Writing pressure, my writerly story—a ramble. :P
Fair warning, this is pretty long, and pretty rambly. Good luck :P
Years ago, someone ruined my passion for writing. For a long time. They were focused on how much money I could make, or what I could do for them, or how "rich and famous" I could be if I really started working hard. I was only 14, and I was researching writing craft and how to publish. Back then, LuLu was the thing for self-publishing, and Writer's Market was the go-to for submission guidelines (as well as finding an agent).
But, I was 14. Reading was my life, especially since I wasn't really allowed too many video games. I've always had an insanely vivid imagination, and I'd poked at stories for years, but nothing ever stuck. Still, I wanted to be an author so bad. I did what I was told. I wrote every single day, or revised every day. Had to, like a chore. I finished a full length manuscript before I was 16, even with extracurricular activities and schoolwork. It wasn't particularly good, but for that age an editor could have polished it up easily enough. Hell, I did and it became Imber.
After a while though, the shine wore off. The excitement of writing a new story, the love for my characters—I just didn't care anymore. I was utterly burnt out. I hated sitting down at the computer every day. And so, after a full rewrite, that manuscript went into a box (despite protests) and for a long time if I wrote at all it was fanfiction, or co-writing with high school friends. After high school, I pretty much didn't write at all. For years. Ironic, considering I took college courses that surrounded novel structure, breaking down classic literature, poetry, creative writing . . .
I wasn't writing, but in the back of my mind, I didn't want to do anything else. And I still had ideas. I still wrote them all down, in notebooks, binders, saved them to my phone. "Just in case," I said. I still toted around that original manuscript, I still had a notebook from a story I was working on when I was like nine or ten. But I rarely picked up the pen, or flicked open a word doc, and when I did, I never got invested. I never finished anything.
There was even a point, many years back—when I was working at a factory and feeling particularly miserable with my career—that I swore I was going to take things seriously again. I swore I was going to revise that old manuscript and really make a go of it, get myself out of a job I hated more than any job I've ever had.
I bought a computer, I updated my Writer's Market manual (because I was determined to trad publish at the time), I organized my notes a bit . . . annnndddd I did pretty much nothing. I wrote a chapter from Cam's POV because at that point I was going to rotate his with Nat's, and I think I started a chapter from Nat's POV. And then I stopped, tucked it away, used the computer to start playing World of Warcraft instead.
Because the idea of having to compete with the greats—with JRR Tolkien, or JK Rowling, or RL Stine—or any of the other amazing authors I grew up on, just to tell my stories, it was too much. To imagine that no one would see the hours and hours I pour into every page—it broke my heart. And I thought, and assumed, that no one would read my stories if I couldn't reach those levels. So I hid, and poked at fanfiction, and struggled to figure out what to do with a life where I wasn't following any of my dreams.
Fast forward several years, and I had my kiddo. He was about a year at that point, and I found myself as a stay-at-home mom who had worked retail since I was 16 (minus that one year in the factory) and I just wasn't happy with my lot in life. On top of that, I'd recently quit my retail job because of a management shift and found myself with a decent amount of free time. And I stumbled on BookTube, and subsequently Bookstagram. They reignited my love of books. To a whole new level.
So I did what I now call a reflex move—and I tugged that old manuscript out of its box.
And here we are. Imber's been out in the world for a bit over six months, and while that gnawing feeling of failure still chews at me, it's usually not so bad. Because I get messages, regularly, about my characters. Because just this morning I got a message that someone new was reading my story and flying through it, and for a few seconds, that was all that mattered in the world.
At this point, you might be asking, what's the point of this ramble? Honestly, mostly it's because I had all of this on my mind today and felt like getting it out. But also, I've been struggling lately. My Amazon review numbers aren't what they should be. My sales exist, but they're low. Around October I hit a streak of depression that has been lingering, and cycling through highs and lows pretty hard, and I'm sure that's not helping anything. But constantly circling in the back of my mind is this pressure to get sales, to make money, to get reviews, to get more books out.
And it's not my hubs—courtesy of my prior stuff, he's not even allowed to ask me about sales/income. I go to him. Because I got too nervous that I'd run away from writing again, so we made it a rule to keep money out of it. He gets updates, but I don't feel any pressure to get sales (from him), which is important because my home is my safety net.
So the pressure is mostly from me, myself, and I. Always striving to do more, more, more—and if you know me, you know I already bite off a LOT on a regular basis. I'm always willing to help other writers, I have a three year old who is my absolute highest priority, and my ASM called me back to work the minute that terrible manager quit. (so I still have a part time job, too) It can be a lot.
The pressure comes in other forms, too, though, and these are the ones eating at me lately. (Depression does NOT help with this, and it's important that if you suffer, you're aware of those fluxes too.) Other authors asking how to improve their sales, talking about their reviews, and successes, talking about their own struggles. Comparing themselves to the big names, and striving for those goals. Don't get me wrong, I'm not blaming them for my stress. (And they certainly have nothing to do with my depression. xD) I'm SO happy for other authors who are doing well. I would never, never, deem to wish anyone less than the best in their creative pursuits, and I want anyone who wants a creative career to succeed at all of their personal goals. And I'm utterly sincere when I say I don't get jealous of other writers—everything I mentioned can be super motivating, too, depending on the person or even the day.
But for me—because of my past, but also because of the high standards I hold myself to—there can also be a lot of pressure in not having those numbers, even when sales aren't my highest priority. So, when those things are being talked about, I want to clamshell. Because sure, I'd love to make enough money to support my books. That's all, honestly. I don't need a huge, lavish income. Enough to pay my editors and cover artists without saving for months, to share my stories on a broader spectrum so I can afford to keep telling them. But sometimes, the marketing side of publishing crushes me—it's not my strong point. I'd even dare say it's my weakest point.
Honestly, I usually feel like I'm in a minority not chasing sales harder, or writing to market, and I think other authors can sometimes (completely unintentionally) set an income standard that I can't figure out how to meet . . . and I just become miserable, and depressed, because I feel like even with years of research there's some industry secret that I can't find. Like there's a standard, and if you can't reach it asap you're a failure.
So when all of this was on my mind today, I realized I might not be the only one. I might not be the only author staring at the low sales tallies and thinking they're failing. Struggling to write another word because "maybe you just aren't good enough."
But here's the thing. Did one person like your story? Just one?
I know that's the "thing to say" to motivate writers. I know it's cliche, and cheesy, and overplayed. But here's the thing . . . If one person liked your story, just one, they'll probably tell someone else. And maybe that someone else will love your story too. And before you know it, there might be a small chain of people in the world who love your words. And that . . . that to me is a greater gift than any monetary reward. I don't want to be the next Maas, or Bardugo, or other super popular YA Fantasy author. That kind of pressure, those expectations . . . No thanks. I just want to tell stories and know that somewhere in the world someone loved even one of them. That's all I've ever wanted.
And guys, I have so many ideas.
It's so easy to forget, in the midst of all the pressure to succeed, or to meet a certain standard before you're considered "not a failure", that we all started on this journey because in our hearts, there was a story. Most authors have two, three, a dozen books out before their name is even circulating social media. And I've been blessed with readers—regular readers, a whole bunch of them, and that's just. That's huge to my little writerly soul. My sales may not be insane, or even all that steady yet, but they're there. I haven't gone a week without a sale, not yet. And for a debut with only one book out, you know, maybe that's not so bad.
And Imber may never be a best seller. But one person saw their reflection in Nat. One person saw their temper in Jyn. One person loves Cam, maybe as much as I do. One person adores all the quirks that make Meryn unique. And if you take anything away from this crazy long, rambling post, I hope that it's that you're not a failure if your sales and reviews aren't where they're "supposed" to be. Keep writing. You'll get there. Maybe I will, too.
Until then, I'm going to keep writing. And I'm going to shove off the pressure, and try to ignore it, and make these books. Because I don't want to run away again. I want to tell these stories because guys, I love these characters SO much.
Even the ones I haven't met yet. <3
And don't let the hard days win. ;) Because sometimes, they're so hard. They're bury you-and-your-writing alive hard. They're I-can't-find-any-words hard. And there's no real industry secret. It's hard work. It's passion. It's dedication, and discipline. The rest will fall into place.
I want to read your story. So tell me it.