Let’s talk group projects…
Let’s be honest, we all hated them in school. Right? Well maybe not in grade school…in grade school we were lulled into believing they were the shit. They came under the disguise of writing silly songs or creating story boards. Fun things. Things that didn’t seem a whole lot like work.
Then came high school. There were always those kids that sat back like entitled little shits and let everyone else do the work, and usually in Bio lab or a group report for History or English.
Then some of us had that one damn teacher in college that made us do them again…and of course, we were left holding the bag and doing all the work this time for entitled little turd wads whose mommies and daddies were paying for their college while they drank away their nights and woke up in puddles of their own vomit.
I’m the person who has pushed through absolute hell to make her commitments. Don’t believe me? In college, while married, running my own business, and raising three daughters, and right before my wedding to my second husband, I got left holding the bag on a 185 page technical manual rewrite for the state of Florida as part of my semester end project. You can bet that sucker was turned it with an extensive break down on who did what, 95% on my shoulders, with every moment documented.
There was no way in hell they were getting an A on my effort.
And in the writing world, I’ve pushed through my daughter’s suicide attempts to meet deadlines. The first attempt being on the same day of my very first book release. Then there were the subsequent attempts, six hospital stays, her rape…I could go on and on.
She’s great now, so don’t feel bad for me. I just say this so people who read it don’t think I’m talking out of my ass when I say it.
I know what it’s like to make magic happen when my world is crashing down around me. I know what it means to be dedicated enough and stubborn enough to push through adversity and get the job done.
So I have zero tolerance for someone who sits back and let’s others carry them.
This brings me to today…
I’m in a group project, a box set…a list-aiming box set.
And you guessed it, sure as shit, there are people who are sitting back and letting us do all the work.
I kept plugging away, doing my work, doing more than my fair share, and keeping my mouth shut. I’m not going to complain about every little thing I see, but I have my breaking point. Finally, yesterday, I reached it.
I saw something so self-serving and tone-deaf to the fact that this is a group project that I finally had to speak up.
Yeah, I spoke up. I spoke up this morning after one, taking a night to think it through, and two, making sure I ran it past my set leaders for their approval. There’s a responsible way to handle this and making sure you don’t undermine your team lead is an absolute must!
Now this is the part of the writing industry where people would normally say, “You know what, it’s just best to stay quiet. You don’t want to rock the boat. Karma will find them.”
Anyone else tired of this advice?
Yeah, me too!
Want to know why? Because no one ever changes their behavior if they aren’t called on it. And it’s not my job to sit back and sweep under the carpet when someone is taking advantage of me and not living up to their obligations when their lack of effort puts my goals and finances at risk.
When did being a writer become needing to sit back politely and eating shit with a knife and fork while others take advantage of us?
That might work for some people, but not me. Not at all.
Now, maybe some people really can’t handle the idea of rocking the boat. Confrontation freaks them out, but at some point, as adults, as responsible project participants, we have an obligation to address people who aren’t living up to their obligations.
Does that mean I’m rocking the boat?
Maybe, but you know what…I’ll rock it, pick it up, and beat a slacker over the head with it if they have it coming.
In this case, this project has been ten months in the making. Ten months of time, effort, and very real dollars going into the project. That’s time, energy, and money that was not devoted to my family. Anyone participating in group projects needs to remember, and most of all respect the investment participants are making toward the end result and do their best to step up and make their best effort to match it.
And here’s the final food for thought. It’s easy to forget just how small this industry is. It seems like every time a writer turns around, there are ten new author names coming on the scene.
Don’t let it fool you. The industry is small and tight. People talk. And indies? They really talk. If you’re that persons, that slacker, you might not have anyone willing to confront you, but be assured, your use and abuse of others around you is not going unnoticed. People are remembering your name, they’re asking colleagues about you, they’re taking screenshots to document you loathsome behavior. You’re becoming the person in the industry that eventually no one is going to want to work with.
Don’t be that guy. While riding coattails in your meager attempt at advancing your career, you’re burning critical bridges to your future success.
Yeah, you’re making a name for yourself alright, but it’s not a good one.
Every writer gets stuck, no matter how experienced they are, or how many books they have. Every writer has doubts about whether or not they’ve got another book in them. Or is this book really any good. Will this be the end of my career? The more we focus on those negative things, the harder it is to get unstuck. If we start comparing our progress or success to others than we are in self-sabotage mode. We are giving ourself a reason to stay stuck.
So what is a writer to do?
My advice is basically the same. Take a breath. Step away. Go for a walk. Clean the kitchen. Bake cookies. Doesn’t matter if you’re stuck with an idea, a scene, the plot, a character, the entire manuscript, or your career, if you are stuck, it’s time to go back to the basics.
Let’s start with being stuck in book. Much of this is a repeat of my last blog because no matter how many books you have, sometimes we have to step down and look at the simple things. The things we might take for granted.
If you’re a plotter, go look at your spreadsheets. Your narrative structure outline. Your synopsis. Notecards. Whatever you use to keep track of your story and your progress. You might find where you took a wrong turn. If you didn’t follow your normal process, then go back to the step you skipped. If you did everything exactly like you always do, try something different.
If you’re a pantser, print out your manuscript, or send it to your kindle, and read it. Make notes, but don’t change anything. Not yet. You might find that seed that you misplaced that will help you get unstuck.
If those things don’t work, call a writer friend, or a crit partner. Talk it out. And then listen. Whoever is on the other end isn’t married to your idea. They don’t have the same emotional attachment. They can look at it from a different angle.
Have someone read your work. Tell them why you feel stuck. You’re so close to your work that you might not see what is right in front of your face.
One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do as a writer is accept that sometimes I just don’t have a good idea. That’s a different kind of a problem and I’ve, more than once, have abandoned a project because it’s just not strong enough. At the same time, I have found that setting it aside, working on something else often gives me just enough space to find the weak spot and fix it.
Now. Let’s talk career.
There is so much in this business we don’t control. Even in self-publishing. We have to focus on what we can do and that’s keep writing and following our passion. We’re going to feel like a fraud. Imposter Syndrome is a real thing. I mean, wow, cool, I get paid to write about people who don’t exist. How weird is that? We’re going to come across people who are going to be snarky and say things like, “well, I’ve never heard of you.” We’re going to have moments where we question, is it all worth it? That’s normal and it happens in other careers, not just in the entertainment business.
So, when I feel these things creeping up on me, I do crazy things like, go to my Amazon page and remind myself of what I have done and how it makes me feel. I’ve done this since I published my very first book. And when my first publisher went bankrupt just days after my book came out, I cried. Then I reminded myself of how far I had come. This is a tough business and I’ve seen many talented writers walk away. There are only 100 spots in the top 100. But if I tell myself, I’m not going to get there, then I won’t.
I always think: The little engine that could…
You have five, ten, fifteen, fifty books under your belt, and it seems like it’s only getting harder.
I hate to break it to you…to be the bearer of bad news…to confirm what you already suspected, but it feels that way because it IS only getting harder.
New characters every time. New story lines. Books of the past blurring with what you’re currently writing…yup, it’s a lot harder.
And then there’s the niggling thought with every new project—is this the book where everyone is going to figure out I’m a fraud? I’m a hack. I don’t know what I’m doing and I’ve been cleverly faking it this whole time.
You go on Facebook and it seems like everyone is writing a new book every week, they’re bringing out fabulous covers, putting up pre-orders, meanwhile you’ve been struggling to outline for the past two weeks let alone finding time to get a single word actually down for chapter one.
Everyone seems to have forty hours in their one day while you have the standard twenty-four and your facing burnout.
This one is announcing a book deal. That one is announcing that they’ve finally given up their day job and can support themselves on their writing alone. Another became a best seller. And that one over to your left, she’s writing two at a time. She has super-secret projects she’s going to reveal to you soon. Oh, and she’s mastered how to effectively utilize Instagram while she was writing those two books and prepping that super-secret project.
And the whole time, they all seem to be making tracks across the country and overseas, attending fabulous conferences, hanging out with revered writers, and drinking glamorous drinks. You wonder from the pictures if everyone has a personal stylist and an unlimited bank account.
Some are acquaintances, others your closest friends, and in that moment you’re reminded that no matter how tight your bonds with people in the industry, you’re very much alone. And there’s a plan in your mind, in your heart, that you haven’t revealed to a single soul that you’re striving for, and it’s all sitting under the weight of how you see yourself in the shadow of everyone else’s success.
I’m here to tell you that shit is not real. Social media is where we put out our best side. We don’t share the pile of cat puke on the floor that appears to have dried days ago despite the fact that we’ve been off and on sitting next to it for the past twenty-four hours. We don’t share that we might have actually taken a whiff of our bra to make sure we can get by one more day of wearing the super soft awesomeness of no underwire, worn to the point of being dotted with fabric balls, and stretchiness that while comfortable, gives us uni-boob with some of our mammary gingerbread squeezing out the top in uneven lumps. We don’t share the pics where we’ve gone to the store in our favorite hoodie, the one with the big bleach blotch on the boob and our scraggly hair, not short, but not long either, hitched up in a crumbling ponytail. We don’t tell you that in aisle four we run our tongue over the back of our bottom teeth to make sure we brushed more than just the few in the front in our haste to get out the door. When that doesn’t tell us, you can find us in the accessories section of Walmart, squinting into those cheap, finger grease smeared mirrors at the top of the sunglasses rack trying to make sure we got all the plaque. We make awkward eye contact with a woman wearing pajama bottoms that say “Juicy” on the ass and she’s giving us that judgmental stare despite having just chosen to go shopping in her PJ’s.
We’ve hit rock bottom.
And why? Because every last moment we’re working on the next project. We’re balancing family, friends, and working seven days a week. We don’t know what it’s like to take a vacation and actually…you know…vacation.
We have fans. We have momentum. And now we have the pressure to keep that momentum going while the pressure to build even more momentum hovers over our shoulder breathing its stink breath in our ear. Fans are voracious and wanting the next story, now, now, now. In our political climate, trolls are coming out in full force, even in the romance world. Everyone is ready to fight, to confront, to call people out for having so much as an opinion about anything. Gasp! I can’t talk about fly swatters or Skittles without it turning into a political confrontation. Don’t believe me? I literally watched a post about tacos turn political from the very first comment while the author kept saying, “Guys, it really was just about tacos.”
We’re buried under the limited scope of success that other writers are projecting through social media. Despite telling ourselves not to measure our success against others, we are. My first piece of advice… cut out as much social media as possible. We’re authors, we have to be there, but we don’t have to dwell there. We don’t have to hop on Facebook every single time we take a break from writing. I’ve recently begun taking the weekends off from social media and it’s been incredibly freeing. Sure, I hop on, but I don’t scroll for long. Sometimes I post, sometimes I don’t. And I don’t worry about my ratios – you know the ones, for every book post you should post four personal posts not book related.
Every time we take a break from writing and hop on social media, we’re asking to have that strain heaped on us making it harder and harder to get back into a creative mindset. It’s affecting our stories, affecting our health, and affecting our happiness.
And nothing kills my creativity faster than that.
The other thing that might be holding you back…are you writing what you want to write? Right now, I can tell you I’m not. Okay, that might be too harsh, but I miss big books and I’m working my way back there after I take care of a couple of commitments. Not that I won’t continue with novellas, I absolutely will, but I miss really delving into a character and it’s nearly impossible in a novella. We have to do it shorter. You wanna talk killing your darlings. There’s almost no room for darlings at all. Novellas are more about the writer telling you who their character is and then letting the action play out. I want to show the reader. I want to let my character dwell in their thoughts and show the reader that they do understand the things they ponder and worry about—you know, the things they never say allowed. It’s actually one of the things that Jen gets annoyed with when she critiques for me. It’s also the one thing, despite what she says in her comments, that I barely dial back because my fans love it and write me fan mail based on it.
But what does it really tell me, I need to get back to books like Sunset at Lake Crane. I need to get back to the super emotional. I can write either, but the super emotional, longer books are where my heart is.
So… what’s holding you back? Unrealistic expectations, flirting with burnout, and not writing what your heart loves…
And very likely, impostor syndrome which is a much larger component of everything I’ve just discussed.
Almost every single writer on the planet suffers from impostor syndrome in one or more of its various forms. It lays in wait in the recesses of your mind, ready to cut off your wordy progress at the knees.
So, does any of this sound like you???
You’re a perfectionist – You set extremely high expectations for yourself and even when you nail almost every goal, you focus on the one little thing you missed and then feel like a complete failure. You will hang your ability to succeed on that one mistake and view all successes through that one failure.
You absolutely need to be an expert from the onset – Do you feel like you need to know every single aspect of writing or indie publishing before you start? Do you have to have every detail of your new story laid out right down to what color sneakers your hero wore to his high school graduation fifteen years earlier.
It’s all come easy to you, until now – You’ve never had to work very hard at achieving your goals. Until now. And because you all of a sudden do, you convince yourself that you’re not good enough.
Solitary existence – You feel like you have to tackle everything on your own. No asking for help because if you do, you failed.
Superhuman drive and need – You push yourself to work harder than everyone around you. And why do you do that? To prove that you’re not an impostor. You do it in your professional life and personal life, constantly chasing that high that comes with accomplishment.
Still not sure… well, if you dare, you can go HERE and take a test on Dr. Valerie Young’s site to find out.
As my career has progressed, I’ve found that what holds me back is less about the actual craft, and more about the weight of the pace and having a front row seat to only success stories of my peers. In order to preserve my sanity and keep my creative juices flowing, I need to take a step back, and remember that what I’m seeing is not the whole picture and that we’re all just showing our good side.
We’re all battling. Most of us just aren’t choosing to do it publicly.