How To Be An Author

There’s so much of this advice out there. Blog posts. Craft books. Workshops and lectures. We pay for it, we go in search of it. Sometimes it finds us, when we’d rather not be pondering whether or not we’re currently bungling the effort.

There’s advice telling us how to do the actual writing, then how to sell it.

Advice on how to be a professional author—how we need a blog, a website, a Facebook fan page, a Twitter presence, a newsletter, an Amazon Author Page, Google Alerts, a mailing list, a marketing strategy, a book trailer, a blog tour, promotional items, a tagline.

How we need to monitor our web traffic, our inventory of followers or fans or friends or subscribers, our Goodreads presence and how we’ve been shelved and how many times, how many ratings we’ve been given and what the average is—to the second decimal place—how many Likes we’ve gotten, our Amazon Author Rank, our Novel Rank stats, our place or lack thereof on Top 100 lists (paid versus not paid versus genre versus subgenre and refreshed on the hour), reviews of our work and the comments attached to them.

How to pinpoint, quantitatively, numerically, in stars and in hits, where we rank amongst our peers, whether we’re ahead of the curve or trailing behind, how this month compared to last, how this book measures up to the previous one.

Are we promoting ourselves enough? Too much? In the right ways? What is the right way?? What did I say to make that person unfollow me?!?!

The Internet makes this kind of authorial hyper-involvement so. Easy. So easy! And so instantaneous, and so accessible, and so constant. If denizens of the epidemically overfed first world are living in a so-called food circus, then twenty-first-century authors are living in a feedback circus.

I’ve seen people refer to the act of obsessively monitoring facets of one’s author presence as “self-stalking,” which works. I’ve seen others calling it, “managing your author platform.” I’ve seen it treated as madness, and as professionalism. I’ve seen it condemned, and exalted. I’ve seen it harnessed and turned into incredible sales and earnings. And I’ve seen it turn formerly beloved hobbies into pure psychic torture.

In its worst guises, I call this stuff “nanny-camming.” This is an opinionated term, and one I’m not suggesting reflects every author’s experience—not even close. But it’s how I see it, when “being aware of your author presence” crosses that line into self-stalkery; when all that diligent management of one’s own brand and rank and quantifiable success becomes more harmful to one’s productivity than motivational. Keep hitting Play on that nanny-cam feed for long enough, and eventually you may see something you wish you hadn’t. But even if you don’t, the act of constantly reminding yourself that you might and anticipating that ugly moment can be just as upsetting.

I’m not going to tell anyone what they have to do. I’m certainly not going to tell anybody How To Be An Author. What the poop do I know about it? This is my job now, and I make a passable living from it, but I wouldn’t purport to be any kind of capital-S Somebody.

What I would like to suggest, however, is some emotional self-awareness.

[Begin aside—skip this paragraph if you have no interest in feelings-y mumbo-jumbo.] If you’re not familiar with emotional awareness work, it’s basically a technique for recognizing how you’re feeling, physically, as you experience different emotional reactions. For instance, when I’m anxious, my stomach feels empty or upset, and my breathing turns shallow. When I feel I’m being misunderstood or unheard, my throat gets tight. When I’m angry at someone’s callousness, my heart knots in my chest. It’s just a collection of techniques for recognizing and processing emotions as physical discomfort—or pleasure—as a way to detach those emotions from their stimuli, so you’re not giving other people’s actions the power to upset you. The basic idea is: they’re your emotions, here’s how to keep their mitts off your steering wheel. Anyhow—emotional awareness. It’s pretty liberating. If you think you might benefit from such a thing, check out the book The Heart of the Soul, by Gary Zukav. It’s a little oovy-groovy, but it might prove helpful if you identity yourself a particularly impulsive, reactionary, or hypersensitive personality. I honestly believe emotional self-awareness is simultaneously the most useful yet under-exploited skill in the human toolkit. [End aside.]

Authors have kind of an unfortunate reputation for being crazy. Same as comedians and musicians and artists—anybody whose job requires that they flip their hearts inside-out then ask people to pay to take a gander at it. We’re basically gestating and birthing babies then holding them up, inviting strangers to either coo or throw darts. That’s a really weird thing to want to put yourself through. A bit of crazy’s probably as necessary as coffee and a keyboard, for this gig. But if the crazy’s getting in the way, eating up your energy or sucking the joy out of the practice of writing, then something’s not right.

My basic advice to my fellow authors is, if it feels bad, don’t do it.

And please, hear this too—it’s okay if it feels bad. Even if you think it’s supposed to feel good.

Obviously, life will feel bad sometimes—challenging, disappointing, frustrating, unfair. Writing will occasionally feel shitty, and so will revisions and edits and untangling plot gnarls, and I’m not saying don’t do those things. If you want to be a professional writer, them’s the breaks. You have to finish books.

But all those other things we tell ourselves we have to do—the social networking and blogging and promo and other interactions… Those are not required. Just because someone stood behind a podium and told you in a conference workshop that you have to use Google Analytics or you have to tweet or you have to be active on this forum or that, it doesn’t make it so. If you’re finishing books and completing their edits, and making them available to the public in some manner, and you’re getting paid for your work, you are a professional writer. Period. Anything else you choose to do is gravy.

And anything else you choose to do but don’t enjoy…

Let yourself question if it’s worth it.

Perhaps you blog, and you suspect this might earn you an extra ten book sales a month, and perhaps that works out to an extra twenty bucks in royalties and a nice little stream of potentially loyal readers. That’s all good…unless blogging makes you miserable these days, and every post feels like an obligation. Consider if it might be a more valuable use of your time, not spending those few hours a month composing (or procrastinating) those posts you feel you have to produce. You could use that time to write your books, or for some other pursuit, one that makes you feel energized and inspired. You might be more productive if you invested those hours walking, or knitting, or reading, or cleaning the crisper drawers, or going out with friends or your poor neglected family. (My husband would likely endorse the latter.)

You don’t have to do anything, just because somebody slapped a bullet point on it and said it’s what legitimate, responsible, ambitious, real professional writers do. If you’re a professional writer, then whatever you’re doing, that’s what a real writer does, too.

Some writers thrive on external feedback, both positive and negative, from friends and strangers alike. Praise puts wind in their sails, and criticism drives them to consider areas where they might improve, the next time around.

If this is you, God bless. You are well adjusted. You’re the envy of many. You need not read on.

But if this isn’t you, that doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong. It would be nice if we all felt this way, and on good days, many of us do. But you may simply not. It doesn’t mean you’re not cut out to be an author in the digital age, but it may mean you have some damage control to exercise.

For example, if you know from experience that every time you look at your Amazon ratings or your Goodreads stats, you wind up feeling jittery and naked, then don’t do it.

Some days we need to pretend there’s no audience. No eyes on us. If even glowing reviews wind up undermining your ability to get the day’s word count met, because they make you feel exposed and ruin your ability to “dance as though no one is watching,” then don’t check them. Or check them on days when you don’t feel primed for anxiety, or can afford to derail your productivity for a little while.

I have to do this. I’m a fairly anxious person, and some days I’m simply more wound-up than usual. It’s more a noisy-brain thing than a thin-skin thing, for me—the sensitivity manifests in different ways, for different people, to all different degrees.

“But I have to read to my reviews—it would be rude not to, after people took the time to write them!” No, you don’t. It wouldn’t. They wrote those reviews for other readers’ consideration, in most cases. This is a concept that many authors take their sweet time in grasping, and with good reason. It’s hard for us to accept that it’s not about us, when a book can so often feel as attached and vulnerable as an exposed organ.

On those noisy-brain days, a thoughtful friend might forward me a link to what I can safely assume will be a lovely write-up of one of my books—but I know not to click on it. It’ll snap me out of writing mode and into author mode (the verb versus the identity) and for a time, I’ll cease simply being a person who bangs her fingers on a keyboard, telling herself stories, and become one who worries about whether those stories will give strangers the pleasure they were hoping for after they were kind enough to pay to read them.

Other days, no problem—click that link, smile to know someone is a happy customer, back to work. I suppose I may be lucky in that I can readily pinpoint which sort of a day I’m having. Thanks, Gary Zukav!

If you feel anxious and insecure (in general or just in a given moment), and even coming upon a nasty review of someone else’s book will make you feel paranoid and naked and vulnerable, don’t click.

Conversely, if you think reading someone else’s nasty review will make you feel better about yourself, give that impulse some serious circumspection. Ask yourself if that hit of schadenfreudean dodged-bullet relief actually feels good. I’d venture to suggest that “Look—she’s not so great!” is not a satisfying emotional substitute for, “I’m actually doing pretty okay!”

If even seeing the name of a book reviewer in your tweet stream is enough to pull you out of your writing flow and trigger that sour-stomach, stage-fright feeling, give yourself permission to unfollow them—for the morning or the week or for good. If you’re worried they’ll notice and be hurt, or worse, that they’ll give you bad reviews as a result… Try to remind yourself that most professional bloggers and reviewers are just that—professional. If they do even notice an unfollow, it’s highly unlikely they’ve got some shit-list of Mean Authors to Punish. If they do…? Well, be glad you’re not following them anymore. They probably need to work on their emotional awareness techniques.

Ditto goes for anyone else you follow on social media who consistently pulls you out of your flow. They may do so through no fault of their own. Maybe they simply retweet lots of breaking industry news, and in order to dance as though no one is watching, you need to avoid constant reminders that you’re but a miniscule cog in said industry. You can unfollow people if they trigger you. It doesn’t mean they’ve done something wrong. It doesn’t mean you’re too sensitive. It just means you’re a more productive writer without that particular person in your periphery.

If you find yourself thinking that just about everyone in your social media network triggers these feelings, and regularly… I’m not being flip, but consider that you may not be emotionally compatible with social networking. That’s totally okay. The real world is a fine world to inhabit, and most of us authors could probably stand to spend a bit more time there.

Of course, not-clicking is easier said than done—that adrenaline spike upon seeing a link that you know pertains to you is hard to simply let pass. For some, over-clicking or self-stalking is simply a bad habit, but for others it’s a true compulsion. I don’t mean to suggest it’s easy. It might require some weaning, or even a taste of cold turkey.

“But I have to be on social media, if I want to be an author!” To be a professional presence in the industry, yes, it certainly can be important. But if it makes you too paranoid or tightly wound or exposed-feeling to be productive or take joy from this craft…? Fuck it. It’s not worth it. Scale back, or opt out, or take a hiatus. If you can’t get your work done, then your digital platform’s moot.

If you need some flattering review snippets for your website, but you know heading to Google and nanny-camming yourself is a powerful anxiety trigger you can’t afford on a given day, ask a friend to wade into the interweb waves and source a couple for you. If they’re an author, they’ll probably sympathize.

“But this stuff all comes standard with the job, nowadays! I should toughen up.”

You could. I think most authors endeavor to, when they cross the threshold that separates “aspiring” and “published.” We check everything when our first book comes out, because we’ve earned the right to feel like we’ve arrived, to confirm that we exist on these websites, to seek out proof that a stranger invested the time and money to read our work.

And some of those new authors are on their way to cultivating nice thick skins—waxy skins that repel the bad reviews like raindrops while the good ones stick tight. Good for them!

Or in time those authors might decide they don’t care what anyone aside from their editor or their critique partner or their most admired reviewer thinks—their finite list of Ideal Readers, to steal Stephen King’s phrase. Good for them!! That’s been my own adopted approach, and it’s served me well…provided I keep it at the forefront of my brain.

Other writers will care what every last reader thinks, and use that feedback to correct course and adapt and strive for the most dizzying heights of mass-market appeal. Good for them!!!

But if you’ve been around the block, survived a few release days, and exposed yourself to enough public criticism to recognize that it’s not getting any easier, and that exposing yourself to it inhibits your writing… Not good for you.

Cut down. Be selective, and make a short list of forums you’d like to stay active on, the ones you feel are worth your energy. Or set aside designated time for such things, when you’ll be in the best state to process whatever feelings they might trigger. Or opt out all together.

Do what you have to do, to dance like no one’s watching.

Give as many or as few fucks as you can spare. Just make sure, above all else, that you’re saving enough fucks for your work-in-progress.

Writing itself is hard enough. Being an author is something else entirely.

About Cara McKenna

Cara McKenna writes smart erotica—sexy stories with depth. Read more >
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24 Responses to How To Be An Author

  1. Nicole says:

    “Give as many or as few fucks as you can spare. Just make sure, above all else, that you’re saving enough fucks for your work-in-progress.”

    This is my favorite piece of “writing advice” ever.

    I was just beating myself up this week for clicking on any link to how-to-be-an-author advice when all it ever does is make me insecure or, more often, ragey. Sometimes it’s nice to be reminded you really don’t have to read the things you know will take you to a bad place. It’s so rarely worth it.

    Great post!

  2. Sarah Wynde says:

    Best writing advice I’ve read all week. Maybe all year! I particularly appreciate the acknowledgement that nice reviews can be just as emotionally challenging as harsh reviews. I spend a lot more time worrying about whether I’m going to disappoint the people who have been nice enough to say wonderful things about my books than I do dwelling on the ones who hated them, but it’s just as destructive for my ability to actually get any writing done. I’m not sure what exactly I’m going to need to do to write like no one’s watching, but I’m definitely going to be thinking about it.

    • Cara McKenna says:

      This made me wish I’d titled the post, “Write As Though No One Is Reading.” Which is actually a fairly terrifying prospect, for some authors, and likely anxiety-inducing in itself :-)

      Glad you found it thought-provoking, Sarah! I found the good-reviews-still-leaving-me-feeling-anxious thing a tough truth to accept. It made me feel like I was missing some joy-gland or something, that I could read some lovely write-up, but not be squeeing with happiness, like everyone else seemed to be doing. I almost always just felt…naked. Grateful, and flattered, but so…spread open. Certain days, it was as counterproductive as if they’d been mean words. It sucks, but it’s how I am, I guess. In the end, I’ve come to realize it works better for me to set those links aside until I’m in a certain head space. To embrace my annoying hangups rather than beat myself up for not “reacting the right way.”

  3. Have so many thoughts on this I don’t know where to begin. I actually did one of these things a few months ago, and called it “not giving a fook anymore”. And I have no idea if its healthy or not, or the right way or not, but I don’t care about that either. It’s the right way for me to simply shut stuff out. I haven’t stopped reading reviews, or being on Twitter. But I no longer *care* what reviews say, or what people are saying on Twitter.

    I guess I’ve kind of divorced myself from the feelings certain stuff was producing? And whether that’s good or bad, it’s been absolutely wonderful for me. A lifesaver. I realised I was getting too invested in silly, petty things that didn’t matter. So I stepped back. I put myself at a distance and refocused on positive things like how much I love reading and writing and watching movies.

    That’s my life now: reading and writing and watching movies. How amazing is that?

    Anyway, I’m just rambling about me now. When what I really wanted to say is: you’re a wonderful person Cara. You’re so exquisitely fair, so non-judgemental. I strive to be all the things you are, and speak with the voice that you speak with here. I really mean that sincerely. And now I will go away and be embarrassed that I said it.

    • Cara McKenna says:

      I love your Not Giving a Fook strategy! It makes me want to push for some Wonkomance-sponsored Let’s None of Us Give a Fook Week campaign, where people pledge to only tweet and blog and post about non-industry nonsense, like movies and cats and their awkward teenage years and Guy of Gisbourne’s eyeliner, for a few days!

    • Cara McKenna says:

      And to refrain from self-stalking, of course!

  4. Karla Doyle says:

    Thanks for this, Cara. Great advice all around, and certainly stuff I need to to be reminded of on a regular basis.

  5. Sri says:

    All I can say is thank you for an honest, articulate post and the best piece of advice on this topic…

    I keep telling myself all this- fb, twitter, blog, they amount to nothing, if they pull me away from writing…but it is still so easy to get caught up in it and forget that…Which factors trigger me individually into a spiral that sucks out all joy from writing itself is the one thing I am determined to learn and stay away from at all costs…

    Thank you once again,


    • Cara McKenna says:

      This is kind of going off-topic, forgive me, but you got me thinking. There’s some great recent scientific writing out there about the allure and addictiveness of social media, and why it’s so hard to stop checking. Something to do with the anticipation / reward programming in our heads, how brain chemistry keeps people hitting refresh or scanning comments / tweets / feeds, waiting for the next nugget of interaction, for a little hit of recognition or validation or stimulation. It’s psychologically supposed to be a really difficult cycle to snap yourself out of, especially in the smart phone age. Make me nervous for the next generation, frankly! I know some writers use software to kick themselves off the web for certain chunks of the day. We’re not alone, that’s for sure. Anyhow, that’s probably a different discussion all together!

  6. This is why I tend to give Goodreads such a wide berth. It sets my anxiety-meters swinging into the red zone just to go there. Facebook is much the same way.

    I like to have things set up to be automated as much as possible so that all roads lead either directly to amazon or other sales locations, or to my website. So I auto-feed my blog and tweets out to places (to the extent that I post on my own blog, which isn’t often) but I don’t actually spend much time on those places.

  7. Shelley says:

    As an aspire-er, I’ve often seen all the “how to be an author” advice and thought, “How do authors have time to do any *writing* if they’re doing all of that?” Especially since I work full-time at another job, and know that lots of published, not just aspiring, authors do, too.

    Social media can be such a double-edged sword. For me, it’s been a total blessing so far. It’s how I found my CP; it’s how I’ve been welcomed into a community of the like-minded, where we have a chance to exchange ideas and advice and trade each others’ books around, both to make each others’ writing stronger, but also for the sheer joy of sharing with other writers and readers who get what you’re trying to do. But I can easily see how the scales could tip in the other direction, and I know that when there is conflict–not the intellectual-discussion kind, but the ugly, personal kind– in the blogosphere/on Twitter, etc., I feel downright sick, and it translates into my non-virtual life.

    Thanks for posting this. I think everyone needs the reminders that writing is really what writers do, and the rest is really optional. And if I’m ever on the other side of the “aspiring” border, I’ll probably need to re-read this, oh, every other day or so.

  8. Ruthie Knox says:

    This is such an excellent post. I try to use my gut as a guide. If something is giving me a stomach ache and racing pulse, I will stop doing it. I’ve found that I have to hide my main tweetstream, for example, because I sometimes accidentally see people talking about me, and I don’t WANT to. I’ve stopped reading negative reviews. I feel this impulse to read reviews so that I’ll be able to think about audience and what I might want to do differently — but then it occurs to me that many of these reviews are of work I wrote a year or eighteen months ago, and what do they have to say about what I’m writing now? Nothing, really. So it’s just a form of self-torture.

    I’ve also noticed that checking social media is primarily an activity for when I have Kidlet on my lap watching a cartoon and I’m not doing much of anything — so why not troll the Internet for myself? Bleagh. I’m trying to remember to carry my Kindle into the office now instead, and just read a book.

    But the most useful thing here, to me, is this reminder that just because people say to authors that they must do X, that doesn’t mean they have to. I have heard so much anxiety about promo stuff from friends, and I often use you as a touchstone. “Cara-Meg doesn’t do all that, and she’s selling books just fine. Do what feels good to you. Don’t do the other stuff. If you need to do none of it, that’s okay, too.”

    So, in summary, yay this post. You are awesome.

    • Cara McKenna says:

      Oh see, you just summed this all up in one sentence: “If something is giving me a stomach ache and racing pulse, I will stop doing it.” It really can be that simple! But it can also be so damned easy for those physical cues to get lost behind the adrenaline rush. Damn you, corporeal body!!

      When you refer to me as any kind of touchstone, I can only assume you mean my weird, stubborn refusal to join Facebook! I have no wisdom to inform that decision… It just sounds like such an energy drain. I’ve never been tempted. Twitter is my jam, as it were, and I was fortunate to stumble upon it fairly early on in my so-called career. I love Twitter. It demands nothing, attentiveness-wise, and near-nothing, involvement-wise. You can post fifty times a day or once a month, follow everyone or no one. Do nothing but promo or nothing but civilian chatter. Whatever’s your speed. No one will worry that you’re dead if you disappear for a week. In this day and age, it’s a liberal mistress indeed…

      If it treats you right, that is.

      If not? Fuck it!

  9. Awesome post, thanks for this!

    As I am in the process of crossing from aspiring to published, I worry a lot about my lack of organization in relationship to social media (we’re not worried about the other lacks of organization in my life right now)…I tweet, I finally got a Facebook author page, I blog…sometimes. But I’m damned if I can get the hang of Goodreads. And so I will subscribe to “Let’s None of Us Give a Fook” about Goodreads, at least until my editor or my agent tells me I have too…then I can add one more thing to my obsessive checking with the stupid smart phone.

    I do have to say that the concept of emotional awareness seems like it might be more useful to anyone as a writer than all this dreaded social media is to an author…Hey! My stomach gets tight when I think about doing something I’ve never done before…that’s SHOWING a feeling, isn’t it? Huh. I should go write that down…

    • Cara McKenna says:

      Excitement! You are at such a thrilling and scary and awesome stage of your career! Congrats, and best wishes!

      If Goodreads doesn’t attract you, no worries. That’s one you can ignore completely, basically. I use it these days mainly to create advanced listings for my own books; I usually have the cover art first, and the blurb, and official release date, so I’ll create listings for my own books, because I find that type of organization satisfying. But even if you don’t do these things, someone else will slip in and do them for you, eventually… I also feel slightly guilty for not being on Facebook, so I always reply to Goodreads reader messages, in addition to Twitter @s. Basically, I use it as a supplemental sort of platform, and try to avoid looking at my own stats / ratings at all costs. Once we know our own limitations, we can tailor certain sites to serve our needs, while also avoiding stomping on our triggers.

      Everyone requires a different balance, and everyone takes their own time in identifying that balance. I wish you the speediest and most painless trigger-identification period, Teri Anne! (Though I also know you from Twitter :-) I know you’re no new-to-the-block social media innocent!)

    • Ruthie Knox says:

      Congrats! I would add, here, that even if your editor tells you to, you don’t have to. My editor is lovely and wonderful, and one day she sent me a link to a review that was TERRIBLE, and I took one look at the first sentence and said, “Oh, hell, no.” Then I deleted the email. We have never spoken of it. She is not the boss of me.

  10. Kiersten says:

    I need a LIKE button. Or a FAVORITE star. Or a “marked to read” check. Validate me, will ya? How am I supposed to function without an RT? Ye gods, woman, don’t you know how to Tumblr me?! Oh no, wait, I’ve read your books; you’ve got that part down.

    Single best damn writing advice ever: write the best book you can.

    Although “Let’s None of Us Give a Fook Week” is a close second.

    I like, favorite, approve, and bless this post. In triplicate. ;-)

  11. Jennifer Hayward says:

    Fabulous post!! Thank you Cara. Social media is very powerful but also very distracting. We need to manage it, not the other way around.

  12. Experience is such an unparalleled teacher, and even though I am recently agented and sold, I don’t have the experience of a release and my experience with receiving a review is minimal, yet. So my own comments on this are only from perspectives that are still obstructed and blurred.

    I can see well enough to see the troubles, though. I wasn’t a writer who “educated myself” about author management and career development, at all, and my “story” is deeply undramatic involving a couple of years of writing hundreds of thousands of words, and then submitting directly to my publisher’s slush after writing what I felt was my best manuscript, and then an introduction to an agent by an author friend when it looked like the publisher was going to offer for the manuscript. So the front-loading of all of this, I avoided. I didn’t go to cons, read blogs, have a blog, learn anything about what I was “supposed” to be doing etc. I wrote and wrote, and then this winter, started using twitter actively because I felt ready to meet a community in my genre–which was a good decision on my part. I met the very dearest people. The people here, for example.

    I’ve already told Cara that this post is invaluable for its broad applicability. While my experience as a author is almost nothing, there are so many venues where we are expected to “manage” ourselves according to an overwhelming crowd-sourced opinions. Parenting, for example. Our personal fitness/diet/health. More broadly, as women. We lose our own voice, so easily. The voice that tells us what it is that helps us learn and gain experience that makes us more powerful and strong, and the voice that tells us what it is that undermines us. Worse, the external noise can confuse the two and lead us into pursuits that harm us, but that are productive enough that we believe that the bad feelings we experience doing these activities are simply that we need to get better, are just growing pains.

    We can get very, very good at things that actually grind us into pieces.

    Listening to the most elemental expressions of our mind and bodies as we work and play and love can be a life-changing undertaking. I asked my BFF if I could mention her experience with this here, and she was happy for me to–widowed at 37 after a ten-year marriage with the love of her life, she was left in a big house with an important job and a giant leadership role in her community.

    Everything she tried to do, every minute, all these things she was so wonderful at, she hated. All these things that the external noise told her were “good for her” that were good for her “widow management platform.”

    Her grief therapy group rec’ed a workshop in the kind of emotional awareness work Cara explains so well.

    The thing that my bestie wanted me to point out is it took a long, long, long time to really feel certain about what her body was saying. She was so disconnected from paying attention, she just didn’t know. She remembers having to really think about whether or not she was angry, or if she had forgotten to eat lunch. There is SO much noise, and we live so long with these ingrained reactions and responses that we ignore–add that to fear of change, because this work will change things in your life–that by the time we can reliably name how we’re feeling, it can seem easier to just keep doing what we’re doing.

    But like you point out, Cara, there comes a point you just HAVE to. We have to. There is REAL work to do. Writing, thinking, revising, making stories is real work. The work that actually feeds us and makes sense to us. And it’s meaningful work. There’s also the work that all of us find that’s related to writing, but that we learn we find joy in–maybe it’s blogging, maybe it’s organizing beautiful swag for our readers, maybe’s it’s reaching out our audience in particular ways (twitter, cons). It is more difficult, because there is more noise associated with the latter, to work out the joy. And like my friend found, it may take a while.

    Oh, my bestie, by the way, is amazing. She’s achieving a kind of enviable wisdom and her life has changed so dramatically we both goggle.

    I have experience working hard to hear my own voice in other venues, but not in this one. I’ve already listened to a lot of noise and had to regroup. It helps that my day job (which I do 2 1/2 days/week and every 3rd weekend) provides a massive, massive dose of perspective on basically everything one could possibly worry about, ever. It helps that my own experience with personal tragedy is so significant that I learned to say, and mean, “fuck you” a long time ago.

    I still worry for myself, though. Writing gives me such intense joy. So much of myself, my best self, is in it. Cara, yes–“spread open.” That. All my softest parts, against all the sharpened parts of the entire world. There will be bloody injuries to dress and scar. I wonder if a lot of this kind of thing that you talk about us doing and overdoing and worrying about and killing ourselves with is our attempt to manufacture armor. So easy though, as our heros and heroines can attest, to make armor with the spikes facing towards the inside, against our own skin.

    Thanks for writing this for us.

  13. Serena Bell says:

    Love this post so hard. I surprised myself this week with my rat-tapping-the-food-lever behavior toward Goodreads, Amazon (sales rank), Twitter self-stalking searches, etc. I discovered that it’s not just the bad mentions/reviews/etc that I want to avoid but pretty much all of it, because there’s really no limit to the craving for affirmation once it gets started. And yeah, all manner of physical discomforts and lack of sleep and … thank you so much for writing this RIGHT NOW and telling me I’m not alone and that there is a way out.

    • Cara McKenna says:

      You’re so not alone! I suspect this is a really common experience, just one we don’t talk about often, since we all feel like we’re supposed to be jumping up and down with manic excitement and gratitude upon publication, having accomplished what we, and so many others, have been aching for and working toward for, typically, years. Before we pub, we’re told it only gets harder, but usually this is framed in the context of promo and deadlines, not all this emotional nakedness. As far as I’m concerned, you’re totally normal! You’ll find your balance, too—I know you. You’ve got the gift of self-awareness, so you’re already ahead of the game, I promise.

      Talking about subsequent releases, people like to say, “It doesn’t get any easier!” Not if you don’t adjust your behaviors, no. But if you identity the habits that trigger you and choose not to do them, it absolutely does get easier! I abandoned Google Analytics, regular pokes through Goodreads, and formal solo-blogging (which had begun to feel like homework) all in the same month, January of 2012, and I’ve been a way happier author since then. And I’ve enjoyed my release days much more. I can’t believe I ever used to start my day by checking that stuff! How did I ever manage to write anything when the first thing I did after coffee was actively prime my anxiety pump?! Lordy.

      I’m now smack-dab between two rapid-fire release days, and also in the final wailing throes of a particularly long and painful book gestation and labor, so self-stalking distraction season is upon me. I am doused and flammable, and giving all open flames a wi-i-ide berth. Tactical evasive maneuvers! Plus this past week’s also felt so frantic, communally, due to a zillion new romance releases, and the resulting reviews flying every which way, industry news, the Goodreads / Amazon stuff… These were just lessons I wanted to remind myself of, and ones I thought it might help somebody else to read. So I’m glad maybe it’s helped you! I can’t think of anyone I’d rather be of use to :-) xoxo

  14. Cate Ellink says:

    THANK YOU, Cara for this amazing post and all the incredible comments it’s inspired.

    I’ve been thinking about ditching a few social media things that I loathe and now I have the courage to do that. Watch me get back to a few fucks, so I can save them for writing! (Love that advice). I feel muscles relaxing already.

    Cate xo

  15. Jessi Gage says:

    Sorry I’m so late to the comments…I was cleaning out my crisper drawer. But now that I’m here, I’m rolling in writerly love and advice and LOVING it!

    Okay, I’m just going to say it. I hate Facebook. I don’t understand why I need a profile AND a page. And I feel weird everytime I’m on my personal timeline and see the list of mutual friends on the side and my pen name persona is over there going, hey, why don’t you friend me? Don’t you like me? It makes my blood pressure go up, so I’m just going to ignore FB while I try to finish up this draft I’m working on. I agree with Nicole above:

    “Give as many or as few fucks as you can spare. Just make sure, above all else, that you’re saving enough fucks for your work-in-progress.”

    Best writing advice ever.

    Thanks Cara and commenters.