Before you panic, no, I'm not considering quitting. Right now I should be working on my Camp NaNo project, but I saw on Facebook an author looking for advice because she's feeling down on her writing. Many comments later and I noticed it was a common problem for many authors. I gave her a brief answer, but wanted to delve a little more in depth.
First, you should know that I consider writing to be my professional hobby. It's fun, it's enjoyable and I even make a little money from it, which is wonderful. But my purpose in writing isn't to make tons of money. My purpose in writing is to touch, even in a small way, someone out there with the stories I have to tell.
Professional hobbies like writing, visual arts, music, etc are wonderful because they allow for a combination of pursuing passion and enhancing (or making up) your income. But they're not easy. There's a lot of "in-job" training, if you will, as you learn what works in the market and how to provide the best-quality product to your audience. There are bumps in the path and it can be a brutal world. It's also a very fluid world. There is no real right or wrong way to go about it and everyone has their own solution to the same problem. This can make it difficult to seek for or give sound advice.
I don't think there's a writer out there who has never once questioned their ability. And if there is one, wow, I applaud your confidence! (Seriously, that's awesome!) Even I have had my moments of self-doubt when I hated everything I wrote and wondered why I bothered. Occasionally, I still have those moments. Being self-published is tough. In a world with thousands of authors, it can be hard to make your own work stand out. And there is of course the occasional, "I'll never be as good as fill-in-the-blank." There are low reviews and some are just downright mean-spirited. I've been lucky so far that the dreaded one-star has never been bestowed on my books, but the reality is it's only a matter of time. I know not everyone is going to love my stories and I'm okay with that. But dang those reviews sometimes sting the pride!
So what do you do? What do you do when everything in you screams you're wasting your time and efforts? What do you do when you feel like a minnow in an ocean of rainbow trout?
There are different answers, because every author is different. Here are some things that I do.
1) Research. I love learning new things and I love being able to sound like I actually know what I'm talking about. As writers, we have to sound knowledgeable about what's going on in our stories or we lose credibility. So I research. I spent countless hours reading articles and books, as well as watching movie extras and online videos about swordsmanship. I would rewatch the same scene in a movie over and over, watching the footwork, observing hand motions, and listening to the dialogue. That scene in Lord of the Rings when Boromir is teaching Merry and Pippin to fight? Yeah, I watched that a ton! Because of that, I feel the scenes in which I've had swordplay are more rich.
2) Take a break. Sometimes I get myself so involved in my writing that I start to burn out. When I spend more time staring at a blinking cursor than writing, that tells me my brain is fried. Writing is fun and enjoyable, but if it's all you do it becomes monotonous, no matter how interesting your characters. After completing Prince Charming's Quest I had a dismal showing at NaNoWriMo. I tried for a while, but quickly realized I was just too tired. Writing had ceased being fun and started to be a chore. So I took a break. I had started a fun story that was supposed to be just a giant month long free write, but even that felt like work. Instead of writing, I spent November illustrating my Christmas story, spending time with my kiddos and just relaxing. I quit worrying about deadlines and getting a new story out and just focused on me and my family. When I jumped back into writing near the beginning of this year, I felt more energized and focused than I had in a long time.
3) Work on something else. This can be another writing project or a different hobby all together. You know why I have a garden? Well, yes, I do love flowers, so that is part of it. But it's mostly because it gives me a refuge. It's the hobbit in me I suppose that loves to dig in good earth and smell the fragrance of flowers and trees. It's inspiring on many levels and the time I spend out in my garden is time I can let my thoughts wander. Sometimes those wanderings turn into ideas and sometimes it's just a mental reprieve. In either case, it's helpful. Recently I had been trying to force myself to work on A House for Charity. Forcing myself and hating every moment of it. I was stuck. I was really stuck. Then my talented friend Faith posted on Facebook with a cover she had designed and the announcement that she would be starting to make premade covers for authors. That cover brought to mind the idea for To Keep a Star. I decided to put Charity away and work on something new. And you know what? The story is coming great! I've had great lines that inspire me, or just make me laugh. I'm enjoying my writing, I love my characters and I even like my story.
4) Read. There is no better place to escape than a good book. I love reading and especially enjoy reading in the genres I'm writing to see how others are interpreting them. Recently I have enjoyed delving into Shanna Hatfield's fun stories. Not only does it help me get a better feel for Western writing which has helped me in writing Scarlett and Blizzard, but it also allows me to fall in love with someone else's characters and root for them. I can just relax and enjoy the ride. If you need suggestions, I have many wonderful friends who write fabulous books. I can definitely hook you up.
5) Just keep trying. If you have a story in you, write it. No one else can do it for you and you never know how that story will impact someone else. My sales aren't extraordinary, but the occasional email from someone who read and loved my books more than makes up for the lack of financial success. I recently received an email telling me my books belonged on the shelf next to the Grimm Sisters. Talk about a huge compliment and honor!
What can you do as a reader to encourage your favorite author? There are a few things and each of them is meaningful.
When you read a book that you just absolutely love, write a review. It doesn't have to be long or complicated, but let the world know, "I loved this book!" That not only gives your favorite author a much needed boost of confidence, it also helps their books become more visible. Visibility and word-of-mouth are authors' best friends. It's the easiest way for us to gain new readers.
Send them a note. Traditionally published or indie, all authors need some words of encouragement and love. Whether you write long hand and send them a letter or you send an email, those messages from our fans mean the world to us. Hearing from you about how my books have made you smile is the best feeling in the world. When you tell me you're anxious to read my next book, that definitely lights a fire under me.
Like and follow their social media posts. It's such a little thing, but it really makes a big difference. For one, visibility plays in and more people can see what we're up to. But it also lets us know that someone out there is seeing our posts. When I post pictures or blogs or just status updates, I love to see your comments and likes. I especially love reading your comments. You readers have had me laugh out loud and just beam with joy at the things you've said on my posts. And I will be honest, a couple of you have teared me up with your heart-felt messages of love and encouragement.
Are you an author? Comment below with your solutions to writer's block and feel free to include one link to your website or social media. Are you a reader? Tell me what you love most about your favorite author (and then send them a note saying the same thing!).
Jessica L. Elliott
Author, artist, mom and super-genius