I know you are all like, “What? Two blog posts in less than one week? Who is this imposter and what has he done with Jeff Savage?” Rest assured, it really is me. The thing is, after my last post, everyone commented on how much I depressed them. And while that may be good for certain pharmaceutical manufacturers, I hate it. The last thing I want to do is have a depressing blog.
So here I am again. Not to do some kind of rah-rah post where I tell you how great you are and how you can do anything. (Although you probably can do just about anything if you want it enough.) That would just be too weird after my last post. I think I might come across as some sort of emo cheerleader. “Rah, rah, rah. You can do it! But you won’t make any money. Boo hoo!”
Instead what I want to do is discuss the ups and downs of being a writer and how you find your happy place.
I could have sworn there was a Disney movie that talked about finding your “Happy Place.” But either I am a really bad searcher or this is no such movie. Br’er Rabbit has his laughing place. Winnie the Pooh has his thoughtful spot. Disneyland is apparently, “The Happiest Place on Earth.” At least until your fourth day of waiting in long lines, being hot, and paying too much for food. Then it sort of becomes a cranky place. Which is why at that point I bring my laptop, grab a table in New Orleans Square near an electrical outlet, and eat pastries while I write all afternoon. Then I find my inner happy place again. But no happy place movie I could find.
So I’ll do do without the “Disney Movie Analogy” (DMA for those of you in the know.) Instead, I’m going to reference an awesome presentation I saw by a wonderful author and genuinely one of the nicest people I know, Aprilynne Pike.
How can you help but liking someone who sits on random stairways in a neon blue tutu asking passersby, “Hey, buddy, need any writing advice?” And if you haven’t read her YA romance series Wings, you are definitely missing out.
Okay now that I have offended Aprilynne, and hopefully made it up to her. (Did I mention what a great writer she is? And totally hot?) Let me try and get back to my point. At an ANWA conference (this one, not this one, and definitely not this one) a couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to attend tutu girl’s class.
She had about seven pieces of paper that she taped to the wall. I don’t have the exact notes but they ranged from something like, “I am the worst writer who ever existed, and I should never put pen to paper again,” to, “I am the greatest writer ever and I have nothing left to learn.”
Aprilynne talked about how over the course of her writing career, sometimes just days apart, she ranged from one emotion to the other.
I just signed with one of the most successful agents around. I am the greatest writer. Even she couldn’t sell my first book. I am the worst writer. I hit the New York Times bestseller list with my first published novel. I have nothing to learn. I just got hammered in my 13 page editorial letter. I should never put pen to paper.
Through the class she gave example after example of the ups and downs of being even a NYT bestselling author, and how both extremes are equally bad for you.
When you get too down on yourself, you lose the confidence necessary to create your best work. You start to doubt your instincts and instead of going with what you feel, you start to write for someone else. Or, even worse, give up writing altogether.
On the other end of the spectrum, having so much confidence that you stop learning can be just as crippling. I overheard a moderately successful author once say that he no longer needed writing advice because he was too good for that. I cringed when I heard his words and I still cringe now. You might have so much experience and talent that it’s harder to find information which is helpful to you. Or you might have learned a lot of the basic information that is taught in many writing conferences. But the best authors I know are always learning and improving. They are always open to advice, whether they choose to take it or not.
Aprilynne’s point was that the best place for an author is probably somewhere around, “I am a really good author, and I deserve to get published. But I still have more I can learn.” That’s the happy place you need to reach.
So how does that apply to my earlier post about making enough money to write fulltime?
Let’s say you never read my royalty post. On the one hand, you’d still have the starry-eyed optimism that publishing a book would set you up financially for the rest of your life. Optimism is a good thing. It’s what keeps us all writing and striving for success. On the other hand, when you published your first book and discovered the truth, it might devastate you. You might quit your job as soon as you got an agent, or even before. When you realized what a bad financial mistake you had made, it might be too late to change your plans.
Now you know.
It’s okay if your initial response was, “Wow, that totally sucks! I thought it was much easier to make lots of money writing.” There’s nothing wrong at all with being bummed out that the world of publishing is a tough business. But the key is to get over the depression and take a look at the world with new eyes and additional knowledge.
Okay, royalties don’t work exactly the way I thought they did. I now have more information to plan my next move. Maybe you decide to focus less on money and more on writing a great story. After all, that’s something you can control. Maybe you decide that rather than quitting your day job after one book, you might need to wait until three or four. Maybe you come up with a different marketing strategy, a different publishing strategy, or a different timing strategy.
The key is to avoid extremes. Don’t let the steepness of the mountain keep you from climbing it. Instead, use the information about the geography to attempt the ascent better prepared. The fact of the matter is this. Not everyone who writes a book will become a fulltime writer. But everyone who doesn’t write a book will absolutely not. You know the rules. You understand the game. Thicken your skin, focus your energy, and resolve that you are going to be the best writer you can be. Let everything else work out however it will, while you control the things you can.
Okay, so maybe that was a little bit of cheering. So sue me. At least I don’t look like this guy.