Six months ago I ended my career as a full time software architect, and part time writer, to become a writer full time. I posted a few blog entries leading up to it and as I started, but after a couple of weeks, I stopped. Here are the posts: Leading up, Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4.
When I started writing and publishing back in early 2014, I was on fire. I was working my job, spent time with my family, AND got my first two books out and they became Amazon & Calgary Herald best-sellers.
So when I started being a full-time author, why did I slowly find myself needing my evenings to veg out at times and then…sometimes…feel like… I was…just…coming…to…a…crawl. At first, I thought it was because I was doing too many things. I was doing a LOT of things. I was doing book signings like a mad man, I was a storm on Twitter, I got more two books out (which I had started writing before going FT). Was this the problem?
It wasn’t the problem, not really. The root of my burn out was that I didn’t have any real idea how to judge my efforts. I didn’t quit my day job and start living off the revenue from my books. My contract ended, and with the oil plunge, my wife and I decided to invest in what I was doing and have her carry the burden. That left a psychological burden on me that took a long time to figure out, which was how can I judge that I’m delivering the “value” I need to my family for my actions? By not having an answer that I could truly embrace, it zapped my energy.
I was spending 50 units of energy doing great stuff that wasn’t writing. I was spending 50 units of energy on writing. And I was spending an extra 100 units of energy doubting myself and trying to figure out what I wasn’t doing that I really should be doing. Recommended daily budget? 80 units of energy MAX for a sane person. This wears you down.
You can tell yourself that this is a long term thing, but if you’re like me, you still need short term indicators to let you know that you’re doing something good. Seeing books sell on their own, without me to push them, whether online or in bookstores, is a good indicator. It doesn’t need to be much, it just needs to have a slow and steady pace that can be built upon.
What I had to do was recognize this, and start looking at the constituent pieces that were contributing to this. It starts with being honest with yourself.
BEING HONEST WITH YOURSELF
I use the term “full-time” author but the reality is, it isn’t really full time. It’s about 2/3 time, and that’s because I had from 9-11am, and then from about 1-3pm every day. That’s 5 hours. I’d often, but not always, get an hour or two in the evening, so let’s average that to 6. That’s 3/4 time, at best. From 11-1 I was with my young boys, and by 3pm they had all they could handle of being with the nanny before wanting to play with daddy (in a good way). If I wasn’t at a meeting somewhere, then by 3pm my sense of guilt and duty to my kids would start distracting me, start eating me up. Add to that I was up, almost every night either with them or for another reason, so I was getting poor sleep. And yet, my mind was expecting me to be producing at peek, 8-11 hours a day.
I had to learn how to balance my schedule so that I could productive, properly. I had to cut things out, sharpen my focus and get out of the house when I needed to accomplish something. I love my office, and my kids, but I fail everyone if I don’t get out of the house to get X done because I will be grumpy about it, whether I know it or not.
I have never had more respect for stay-at-home parents than going through this. If you think it’s a simple job to be screamed at by a 2yo for hours, and then trying to focus, try it. They didn’t need waterboarding in Gitmo, they needed angry toddlers.
After you’re honest with yourself, you need to learn how to breath.
My wife, my friend Mia, and others have told me that I need to BREATH. And by that, they mean allow myself real opportunities to recharge. The problem is, when you always feel like your constantly behind and failing yourself, how do you do that? Do you delay your next release and watch some TV? Well, that just builds anxiety in me. All you need is just six weeks of uninterrupted time to catch up, right? The problem is, there is no catching up. That anxiety hole just builds.
I finally cracked this nut for myself really recently, at least I think I have. I wouldn’t accept, deep down, slowing my writing and publishing pace any more than I already have (I want 2 novels and a novella out a year, at least). After I have 10 books out, I might be able to convince myself, but for the moment, no. So what could I do that would lower my stress level? And then something donned on me.
I tried writing the first snippet of a fun story that I wanted to do, called Steampink. I really enjoyed writing it and sharing a different part of me, and that’s when I realized that I’m missing an element. I’m going to dedicate two months in the year where I’ll only write and submit for anthologies or magazines, it won’t be towards one of my books. It’ll allow me to write shorter pieces, fun things where I can create a world and then send it off, maybe to think about it again at a later point if I really liked it. This would also further my authoring career in a way that is clear and concrete.
The first six months have been filled with a lot of challenges I didn’t expect, but stopping and thinking about them, talking with someone about them, breaking them down, it’s the only way to last. I’ve already seen some indie authors who started when I started, leave “the business.” I’ve done very well in my first year, and my second year has been even better. I have to keep in mind what is great progress and what is just fantasy-impossible, and judge myself appropriately. I have to find the things that will inspire me, invigorate me, and treat myself as an asset and now a consumable.
At the end of the day, this isn’t a marathon, it’s a pilgrimage. It’s a pilgrimage to the land where, if we can get there, we yell “HOLY COW, I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS IS HAPPENING!” And you know what, we better enjoy the journey.