Friday, February 1, 2008

Writing with Stress

My ms. that was due in January is in and things are settling down here (well, not really--after I turned in the ms. I had to deal with the hundreds of things I'd been putting off while I wrote).

What I never knew about being a published writer is that there is so much more to it than writing a book and giving it to your publisher. You need to keep up with:

Talking with your agent about new projects and writing new proposals.

Signing contracts and getting them to the right people at the right time.

Keeping up blogs and websites (whether you do it yourself or give updates to someone else).

Keepng track of who owes you what money when and follow-up when it doesn't appear (your agent does most of this, but it's always good to keep your finger on it.)

Doing revisions of mss. already turned in.

Working with your editor on cover and back cover copy.

Checking copy-edits.

Proofreading the final pages.

Preparing self-marketing strategies for books as they come out. (This can involve mailing cards or book covers to readers groups or booksellers, mailing out review copies [if the publisher doesn't], buying ad space in print and online, and so much more.)

Keeping track of business expenses and taxes.

Preparing for and giving workshops.

Doing signings and appearances.

Doing interviews, both online and in person and guest blogging.

Going to conferences.

Not to mention the general work of keeping your desk from collapsing under the weight of all the paperwork you will get around to filing "someday."

Because I write four to five books a year, multiply all this times five.

So what happens when major events happen in your life, and you still have to get all this stuff done? Remember that most authors work by themselves, although some hire assistants to do the busy work (mailing, copying, keeping track of things, and all that filing.)

There are two very important things to remember:

1. Your life is more important than your writing career. You can always get back to your writing career later.

2. In your writing career, the single most important thing is the writing. All the other stuff I talked about is secondary.

Now, if you are stuck like I was having to finish books while I was both busy and upset, there are several things you can do.

1. Talk with your editors and/or agent (or whoever is waiting for your work) and explain exactly what is going on. Mine were fantastically understanding and supportive.

2. Ask someone to help you with all the busy work, both in your writing and personal life. There's no need to be a martyr and go it alone. You can always help them when things are bad for them.

That's the mechanics--now for the actual writing.

1. I found that writing helped me retreat a little from the bad things that were happening in my life. It's fine to sink yourself into creativity and your imaginary world for a while if that helps you cope.

2. Write in a place where you are the most comfortable. If you have the best output at a coffee house, plan an hour to go there and write.

3. Don't worry about writing. The best gift my editors and agent gave me was to say "don't worry, take your time." That let me write when I could and not stress over it when I couldn't. I had to be there for others, and I didn't feel pulled apart, or guilty no matter what I did.

4. Keep taking care of day-to-day stuff and don't let it pile up too high. That way when you get back to writing you don't have things falling on you, and your clothes are clean.

5. Relax. Let the writing flow, let it be your therapy. Don't try to write something you really don't want to. OR let the discipline of writing on one project every day carry you through.

6. Find methods that block out unhappy feelings for you--for example, writing to certain music, writing by candlelight, reading something inspiring before you sit down to write, prayer, writing in complete solitude or writing surrounded by people. Whatever makes your writing session more productive or calms your mind.

As I said before, sometimes the writing itself will help you get through.

I hope this is helpful. These are random thoughts that came to me while I was coping with stress and a sad event and had to keep writing.

But I did it--I finished the ms. I was working on and turned it in, and now am working on the next project (and doing a workshop and booksigning this weekend, signing contracts and mailing them, working with my editor on cover copy, looking at copy-edits . . .)


Shelley Mosley said...

Jennifer, your blog is not only inspiring, it's also got some very good advice. As new writers, we don't always realize how many commitments are expected from authors, and how many steps there really are to producing a book. But life happens, good and bad, and like you said, put your family first. People always trump paper.

Jennifer Ashley/ Allyson James / Ashley Gardner said...

Thanks Shelley! That's a good insight--"people always trump paper"! Something to remember.