April 8, 2014

Re-discovering the joy

I started this year by being exhausted. I’d finally finished Secrets and Sins, and I published it on January 3rd. As I always do, I took a little time off from daily writing to let readers, both established with me and potential new folks, know about the book and its free prequel, Sinner Man. Sales were strong, which was most welcome after a sluggish November and an even worse December. I even got into the Top 100 Amazon list of women’s fiction/saga novels—not merely multicultural women’s fiction, but general women’s fiction/saga, with writing heavyweights like Danielle Steel, Debbie Macomber, and Barbara Taylor Bradford. I turned my attention to working on my next release, Love Will Grow, to complete my Love Will series.

Then something strange happened.

I found that writing was starting to feel like a chore. I knew the strong sales of Secrets and Sins would only last for so long, for my sales have been down since last fall…and I felt pressured to get the next book out ASAP, within three or four months. But it didn't feel right. Writing was supposed to be something I enjoyed, but it had turned into something I felt pressured to do.

This year has not been without its stressors, mainly in the form of health issues of aging family members. The extra stress of “gotta write” was only making things worse. 

Another problem was the Internet. It was starting to depress me. Everywhere I looked, people were posting about their books. Between hundreds of new eBooks being released every day at e-tailers and my Facebook feed clogged with dozens of requests from authors practically begging for sales, plus pleas from authors who'd gotten wind of a colleague doing something innovative and wanting to do the same thing (with a little help from their friends) became a real turnoff for me. I sensed desperation closing around me like a blanket thrown over my head. It also told me that maybe I wasn’t the only one with slipping sales numbers (authors love to talk about how well they’re doing, but tend to keep quiet when they’re not doing so well). Another sign of a downturn was that authors who always posted about their book's Amazon rankings or how they'd made a Top 100 list had become conspicuously silent. All these factors contributed to my asking myself if I really wanted to make the strenuous effort of trying to produce a book every three to four months just to try to stay in the game…and the answer was no.

Once I recognized I was going down a path of dissatisfaction, I stopped writing completely while I sorted it out. Eventually I started up again, with one major difference:  This time I wrote only when I wanted to (not because I felt I had to), because I felt compelled to put words down on paper and tell a story. I wanted to reclaim the joy that comes with writing, the simple enjoyment of crafting a story that's been part of my life since adolescence. The result: A scaled-back output, because that urge simply didn't hit me every day. 

I asked myself what else I wanted to accomplish this year.  Getting organized topped the list, with weight loss a close second (I've been trying to lose the same 15 pounds for 10 years, except by now that figure has crept up to 30 pounds). Ideally, I'll have our house organized to the point where—pardon this morbid thought—if my husband and I should get crushed by a semi or something, the kids could simply come in and go through our things, take what they want and donate or sell the rest without having to go through all that stuff that’s been sitting in the garage for years, not to mention all that stuff in three walk-in closets in the extra rooms (the only closet that’s organized is the one in our bedroom).

I’m happy to be able to say I’ve gotten quite a bit done, with several 55-gallon bags of either brand new or still in good condition clothing and housewares donated to Goodwill, plus at least one other bag that size put out for the trash man. I've also ramped up my exercise with near-daily workouts and watching what I eat, and I've lost 6 pounds. I still have much to do, but I can see the progress in both areas, and that alone will help me keep going.

And as for my writing? Even with cutting back, I recently made the happy discovery that Love Will Grow is almost complete. I know I can expect to write some additional bridging scenes as I go over it, maybe insert some paragraphs here and there to give readers more insight into the characters, but at this point a late spring release is feasible. Even with cutting back, I seem to be getting my book completed (although who knows how long it will take me to get my next project done). Best of all, I’ve re-discovered the joy of writing.

I think I’ll keep that joy, write the best story I can, and publish it when it’s ready, at my own pace. I’m my own publisher, so I’m not going to let myself go if I can’t produce enough to meet an ambitious publication schedule. In today’s world you’re only as good as your ratings or most recent accomplishments, but I’m happy to leave the stress of constant performance to mutual fund managers, advertising and television executives, sports team coaches, network news anchors…and other writers.

I might not be as prolific...but I'll definitely be happier.


Dollie said...

Good deal, Bettye, for you and for us! I I'm looking forward to whatever comes next.