Zachry Wheeler, Science Fiction Author
Destress Your Writing Life: A Practical Guide
Posted on January 15, 2022
Category: Zeedub Inkwell
Zachry Wheeler, Science Fiction Novelist

Now that we’re on year two of a century-defining pandemic, I noticed a peculiar anomaly. I am actually feeling better about my writing life. The last few years have been a maddening tornado of shifting tastes and marketing woes. Every author I know has been struggling to make sense of it. And yet, I have somehow emerged with a happier mindset.

So what the hell happened?

It all started during the first wave of the pandemic. Slowly but surely, the sudden isolation crept into my promo habits. I began to self-stalk in a very unhealthy way. I would check my stats and reviews multiple times per day, for no other reason than I could. My productivity tanked because the pre-pandemic strategy no longer applied (comic cons, literary events, speaking gigs, etc.). I was rudderless, unmotivated, and losing my creative mind.

Before long, I was obsessing over the tiniest slights, be it a petty review or promo fail. I would stew for days over trivial rubbish. I couldn’t make sense of the situation, so I drove my mental health off a cliff and decided that writing was no longer relevant to my life.

That was the wake-up call.

Having watched the downward spiral, my always-supportive wife suggested that I make some deliberate changes to the way I view my authorship. If I was seriously contemplating giving it up, then what did I have to lose? She was right, of course, so I put my writing ambitions under a microscope. It didn’t take long to identify some major pain points. Addressing them not only improved my mental health, it also restored my motivation to continue.

In short, it saved my author career.

And so, I thought it would be beneficial to outline my resolutions, should any of my fellow wordsmiths be facing the same dilemma. This is by no means a comprehensive list, just the main hurdles that cleared the fog and got me writing again.

Leave Social Media

Seriously, just do it. Don’t take a hiatus, just delete your accounts and walk away. At this point, I shouldn’t have to explain the pitfalls of social media. I have written about it numerous times on this blog. I deleted all of my accounts during the pandemic and the peace of mind has been immeasurable. Many authors are waking up to the fact that they don’t need social media to be successful. It’s a poisonous time sink that fractures your attention and damages your calm. You are much better off without it.

Let Go of the Hustle

This was the biggest one for me. Since day one of my author career, I embraced the “make it” mindset. Keep pushing, keep pitching, keep the hustle going. The next step might be the one that launches my career into the stratosphere. Rest is for the weak, go go go!

This mentality got undermined by the pandemic and started to erode my sanity, so I pumped the brakes and screeched to a stop. I sat in the middle of Progress Avenue and just stared at the endless road ahead. It was then when I uncovered a hard truth: I had no idea what I was chasing. My view of “success” was too vague and undeveloped. I was just pushing forward for the sake of pushing forward.

And so I stopped.

Letting go of the hustle allowed me to rediscover the enjoyment of writing. I was so focused on the next product that I had neglected the next plot. Shifting that focus gave me permission to slow down and think deeper about the worlds I created. My readers have invested in these sagas and it’s my responsibly to give them the best experience possible. I want to delight the fans I have, not chase the ones I don’t.

Relinquish Ownership

This is a hard one, but also crucial to maintain peace of mind. When you spend so much time and money bringing stories to the masses, it can be devastating to watch readers tear them to pieces, especially when the animus is unfounded. Reviewers can do serious damage with a few key clacks. One nasty rant can ruin years of hard work, and as the content creator, you have to sit quietly and take it on the chin. It’s frustrating and dispiriting.

It used to really bother me because I viewed my works as still being mine. In that context, it’s difficult not to take bad reviews as personal slights. (For the record, there is a huge difference between hateful reviews and thoughtful critiques, the latter being valuable feedback.) But then it occurred to me: every reader experiences stories through a different worldview. So why does it bother me when the worldview pushes back?

A story is only mine up to the point of publication. Once it’s out there, I relinquish ownership. I may own the content, but not the right to determine how it’s interpreted. A bad review isn’t a personal attack, it’s a reflection of that reader’s perspective in contrast to the narrative. Once I realized that, it became much easier to shrug off negativity.

Simplify the Marketing

There are countless ways to get your works in front of eyeballs. At this point in my career, I have pissed away piles of cash on promo services, most of which fail. It’s an exhausting and demoralizing process. My own experience in the marketing trenches has created a tried and true strategy, but even the best laid plans can suck up a lot of time and effort. Thus, I decided to simplify the approach.

In short, I created a “set it and forget it” promo schedule. I spend a few hours setting it up at the beginning of each year, then plug it into my calendar and go about my business. Every so often, I get a notification to “schedule this service” or “apply to that service.” Apart from that, I am now blissfully detached from the marketing mayhem.

Kill Your Deadlines

Unless you’re under contract, there’s no reason to stress about arbitrary deadlines. Yes, you would like to cross the finish line by [insert date] and get the story into the hands of readers. But if it’s not ready, it’s not ready. Rushing the process will do more harm than good. Fans are a forgiving bunch. Life gets in the way and they understand that.

This is also why I love my newsletter, which I often lean on as a therapeutic outlet. As a recent example, I had a health issue at the end of last year. I had to step away from writing for a time and feared a loss of relevancy, which I confided to my subscribers. But, precisely the opposite happened. I received an outpouring of support, as the struggle was infinitely relatable. Several fans checked in every week to see how I was doing. It was truly touching and made me realize that they had my back, no matter when the next book comes out.

A Renewed Perspective

The end result of all this was a giant mental reset. I found a much-needed shift in perspective, one that allowed me to enjoy the creative process again. I now hit the pillow and think about my characters, not the next speaking gig or promotional opportunity. The relief is palpable and I can sense a restoration, both mentally and physically. Who knows, maybe this is the step that launches my career into the … whatever.

Read more:
Let’s Talk About Writer’s Burnout: No Tips, Just Talk
Staring Into the Void: An Author’s Take on the Great Pandemic
I Have Slayed the Twitter Dragon (And Bid Farewell to Social Media)

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