Lately life has treated me like it's own personal punching bag. My friends have made a list of all the things that have gone wrong. There are more items than days that they've kept track, and we're talking months. Those same friends call to check on my mental wellness, my physical health, my emotional well-being. Thank you all!
I'm by nature an optimistic person, but sometimes I have to sit back, take stock, and re-inventory my survival tools. I decided to share them with you. They are in no particular order.
1. Get the simple things right.
Pay attention to one thing at a time. Your mind is working even when your hands are folding laundry. Fold that laundry correctly and put it away. I take my regular morning walk to clear my mind and get my steps in for the day. Routine is my friend, especially with the simple things, because when the "simple things" start going wrong, I know I'm in deep trouble.
2. Set realistic goals that break an unrealistic goal into smaller, achievable tasks.
Why not celebrate five achievements rather than wait for that one big item on your list to be done? Don't
you celebrate when you've got enough of your new book plotted in your head, or you finally get to start writing it? I celebrate when I get to a scene I have been wanting to write—and when I finish a scene I didn't want to write. I write long books; I can't imagine not being able to reach benchmarks along the way. The same thing goes for "real life" tasks. If you are cleaning your garage out for the first time in five or more years, make goals that are reasonable, like I'm going to clean the laundry area before lunch. If your goal is too big, it appears insurmountable and it's easy to give up. I haven't mastered this tool yet! Don't let yourself become overwhelmed.
These two words mean something different to everyone. Ask yourself, "What does it mean when I work hard?" Do you set that task as a priority and work at it until it's complete? Do you spend a specific amount of time "working hard" every day? What is the difference between, "working" and "working hard"? When you answer this question for yourself, you may have the most important tool to taking your writing career to the next level.
4. You don't know everything. Get others to work with you.
Whether it's critique partners, friends who know more about social media, hired professionals who design your book cover, or an agent who sells your books to an editor, develop a team of individuals who believe in you and are actively involved in your success. These people are great assets if (or when) you lose faith in yourself.
5. No excuses.
When you are a committed professional, there are no excuses. Your editor doesn't want to hear how your children had the flu, or that your car blew up. causing you to miss your deadline. All she knows is that her schedule is messed up, and it's your fault. I used to wait until the last minute to finish everything. I thought I worked better under pressure. While that's true in most cases, I discovered I wasn't producing my best work. Now I work to finish a couple of weeks before a deadline so I can think about any changes that might improve the story and still have time to make them.
6. Don't underestimate others. Empower those around you.
This doesn't mean farm out your writing tasks to others. But you can empower those close to you to become involved in your success in other ways. Maybe a friend loves to spend her mornings on Facebook. She can check yours for anything important and let you know, so you can write in the mornings instead of bouncing back and forth to check comments. You can teach someone who lives with you how to cook their favorite dinner. You'll all be happy when you sit down to that meal—you had more writing time, someone contributed to your success, and there's that yummy food on the table.
7. Be willing to fail. Then get back up.
You only fail if you stay down. So, be that old blow-up punching-bag clown with the weighted base and when you get punched down, bounce back up. I know it's not easy. See Numbers 2, 3, 4, and 6 above for help.
8. Embrace the repercussions of your actions. Learn from your mistakes.
It's a sad but true fact that we learn more from our mistakes than our successes. I know it's easy for me to say (and it's taken years for me to get to this point!) but resolve not to make the same error. If an apology is required make it with grace. Sometimes I put a note on the edge of my computer screen (or the refrigerator door) to remind me to do—or not to do—something. That note stays in place until I have internalized its message. How do I know I've internalized it? When I start to take the same action, and the mantra on my note comes out of my mouth.
9. Don't back down. Never quit.
You have a gift. You have a story you want to share with the world. No one ever said being a writer is easy. Well, maybe those who aren't writers think we eat bon-bons and play video games all day and our pages magically appear on the screen. You've received rejection letters. Take a look at Laura Drake's rejection letter story here. In the past twelve months, on two separate occasions I seriously thought about quitting writing for publication. Then I thought about what that would feel like. I didn't want to end up five or ten years down the road and wonder what would have happened if I'd kept trying. Don't silence your voice when the path is strewn with rocks and thorns and cliffs and ragging rivers. You can do this. You are not alone.
I'm not laughing at myself when I laugh instead of cry, although I have nothing against laughing at myself. Our brains are wired to reset themselves with laughter. Doctors have found that patients who laugh every day, heal faster. So if you're going through a difficult spell, find things to laugh at. Animals and children are great at supplying us with genuine laughs.
11. Success requires sacrifices. Make them.
I'm not asking you to give up everything you love. but if you have activities that become time sumps, you may want to re-think or put yourself on a tight schedule where they're concerned. I didn't think I watched that much television, but when I disconnected from my cable and gave my TV away a year ago, I knew that would free up at least a couple of hours every day. I've sacrificed talking with my friends about what's been happening on our favorite shows. I can't talk about the new shows from last year. But my first book is coming out this summer, and the second one won't be far behind that. For me, it's not so much about sacrifice as it is about defining my priorities and honoring them.
I didn't list all the "take care of your physical body" items, but sleep, healthy food, and exercise are necessary to a well-functioning brain and a body that can take the stress of hours in front of a computer every day.
What are your writer survival tips?
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Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.
Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong. She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.
A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand that their stories be told. Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard.
Look for P.R.I.S.M., a science fiction story of survival, betrayal, deceit, lies, and love, this summer.