Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A New Guide for Writers

This year I was lucky enough to be part of an incredible collection of writing firepower, thanks to Sisters in Crime, one of the mystery writing organizations I belong to. (For more, and to join, see the SinC site.)

Writes of Passage: Adventures on the Writer's Journey is about sharing stories we've learned in the hopes of helping others. Or at least reassuring others. In its pages, there are a phenomenal 59 mystery authors giving you insight into the writing process, mind, and emotions. Some of the big names include Laurie R. King, Margaret Maron, Nancy Martin, and Hallie Ephron, and editing by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Some of the smaller names include, well, me.

Here's my essay—and I hope you'll go buy the book! It's got some really incredible stories and advice, plus all proceeds benefit the Sisters in Crime organization.

Smell the Roses ... or Race Fuel 

I’m an overachiever. I figure most writers are or we wouldn’t have the gumption to make it over the hurdles put in the way of our work being read by an adoring public. As overachievers, we think we can do it all. Have it all. Often, however, we’re overestimating our abilities or underestimating the size of the task.

I knew writing the book was going to be the hardest part for me, and though I wasn’t wrong, I didn’t realize how much work the promotion side of “being an author” would be. I’d been a writer, a public speaker, and a marketer my entire career, so I figured I had all the tools: knowledge, experience, enthusiasm. I was ready to promote the hell out of a book.

And boy, did I try.

When my first book was published, I wrote dozens of guest blog posts, traveled thousands of miles for signing events, did radio interviews, spoke to book club meetings, sent out newsletters, and kept up with Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and Instagram. I ran myself ragged. When my second book was published, I was still tired. I scaled back, didn’t do as much . . . and I realized I enjoyed it a whole lot more.

The words that had played on an endless loop in my head that first year were, “I could do xyz, so I should.” I knew I could write witty and engaging newsletters and blog posts. I knew I’d be good on panels. I knew I’d stay visible to the mystery community by keeping up with social media. But gradually, I buried my good humor—and some days, my will to live—under a litany of shoulds. Worse, trying to accomplish every item on my list began to take up all of my time, keeping me from the most vital task of all: writing my next book.

Logically, I knew I couldn’t do everyth—Wait a minute, I was trying to do everything. I hadn’t even been listening to myself. I took a couple steps back from the to-do list, reevaluated, and developed a brand new mantra: “Just because I can doesn’t mean I have to.”

I decided to focus on what I actually liked doing and ignore the stuff I didn’t—no matter how much that stuff worked for other people, no matter how well I knew I could do something. If I didn’t want to do it, it was off the list. Facebook? Yes. Goodreads? Gone. Bookstore signings? Not in every possible city, but only where I have family. Newsletters? Not every month, but only when I’ve got something to say.

The choices freed me. First, I had more time because I did less and wasn’t bogged down by the guilt of not doing more. Second, stepping off the merry-go-round of “this is what everyone else does” gave me time to pursue opportunities unique to me. I traveled to races for signings. I connected with racing fans and bloggers. I even got invited to write for a blog site centered on women in racing.

Third, and most important, I developed a routine of marketing and promotion activities that was manageable while I got back to writing another Kate Reilly Racing Mystery.

The moral of the story? Do what you enjoy and don’t bother with what you don’t like. Don’t think you have to do it all, otherwise you might miss the one-of-a-kind experiences that come your way. Even worse? You might never get to that next book.

Essay originally published in WRITES OF PASSAGE: Adventures on the Writer's Journey by Sisters in Crime (September 2014).

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