Do you feel A sense of overwhelm ?
If you do, join the club. But just so you know what overwhelm is and how it’s making you miserable, here’s the dictionary definition.
That’s a hefty but accurate definition. It’s a pretty debilitating condition in any industry but in ours, it has the power to shut us down completely. It can lock us out of our own creativity, bog us down in trivia and make us burn useless energy going nowhere fast.
The symptoms of overwhelm
So you’re a struggling author who also works and needs to give your family the occasional nod and wave. Somehow you find yourself buried beneath a ton of marketing activity, a daily slew of emails and more trivia than you can cope with. Did I mention you probably work too? You turn into a terrifying beastie when your other half asks you to log off your computer for half an hour.
While you push the shopping trolley around the supermarket, you remember all the emails flooding onto your abandoned screen. You need to email your mail subscribers but stare for hours at your keyboard and pull petals off roses. They love me. They love me not. They love me…
The Facebook advert coming to the end of its cycle haunts your thoughts. Your dreams involve surfing the plunging curve of your Amazon sales report. You wake up sweating that Peter Jackson bought the movie rights to your novel and then backed out because it’s crap. Remember that kid at school who always rushed home to do homework while you kicked a ball at your mate’s head? That’s you now. Your assignment’s due and the clock is going backwards. Nobody can help you.
If that sounds like where you’re at, you’re suffering from overwhelm.
Last year was my Year of Crazy
I work as an archivist part time, an author full time and a wife and mother full time. I also wear numerous other hats of choice at different points. My least favourite is house-cleaner and unblocker-of-the-shower plughole. Despite promising myself on New Year’s Eve that in 2016 I would be kind to myself, I wasn’t. I flogged myself mercilessly.
I did the Mark Dawson course, the Nick Stephenson course, played with Facebook Adverts, started a mailing list in earnest and produced five full length novels. I maintained a social media presence, helped in a critique group and put my heart and soul into other people’s editing. I flew to Wellington and back for business, flew to Palmerston North and back for family. I drove to Palmerston North, Wellington and back for family. I flew to England and traveled around, mainly for family but fitted in a radio interview.
It was a crazy busy year and my trusty laptop stayed clutched in my sticky hands throughout. I edited in the strangest places, ranging from an ensuite bathroom in North Yorkshire, England, to a parked car in downtown Hamilton, NZ.
I made it to New Year’s Eve and decided I’d shown myself very little kindness. 2017 promised to be different.
The year of overwhelm
Is it only March? Someone’s having a laugh. It must be at least September by now.
I decided early on that I needed a year off. So what did I do?
Nothing particularly sensible on the face of it. I gave myself permission not to write. If you’re nurturing an image of me sunbathing on a New Zealand beach with someone else’s book clutched in my clammy fingers, sorry and all that. Hasn’t happened. I decided to edit all my previous works instead. I’m still working part time and hadn’t factored into my ‘break’ the couple of thousand subscribers waiting to hear from me. Nor had I allowed for the four social media sites I’m active on or the various groups I’m part of. I promise myself an hour of quiet editing to the strains of Glenn Campbell and then someone tags me. I rise like a monster from the deep and stay on Facebook for longer than I should. I stare at kittens when I’ve got a perfectly loyal cat in my desk drawer. That’s not animal cruelty by the way. She climbs in there herself.
Not writing isn’t a great cure for overwhelm. If anything, the effects of last year seemed to have spilled over into this phase too. Nick Stephenson talks about avoiding overwhelm in his course for authors and he’s got some interesting tips on how to do that. But this crept up on me and kinda took over.
The journey out
Much of this is about perception and the lies we tell ourselves.
My sense of overwhelm comes from a lack of belief in my own ability. It doesn’t matter how many good reviews I get, I will always be crushed by that one bad one which sounds like they read someone else’s book. I read their cutting comments and convince myself they’re right. I want to give them a refund and clean out their cutlery drawer in penance. The nice reviews just make me cry. These faceless readers sense my angst and make up lies to help me out of my slump. They’re beautiful liars.
Obsessive compulsion and a need for perfection drives me into the realms of insanity. I can’t get there but I’ll keep trying. Oh, I can get to insanity with about four steps but the perfection thing takes longer.
Here’s the blueprint out
- None of it really matters. You won’t be lying on your deathbed wishing you’d tinted that cover for the teen novel in blue instead of sepia. Your family are unlikely to invite the CEO of Bookbub to your funeral just to show them what they caused when they turned you down eight times.
- Physical pain rarely helps. Vincent Van Gogh chopped off his own ear. It didn’t help. He still believed his paintings sucked. I wonder what he’d think now. His paintings are among the most frequently stolen. 13 have been recovered. Two of them twice.Three stolen paintings are still out there…somewhere, collectively worth more millions than a Lotto winner’s wildest dreams. Dude should’ve left the ear on. Never sacrifice body parts…or marriages. That’s kinda like a body part because they’re your other half. Be careful what you let go of in the name of creativity.
- Prioritise. Create a schedule. Answer emails for a set period of time a day, preferably after you’ve done your allocated writing or editing. Set the clock and if you don’t finish, nobody dies. Not you, not them.
- Stop checking your stats all the time. I’m a little freaked out when I post a review and get a message a few minutes later saying the author ‘liked’ it. That’s stalkery weird. Not normal. All that does is put you into a mode of micromanaging. You’re analysing every facet of writing and it’s not healthy. I can’t do that. I’m too OCD. I’m only allowed to check my stats once a week.
- Email your subscribers once a month. Jot down points you’d like to say when you think of them throughout the month and create a newsletter out of that. They’ll thank you more for being real than emailing them every five minutes with fluff and puff.
- Take control. You’re in charge of the voices in your head. They need to leave you in peace sometimes. Believe me, I live with Logan Du Rose. He doesn’t like it when I pull his plug, but he accepts it. My descriptions of his sulky pout drive women crazy. He pouts because I ignore him.
- Any business ownership is scary, especially when it’s paying your mortgage. I adore my part time role. I will be pulled from my office by my feet and stuffed straight into my coffin. Nothing short of a full guard of honour will please me, even after my archivist’s fingers stop fluttering over our town’s history. Whilst splitting my time, it also means I have another source of income. Many authors don’t. Write a business plan. Many of the big players offer theirs freely as examples. Download. Copy. Amend. Follow. Mine says I’m not writing any books this year. I’m not writing any books this year.
- Invest. The phrase is ‘speculate to accumulate.’ It’s overused and misunderstood. You spend money to get money. You win some and you lose others. I once paid $85 for an advert and sold 3 books. Devastating. But I learned from it. I don’t use paid adverts for 99c books with no traction. I use paid adverts for free books. Then I make sure the links to all my books are in the back. I wasted over $300 of my hard won royalties on Facebook adverts in Australia which achieved nothing. Two months after killing the ad, I noticed my Australian royalties trebled. Nothing is wasted. Every experiment has a purpose.
- Keep the personal contact. Talk to other authors and especially your readers. They want you and they love hearing your real voice. Always answer subscriber messages first. It took courage to get in touch so reward them. Don’t forget who you are or where you’ve come from. Without readers, we’re nothing and nobody. I adore my readers. When they’re sick I send them free books and look forward to hearing they’re better. When they’re too sick to recover, it breaks my heart. These are real people with real problems and concerns. Love them like they love you. Never forget why you write and who you write for.
- Beware the money train. I remember feeling excited when I sold five books in one month to strangers. They weren’t my aunties or friends of my mother. These were people who took a punt on my work and bought it because they liked it. They didn’t know me well enough to feel sorry for me. Maintain their trust and never ever abuse that. If you try forcing products down your mail subscribers throats, you’ll lose them and they never come back. Nobody likes to be fleeced. I don’t and nor do they. We see it coming a mile away. Don’t try it, no matter how desperate you get for revenue.
Keep your head up
I recently replied to a comment on a business coach’s Facebook post with, “I’m a small time author…”
I didn’t make it as a cry for help. He directed me to that post because I didn’t continue engaging his services. In truth, I couldn’t afford him and didn’t want to waste his time on a 45 minute Skype call knowing I’m not someone he wanted to ultimately coach. I don’t fit his criteria so why use up his lifeline unnecessarily? He sent me a private message and it was kind of him to bother. This is what he said.
“Never describe yourself as small time. Even if one person loves your work it’s enough. Go and find the second person.”
I might keep that as my mantra this year. I’m re-editing everything and then subcontracting it to others who will go through it again. By the end of this year, I may well have finished a fantasy novel I’m writing for pleasure and I might have secured a Bookbub ad.
By the end of 2017 I will still perform the essential role of toilet cleaner and hopefully still adore my husband. My children will be talking to me and at least one of them will be happily married. I’m back on my Weight Watchers diet and should look svelte and sexy in my mother-of-the-groom attire. One might even wear a hat.
I won’t still be overwhelmed because I shall dig my way out.
But I will continue to love my readers and those gorgeous people who email me with their thoughts and encouragement.
Perspective. If it doesn’t make us happy, we shouldn’t do it. We definitely don’t chop our ears off.
K T Bowes is the author of romance mystery novels with gutsy heroines and strong, silent heroes.
You can take a look at them HERE.