Terrible Love: Cara McKenna’s AFTER HOURS

There is almost nothing more inexplicable than a 12 hour nursing shift.after hours cover

I mean, you’ll live a whole lifetime in a 12 hour shift, and you’ll be hungry at some point, and completely nauseated at some other point. At least once you’ll enter a flow of competence that will abandon you so suddenly you’ll want to shut yourself in the med room and weep, but won’t be able to because there is a code. Or patient who was supposed to be discharged but is now a pre-op, or a fire alarm. More than once, all of your patients will need something STAT all at the same time, and you’ll run, and you’ll worry, and you’ll wish it wasn’t July because it means all the fucking residents are brand-new and one of them is going to kill one of your patients if you’re not there, right now, to stop them.

You won’t eat, or pee. You’ll watch your patients take their meds with their giant jugs of icy water and be so thirsty it’s tempting to snatch the straw from their mouth and take a drink.

You’ll be filled with so much tenderness when your most difficult patient, who you know wasn’t trying to be a jerk but was just in too much pain, finally falls asleep that you’ll put your hand on their leg for a moment and look out the hospital window at the streetlights turning on and instead of thinking it was 7 a.m. when I got here, and now everyone is getting reading for bed you’ll think of this patient’s daughter or wife or husband or sister, whoever sat bedside with them during visiting hours. You’ll think of how they looked at you when they had to leave, fearful and grateful, and you’ll think about how glad you are that they won’t ever have to read this patient’s chart, the hopeless puzzle of it that can only be solved one tragic way.

Twelve hours is a lifetime that only a nurse and a patient understand. Only the nurse and the patient share that time, its routines and its chaos. How it locks the doors against the rest of the world and distorts how long it takes for an hour to end.

When we meet Erin Coffey, she’s still in the rest of the world, standing right outside the doors to her first 12-hour shift as an LPN in a psychiatric hospital. She’s perceptive and aware of the boundary, her training and her role as a caregiver to her grandmother has infused her with a great deal of respect for the boundary and what lies on the other side of it, but we find her on our side of it at the beginning of After Hours, and this is important, because Erin’s our only guide through this transfiguration wrought from unnameable moments of fear, long stretches of boredom, unbearable empathy with patients, and most unlikely, the discovery of love with the most unlikely person possible.

Some of you know that I’m not a stranger to the 12-hour shift. I’m a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner as often as I am a romance novelist and there is less of a boundary between the two than one might think. Not because healthcare introduces some particularly fertile ground for romantic entanglement, but because two people finding each other opens up the experiences of two lives to the other in such a way that the intimacy can be painful and dangerous feeling. Likewise, in healthcare, in caregiving, I am invited into some of the worst days of a family’s life and some of the best (first newborn exam!) and there isn’t a time, still, that I’m not overwhelmed by that intimacy and trust. I spend my days mired in the consideration of intimacy and caregiving and love.

Kelly Roback is an unlikely hero not because he is a physically imposing, bossy orderly with rigid worldviews, but because he prefers the world inside the 12-hour shift because of what he can offer to it and his patients. He recognizes that his physical strength and rigidity provide powerful comfort to his mentally ill charges and he is relentless and tireless in what I would call decentralized care—he wears the colors of the patients’ scrubs, he approaches the patients on their terms, and he remembers, first, that they are individuals with individual needs. It is so easy for patients to lose their humanity when they are hospitalized and so reduced to their diagnosis and most basic parts, but Kelly Robak’s real strength is that he protects them from that dehumanization. He has to be as big and as strong and as rigid as possible to do so. He stays strong for them, for these shifts, for the world inside the walls that holds his patients.

His worldview extends to his approach to Erin, which is to offer her what he is—which is primarily someone who is strong and who knows what he is and what he wants. I told Cara some time ago that I had this very singular experience watching Kelly and Erin’s romance develop in that it was incredibly visual for me. Their world in a post-industrial, post-urban Michigan is washed out, used up. Larkhaven hospital is colorless and bulky, indistinct. The entire novel is a canvas of institutional colors—the pale blues and yellows and grays of scrubs. The beige of linoleum and cinderblocks. As Kelly and Erin approach each other and scrub through all the ways they’ve been painted over like a cinderblock wall, they rise out of this canvas in stark, black relief. They sharpen, and find their edges.

They sharpen, too, as they discover the intensity of their feelings outside of and inside of the walls of Larkhaven. Inside, they share that hopeless tenderness for their patients that those who truly care for them cannot help, and they respect it in the other. This depiction of mutual professional respect provides a great deal of depth to a romance that in other ways is very dark. Because they also negotiate first, a sexual relationship that is urgent and explores power dynamics to the very edge of their comfort, and then their pain associated with increasing levels of intimacy and trust.

The marks their love story makes, against the unrelenting stretch of institutional canvas behind them, are monochromatic but beautiful and rich. This is fiction that takes up realism and characters that are tethered to our world, and it builds the world with devices that we are all so familiar with that we sit with a kind of pleasurable ache when we read and think about this story. Wonkomance guards the possibly of romantic love inside of a story like this and After Hours is evidence for such a mission.

I told Cara, too, that LPNs and orderlies and nurses and mental health patients and single moms (Erin’s sister) are not characters closely associated with romance, at least not when they are in their proper settings, facing the twelve hours in front of them. But this book makes expansive the limited settings and reflects the emotional atmosphere of the characters back on the world. When Erin is raging, she is driving the long, empty streets. When she’s considering and mulling and watching, she’s inside her workplace, locked in. This world and breadth of emotional palate is made with clean, spare language that belongs to the characters.

Twelve hours at a time, and the brief snatches of days off in between. These are the hinterlands where Erin and Kelly’s regard and erotic exploration and love are forged. Boundaries are created for each of them to step on one side of and then the other, and then the boundaries are redrawn. There is a way in which there is an incredible sweetness to their story. The mutual professional respect and encouragement to grow is one, their impulse to care for each other after moments of sexual intensity is another. It’s very beautiful and suggests how necessary these stories are to our genre—we need wonkomance. Kelly and Erin are reassurance that love grows from the best that is inside of us and not an ephemeral setting. The world we live in requires such reassurances. We require those moments, in the dark, where we can rest our hand in comfort on another who depends on us even as the world is racing by. We require that tenderness in the face of a world that tells us such tenderness is impossible.

We require such terrible love because it reminds us that we are not terrible.


I’m giving away two copies of Cara McKenna’s book After Hours via random drawing of those posting comments by 8 a.m. EST Thursday, 4/17/13.


Posted in Writing Wonkomance | 28 Comments

How I learned to stop worrying and love the Con

As most of you probably already know, the Romantic Times Booklovers’  Convention is almost upon us. Hundreds of writers, multiple book signing events, panel discussions, craft seminars, parties. Pitching and networking and bears, oh my! And most of it with people you have never met before.


I’m sure there are writers out there who adore social interaction, have vast circles of friends in real life with whom they talk in person regularly, and…I don’t know, whatever else it is that socially active people do. I wouldn’t know, because I’m not one of them. For me, the above description of a typical convention might as well be subtitled “A Visit to Hell”. At least when I first started going to them, that was the case.

These days I look forward all year to events like RT, because I’ve learned to love the Con. I’m a con-vert (sorry, sorry), but I know a lot of people express trepidation or outright horror at the very notion of attending one – sometimes even after they’ve already been. So if you’re happiest in your cave, or are perhaps waffling over whether to attend RT or Nationals, here are some thoughts on how to enjoy yourself and get the most out of your time and money. While these are geared towards writers, I think a lot of this stuff applies regardless of your profession. And there will also be gifs and things! Yay!

Things that help: 

– Buddy up. Seriously. Even if you normally wouldn’t dream of it, consider finding a roommate. I have three (my RT gang includes Christine d’Abo, and fellow Wonkos Ruthie Knox and Cara McKenna).


– Know what you’re there for. Yes, it’s a professional event; but you’re unlikely to see specific return on investment from attending a convention, no matter who you meet or how many workshops you attend. What you will see is professional improvement that’s hard to quantify. Tips on social media that you picked up from a random conversation about Twitter. A new book idea that you and a few other writers tossed around in the bar. Putting faces to names. These are all “soft” results that might not impact your sales directly; but they’re all things that can make you better at your job, which will hopefully redound to your benefit down the line.

– Buddy up. Can’t stress this enough. It is perfectly okay to feel like clinging to a few safe people when you are in a hotel full of strangers. It is okay to make sure you know somebody in every workshop you plan to attend. Having roommates helps with this, obviously.

– Take breaks if you need to. Many of us are introverts and are easily exhausted by social interaction. Set aside time (put it in your schedule, even, if that helps you) to be alone; take a quiet break in your room, take a bath, nap, do some writing, etc. Even if you have roommates they’ll likely respect your need to have a few hours of down time. Sometimes even a ten or fifteen-minute break from the social whirl can help you catch your breath, emotionally speaking. Do whatever works for you.

– Buddy up. You need somebody to eat with and hang out at the bar with. While I’m not a fan of cliques in some settings, Cons are a setting where having a “core group” is absolutely necessary. You don’t have to exclude anyone else – but make sure you have that foundation of a few people as a baseline.


– Did I mention buddy up?


Pros about Cons:

– Introverts! Introverts everywhere! We rarely gather in groups (that’s sort of the point of us, isn’t it?) but when a lot of writers get together they can actually behave like a pack of rowdy extroverts. Don’t be frightened – they’re still just as shy and retiring as ever, really. But meeting an entire hotel full of people who feel just like you can be an exciting and validating experience.

– Most of the people around you probably feel the same way and have the same insecurities. When you were told this by adults when you were in middle or high school, it was bullshit advice. None of us believed it, nor should we have, because it didn’t matter; what mattered was that some kids were able to fake it better than others and if you couldn’t do that you were screwed.

As a grownup writer at a writing convention, however, it’s actually true: most of the people around you probably have the same insecurities. That’s because it is a hotel full of writers. They’ve all had to get out of their pajamas and go out in the sun for the first time in months, just like you. They’re all experiencing computer withdrawals, and they’re all worried they’re going to make somebody’s eyes glaze over when they forget themselves and start talking about their main character’s emotional development. Just like you.


– At a writing convention, though, nobody’s eyes glaze over when you talk about your character’s emotional development. That’s the beauty part. Everyone is there to talk about all the stuff you never get to talk about. Suddenly, having a lot to say about craft makes you an interesting person.

– You get to invent yourself. Some people might see this as a negative, but I think it’s fun (and stress-reducing, for me) to spend a few days being the best version of me I can. We’re all different when we’re around different people, and we all have many “selves”. Work self, home self, self around the family. At a convention, you may want to be that person you are when you’re online; when you’re jumping onto twitter canoes and commenting on blogs (and, for some of us, asking when cocktail hour starts). Don’t be afraid to be that version of yourself, out loud and in person. Because that is you, even if you’re not that way all the time. Remember, you’re also meeting every one else’s “conference self.”

– While there may not be a direct, quantifiable impact on sales from attending a conference, I’ve found them enormously valuable in terms of professional development. Not just the workshops, but the time spent soaking in a solution of concentrated writer-brain. I’ve picked up more useful information and gotten more great ideas from chance conversations while “networking” in the bar at conferences than I have from most writing-craft books I’ve read. Articulating thought processes that you don’t normally discuss makes your brain handle them differently, and can jog a new level of understanding. Sometimes having to talk through a craft concept or the application of that to your book just turns that light bulb on. Even if you think of yourself as working best alone (I do), it’s good for you to mix it up once in awhile and approach things from a different modality.

– It’s only for a few days. You can do almost anything if it’s for a few days and you know the time frame in advance.

Cons about Cons:

– Cons can be overwhelming even for people who don’t have issues with going out and doing things with people. There are so MANY things to do, so MANY strangers, and it’s all in an unfamiliar setting. It can feel a bit surreal at times. Especially when people are in super funky costumes.

– It is SO FREAKING SOCIAL. Conventions are excruciatingly social events, no way around it, and you have to be “on” all the time. Even a “fun” convention like RT is a professional occasion and an opportunity to meet people in your field, so you must be aware of that the whole time. The mix of party and business can get exhausting pretty quickly.

– If you’re already anxious about social situations, a Con is likely to make you quantum times more anxious. While there are benefits also, only you can decide how they weigh against the cost of that anxiety.

– You have to be ready to make last-minute changes in plan, and go with the flow (a phrase that strikes fear in the heart of many of us, I’m sure). Many of those changes will involve choosing to do things you normally wouldn’t choose to do.

Do you really want to go to that workshop you’re not that excited about, or should you go with your friend who is about to hang out with one of her editors in the bar? Hint: probably go hang out with the editor, even though it isn’t on your schedule and you’re not a “hanging in the bar” kinda person. Lunch in the hotel restaurant like you planned, or venture forth into the city with a group of authors, some of whom you don’t yet know, to try this fabulous Thai place one of them heard about? Unless you’re violently allergic to peanut sauce, I’d suggest the Thai, even if you’re not a “spontaneous going out to a new restaurant” person. One of those writers could become your new critique partner, or maybe explain a craft concept in a way that suddenly makes it clear to you…or even become a good friend.

It’s All About the Shoes:

– Don’t worry. It really is not all about the shoes, or the wardrobe, although some people (myself included) spend an inordinate amount of time on that aspect of things. I’ve seen some pretty awesome writers at conventions wearing normal work clothes or casual wear, perfectly sensible shoes, and party dresses that aren’t themed. All of that is absolutely fine. It’s a long few days, and you need to be comfortable in order to enjoy yourself. Wear what makes you feel good and don’t worry about the theme parties if you’re not so inclined. You will not be the only one.

– At every costume event, there will be people who are not in costume. It is okay to be one of them.

- At every super-fancy event, there will be people who are not all that fancy. It is also okay to be one of them.

– On the other hand, if you want to dress up, a conference is certainly your opportunity! And if you don’t already know about renttherunway.com, now you do. You’re welcome. There is a UPS drop box across the street from the conference hotel.

What does she know about all this anyway?

As some of you know, I suffer from major depressive disorder and social anxiety. I’m always very frank about that, and about the fact that I take medication for those conditions and see my psychiatrist regularly, because I think mental health is just as important as physical health – and the more we learn, the more we know that to a great extent mental health is a facet of physical health. Also, if I weren’t on those medications, you wouldn’t want to know me (you’ll just have to trust me on that). My point is, when I talk about the difficulty of emerging from the writing cave, switching my pajamas for real clothes, and facing the anxiety of being in a crowd full of strangers, I really, really know whereof I speak.

 If I hadn’t gotten lucky and happened to share a room with Christine d’Abo at my very first convention, I might have never gone back. But Christine turned out to be not just a roommate, but a friend. I buddied up. I followed her around because she seemed to know the drill, and she was cool with that because she’d been a conference newbie at one point, too. She paid it forward, big time (and has since become, by the way, one of my best friends in the world).

One of the reasons I look forward to conventions is that while doing so, I also get to indulge my little over-preparation obsession. Yes, I do have spreadsheets detailing what I’ll wear and when. Yes, I do start thinking about those things months in advance. But those are stress-reducing techniques for me. Knowing what I need to pack and having a checklist makes me calmer. Knowing my roommate(s) helps me feel at ease. Taking quiet alone-time breaks allows me to maintain apparent sanity. And I remind myself often that it’s only for a few days.

Even so, the anxiety can get the better of me at times. I thought I had the whole conference/anxiety thing stuffed firmly in a box, but during one of the book signings at RT 2012, I experienced a panic attack. It started near the end of the event (during cleanup, actually, when everyone started to get up and clear their spaces…but then they announced that the authors needed to stay at their tables until their stuff was picked up). I don’t think anybody noticed – that certainly wasn’t my first rodeo, I know how to get through one, and I knew I had meds waiting in my room, which helped a lot. Inside I was a hot mess, however.

I barely remember gathering my stuff from the table when it was time to go. Eventually I made I up to the room, downed my Klonopin, and was back in shape by that evening. And that was all that happened. Had the attack, then dealt with it. And everything turned out okay. It was all okay!

It was a huge moment for me, because that had always been my worst fear about conferences – what if I have a panic attack when I’m supposed to have my professional author face on? It happened…and the world didn’t end. The rest of the conference, even the rest of the day (and the next, much longer, book signing a day or so later) were fine and panic-free. This year I am even adding Club RT to my schedule. Unstructured chat with whoever walks in! I am fearless! And I’ll have my Klonopin in my pocket, just in case.


The upshot is, if you’re on the fence, you should try it. If you have always said “Nope, never in a million years,” you should try it. Grit your teeth, make a plan, suck it up, and know that even if your worst fears come true, it might not be so bad after all. It’s a risk, sure, but the rewards are totally worth it. Even if you opt out of the fabulous shoes.


ETA: I got all these gifs from google image searches – if any of these belong to you and you don’t care to see them here, please just let me know and I’ll be happy to take them down and/or credit :-)

Posted in Life & Wonk, Writing Wonkomance | Tagged , , , , | 34 Comments

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.

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