yourself? Do you need that kind of stress?

Maybe this isn't an introvert type of question -- maybe I'm just a complete freak (wouldn't be a surprise) but I am going to go sit quietly in a corner and rock...

(Sorry for delurking so dramatically.)

R.L. LaFevers said...

I'm so glad this post was helpful to some of you! (And Barbara, thanks for the almost-kiss!)

Tadmack, as for reviews. Boy that is something writers need to protect themselves from! I’m so, SO glad your first one was good. But like you say, there is a chance that some of them won’t be. And frankly, I’m not a great person to guide anyone on this particular subject. The day my first book came out was also the day Kirkus published their review of it. It was one of those scorched earth reviews that Kirkus so revels in. Not only did they trash the book and my writing, they did their level best to salt the ground as well, clearly not wanting me to ever attempt writing another novel. I believe much sobbing and many fetal positions were involved. Perhaps even running to cry on Mary's shoulder.

It took me about three years to get over that, frankly.

Time was the best recovery tool. And reading fan letters from kids or their parents and teachers; readers who “got” the books.

The thing that finally let me put it behind me was when one of my books was nominated for the Texas Bluebonnet List. That gave me a sense of validation that I sorely needed, even though it was for a completely different book.

Like I said, I'm not a good example here. More like a horrible warning of what not to do.

I don’t know that I have the will power to avoid reading reviews; knowing they’re out there is just too much of a temptation. Or maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment. Or overly optimistic.

But I think it is a huge adjustment once you send your work out into the world and people other than your family and targeted agents/editors will be reading it and judging it. It’s scary stuff, and I think it warrants some rocking quietly in a corner. I wish I had more wisdom to offer you.

tanita✿davis said...

Oh, Robin, thank you for bravely sharing your HIDEOUS experience. Even when something like that goes away, the echo lingers. Ugh.

My goal is to TRY and only pay scant attention to all of the reviews, good or bad, and treat reviews as just part of the business that other people have to do to get paid. I think you hit the nail on the head when you said you recovered through reader responses. I think that's really the litmus test -- and I'll definitely focus that direction.

Thanks again.