The Ups and Downs of being a Writer

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It’s tough being a writer. We are constantly putting our work out there and peeking from behind laced fingers as the reviews roll in, fearing that stray comment that might cut us to the quick. Writers need the hide of a rhinoceros and if you don’t have one yet, you’d better develop one because the life of a writer is not an easy one.

Climbing a mountain

It’s human nature to want to compare yourself to others. It’s also a less attractive part of human nature to want to do better than others. I’m all for having a plan of what you would like to achieve but plans should be adaptable to life’s twists and turns and if you have the basics heat, food, love is the rest really so important?

That said we all chase the figures – numbers of sales, amount of money earned, the number of likes on a page, the number of followers etc., and if we are not too careful this obsession can get out of hand. I’m not saying these things aren’t important but we need to be careful not to obsess over them. I know writers who are constantly logging on to track their sales. The trouble with this is that their mood then tends to be dictated by whether the figures are good or bad. If the figures are good they are at least temporarily happy but if the figures are bad they then start obsessing over why the figures are bad, why don’t people like their books, are they a bad writer and so it goes on.

Figures

Sales go up and down. That’s market forces for you. It doesn’t mean you are a bad writer and your books suck it just means someone else is doing better than you. It’s not you, it’s them. They are having their time in their sun. They have worked hard. They deserve it so don’t begrudge them and don’t catastrophise the situation and dramatically declare you are quitting like one of my friends did recently. Just get back to the keyboard and write. One day, with a bit of luck, it’ll be your turn.

I have always taken quite a sanguine view of the peaks and troughs of my writing career. I find a good sense of humour goes a long way. Here’s a great example, recently I have been trying to build my Twitter followers. I’m doing this organically, no bought in follows or automated this and that. I don’t bombard people with direct messages and I play nice. I’m really pleased at how well it’s been going. I’m not setting the Twittersphere alight but that was never my aim. As I ticked past another milestone I allowed myself a few moments of satisfaction. Then I spotted a basset hound with their own Twitter handle. Every part of my being told me not to look but of course I could not resist. The basset hound had at least 1,000 followers on me (probably double that by now). It was one of those laugh or cry moments. I chose to laugh loudly at the absurdity of it all. And so should you.

Mad world

Happy writing!

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white lies
White Lies by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

 

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It’s the Hook not the Book

I promised an update on my recent submission to the literary agent I met at Winchester last summer. She emailed to say she would like a chat over the phone. We subsequently spoke for about 30 minutes. She did not want to take the novel I had submitted to her. She felt it did not hit all the beats of a crime novel and whilst she had enjoyed it and thought the pacing, structure, characterisation and plot were all great, it was not stand out enough to be a break out novel in commercial fiction.

She said if I wanted to write an out and out crime novel she was certain I could do it she just wasn’t sure I wanted to which was very perceptive of her. I love writing about relationships. I particularly like writing about relationships when people from very different walks of life meet and sparks fly. I do not want to shift my focus away from that to hit the beats of a narrower brief.

Narrow
Narrow by Claus Zurbig courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/SBBD51 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Whilst I was initially disappointed I quickly bounced back (you have to in this game!). Her words, however, got me thinking. In the trad world it is all about the hook and not the book. If the hook is strong enough that the marketing people can run with it you’re in and anything that does not hit that sweet spot is out, labelled as too much work. It’s all about the hook. A great hook can carry weaker writing across the line. That’s a fact of life in this modern world.

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Hook by Jasleen Kaur courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/8zqogr https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Which leaves writers with a dilemma. It’s a choice artists have always had to make – do you chase the money or do you follow your love of your craft. It’s why Hollywood actors do one big picture for the studios and two independent films for themselves.

The competitive part of me wants to write the hell out of a crime novel now just to prove I can do it but crucially my heart wouldn’t really be in it. I write what I like and I wouldn’t want that to change that.

If you are lucky enough to write what you like and it also hits the sweet spot with the marketing people congratulations. You’ve hit the motherlode.

For the rest of us, I am pleased to say there is a silver lining to this tale. Indie publishing. Indie loves books that have hooks as much as trad publishing does but indie isn’t so narrow minded – cross genre, mash up or niche, indie welcomes them all and if you can devise a half decent marketing plan you might even find an audience as has been the case for me.

Indie gave me a home when no one else would and still does. Indie continues to cherish and reward me. Best of all, indie allows me to be myself and write what I want to write. Who can really ask for more?

book heart
Heart by Kate Ter Haar courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/7AZpB6 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Validation

 

Validation

Writing, as we all know, can be a lonely path. Often frustrating and filled with self-doubt, so it is particularly gratifying when something comes along which is completely unexpected and gives you a boost.

I was lucky enough to experience that feeling just before Christmas when I discovered first of all that my novel White Lies had been nominated for the best romance book of 2017 by the Rosie Amber Book Review Team and then to find out that I had won.

#RBRT Review Team

white lies
White Lies by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

Given the large number of romance books this dedicated team reads over the course of 12 months I was stunned and delighted to have even made it into the nominations so to win was totally extra icing on the cake and a wonderful lift to my confidence.

Whether it be a lovely review, a compliment from a reader or winning an award, to have your hard work recognised and appreciated is a tremendous feeling and one to hang on to and remember when the going gets tough.

Here’s to 2018 and all of the successes and the failures that are to come.

As Kipling said:-

‘If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster,

And treat those two impostors just the same;’

 

White Lies by Ellie Holmes

Have you ever told a white lie?

Hi everyone – I just wanted to share the news that my new novel White Lies is now available for pre-order on Amazon and will be released on Tuesday 27th June.

If you would like to find out more click on the image and there’s an excerpt below to whet your appetites.

White Lies by Ellie Holmes

Sam Davenport thought she’d imagined it: the driving rain, her husband Neil’s shout of surprise, the sickening crunch of metal on metal, the explosion of inflating airbags.

A bad dream. That was all it was. Why, even now, they were on their way back to Meadowview Cottage with its thatched roof dipping low over leaded-glass windows and a welcoming fire burning in the TV room to keep the children and their sitter cosy in their absence.

Yes, it was a bad dream. Soon, they would be home and Neil would take off his clothes in the bedroom while she took off her make-up in the ensuite and together they would dissect the party and their friends.

Except, they wouldn’t. Because she hadn’t imagined it. The Range Rover was skewed at a crazy angle across one of the main roads of the Essex market town of Abbeyleigh and picked out in its headlights was the shape of a motorbike and, a few metres on, the body of its rider.

 

 

Changing the Storyline of your own Life

Realising I was suffering from burnout I underwent a digital detox for a week. Feeling rejuvenated as a result, I took some time to step back and think about all the things that had led to my suffering from burnout in the first place.

All of the projects I am involved with are long term undertakings that will take time and effort over a number of months if not years to complete. As a perfectionist, I want to tie things up in a neat bow and then walk away. Sometimes that just isn’t possible and that’s a hard lesson to learn for a perfectionist to learn.

Long road
Long road by Ozzy Delaney courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/q44Tc4 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

If you are an indie author running your business you don’t have a boss telling you it is time to leave the office. You are the boss and the office is probably the kitchen table or, if you are lucky, a desk in the spare room. The only person who can make you walk away is you.

Human beings are not machines. We cannot mechanically perform the same duties and tasks over and over without a break. Whilst we do not possess an off switch in the traditional sense our minds and bodies do have an emergency off switch they can throw if it all gets too much – we get ill and then we have no option but to slow down and recover.

Duracell Bunny
Duracell Bunny by Skim-milk courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/5hkz6o https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I know what it is like to suffer from a series of colds, barely getting over one and then coming down with another. My immune system was under performing because my natural resources were stretched too thinly. It was my body’s way of saying enough is enough. Heeding the warning signs and acting on them is one thing. Far better, however, to not be in that position in the first place.

We all get ill, of course but feeling run down is usually something we can do something about. Prevention is better than cure so they say.

None of this is groundbreaking stuff but occasionally we all need to be reminded of the basics.

If you want to feel more contented and fulfilled you have to structure in down time. You then have to ring fence and protect that down time as ferociously as you would protect your writing time. There have to be limits. I will work for two hours and then I will take an hour off to recharge my batteries before I move on to something else. It takes discipline to put limits on the time you give each project or part of your day but ultimately it is the only way to get things done and still have time for yourself.

Enjoy the silence
Enjoy the Silence by Thomas Leuthard courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/d8yRbh https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

It took a while to get used to my new routine but as I did so I began to feel more at ease with myself. A sense of fulfillment even began to creep up on me and amazingly I got more done than I did before. With less time I was more focused and because I was not stressing as much about lots of different things at the same time I was more present mentally for the task at hand. What I had thought would be a necessary but ugly compromise was slowly turning into something more satisfying. Who knew?

Every person will have different priorities. The timetable that works for me won’t suit anyone else. It takes time and effort to develop the structure that works best for you but if long term sustainability is the outcome, it is surely worth the effort?

Fear of Missing Out

FOMO – Fear of Missing Out – is a thing. Who knew? Apparently it has even been added to the Oxford English Dictionary.

checking phone
Let me check a few things first by Johnny Silvercloud courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/s8DNC2 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Are you suffering from FOMO?

Do you compulsively check your social media updates to see what your friends are up to?

  1. Do you feel compelled to join your work colleagues at every after work event?
  2. Do you over commit so as to attend every party/barbecue/impromptu get together?
  3. Do you check Rightmove and other property listing sites not because you have any intention of moving house but because you want to see what others have got?
  4. Do you binge watch the latest box sets so you know what everyone else is talking about?

If you answered yes to the above, chances are you are suffering from FOMO.

Wikipedia describes FOMO as “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent”. This social angst is characterised by “a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing”.

Smartphones
Man Woman Smartphones Restaurant by David van der Mark courtesy Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/y6sdfD https://goo.gl/OOAQfn

Is it any wonder therefore that most of us feel exhausted most of the time?

Human beings are designed to have periods of action and periods of rest. If our rest time is dominated by our digital devices the quality of that rest time decreases. Whilst interacting on social media isn’t physically demanding, mentally and sometimes emotionally it can take its toll. Even if we are not aware of it our bodies will react to what we are reading, writing or seeing. Anger, frustration, joy and laughter all create a physical reaction. We have already put our bodies through a tough day. To then spend the evening and sometimes even the night too dancing the digital dance leaves us feeling over stimulated. Is it any wonder that so many people complain of not being able to sleep properly? Our minds are still wired and busily processing all of the images that have been teeming in front of our eyes.

We have reached the point societally where Mums ignore and do not interact with their children as much as they would have done in previous years because they are instead interacting with their phones. Couples are going out to dinner and checking their devices instead of actually talking to one another.

Don’t get me wrong, computers, iPads and phones are wonderful things but they are meant to enhance our lives not dominate them to the point of destruction. We are in danger of diluting our personal relationships with children and spouses and wider family members for the sake of our relationship with our phones and by extension our relationship with our friends and followers. Which do you think is more important?

helloworld
Hello, world by Dwayne Bent courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/c9BGhf https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Disconnecting in the short term – a digital detox – is perfectly possible but what about in the long term? Spending time on our phones is a habit. We do it through the fear or missing out and often from boredom. Interestingly, we often feel less fulfilled as a result. The nagging thought that we are “wasting time”, the incessant comparing of ourselves or our lives to others often leaves us feeling inadequate and dissatisfied. Perhaps it’s time to kick the habit.

Limiting the time you spend on your phone or other devices is the answer. As with breaking any ingrained habit the best way to draw back is by doing it over a number of weeks. Don’t set yourself unrealistic targets and don’t beat yourself up if you fall short. Persevere however because the results will be worth it.

A whole new world of possibilities will open up for you together with the time and space to reconnect with your old world – the people who physically share your life. In turn this will lead to you feeling more connected than you ever did previously, you will also have a greater sense of fulfillment and contentment. What’s not to love about that?

One Pair of Hands – That Burnout Feeling Part Two

IMG_0006
One Pair of Hands – Ellie Holmes

Over the years I have got good at juggling: family commitments, the day job, my writing…..the list goes on as I am sure it does for all of you too.

Every now and then I have added more on to the end of the list. When you migrate from writing to indie publishing, suddenly there are even more plates to spin.

If you are not careful you can get sucked into a whirlwind of activity and find that you are running just to stand still and paradoxically you aren’t actually achieving half as much as you did before.

If I had been on the outside looking in, it would have been obvious that I was straying into dangerous territory but we do not often have the luxury of looking at ourselves like that, do we?

A few weeks ago the blindingly obvious became, well – blindingly obvious and I hit a wall – emotionally and mentally.

Everything had become a slog, I was no longer enjoying what I was doing. Worst of all, I wasn’t even writing any more because I was too busy to write. How did I go from being an indie author to an indie author running her business who was too busy to actually write anything? The ludicrousness of the situation would have been funny if it were not so sad. I should have been living the dream but the dream was in danger of becoming a nightmare.

Frustration
Frustration by http://www.amenclinics.com courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/odEKjh https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

With no choice but to step back and think things through it became clear that I was suffering from burnout.

Examining all of my commitments I concluded that I could not easily shed any of them and there were still only twenty-four hours in a day last time I checked so what was the answer?

If I could not change the commitments and I could not change the amount of time available to me, the only thing left to change was my attitude and approach. Arguably, those things are the hardest of all to change but if I wanted to put the enjoyment back into what I do, I did not have a choice.

The one thing I was yearning for was to live my life like a normal person, if only for one week. Define normal? Don’t eat breakfast with one hand and schedule tweets with the other. Don’t spend your lunch hour answering indie business emails and checking stats. Don’t leave one desk to come home and sit at another. Sound familiar?

I wanted to give it a try, to take a holiday from my writing self but did I dare? The commitments were still there, piling up around me, could I look away and relax knowing they were all still waiting for me?

digital detox
Digital Detox by David Lytle courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/fsCwQ2 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I am a conscientious perfectionist. I give myself the hardest time of all. Asking myself to sit on my hands and not get on with stuff is the ultimate punishment. But this was serious. I decided to go cold turkey. Well, sort of…

I will let you know how I get on in subsequent blogs but if you too have suffered with burnout at some stage in your career please get in touch and let me know what worked for you.