I decided to use “difficult times” in the title because yes, I wrote, edited, marketed, and published a novel during a pandemic—but I don’t anticipate this is the only difficult time we’ll navigate as authors.
I’m not a betting woman but I’m sure some of you already had trying circumstances before we even heard about COVID.
You might be a new parent. You may have a chronic illness. You may be a student or work full-time. You could be waging a mental battle with yourself. It starts to feel like life is manufactured to make it nigh impossible to create and share.
Today, I want to share some basic, real steps I took (and will continue to take) to reach my writing goals. I hope these organization and habit-forming steps can help you feel more supported and determined.
1. Delete Advice Fatigue or Analysis Paralysis
There are a few terms to describe this phenomenon but many of us know what it’s like to get too many newsletters, read too many self-help books, or bookmark too many how-to writing blogs. The paralysis comes from being overwhelmed with information and you feel stuck.
If you’re already feeling this way, I’m not sure if this post will help. I don’t think this post is better than other resources, nor is it meant to be a complete and final resource.
I give you permission right now to clear the clutter, delete the digital resources you’ll never use, and start fresh. There are so many publishing avenues to take because each book and author are different. It’s impossible to follow everyone’s advice, even if it’s good.
This paralysis won’t save you from the setbacks that every author faces. I can’t prepare you for what’s ahead as much as I’d wish to. At the end of the day, you know your budget, your goals, and your projects. You know your writing. If you’re going through a difficult time, these voices in your head will not help you find a clear path for you.
2. Write a Brainstorm Checklist
If you’re still here, great! The next step involves performing a brain dump so you can adequately address all your ideas and concerns with logic and patience.
I like to brainstorm by hand, so I get a clean sheet of paper and I write everything down that is stressing me out about publishing. Even though I just published my second book, I still felt overwhelmed with the feedback and lessons I learned from the first book. I wanted this to feel fun.
Actually, I did a big brain dump in January 2020. I wanted to set a publishing date after I got my first batch of proofreading feedback. So I set a timer and I focused on this task. I wrote things as they came to my brain and I kept going until I felt like I recorded every anxious thought. I ended up with a messy, long list. Half of it was “research XYZ” so I wouldn’t forget.
This could take some time, so if you’re short on time, just devote time to writing this list and get back to it on another day.
3. Visually Organize These Actions
So, this is what I did in January. Everything changed when I started working from home in March. This method still helped despite how much things have changed.
I took my list and cut each item into strips I then labeled note cards to represent each month of the year. Then, I distributed the little to-do items for each month. I promised that I’d only do three things a month. Once everything was sorted in order, I wrote down those items on the card. I ended up with twelve cards with monthly tasks.
It was such a relief to have everything written out and organized. At the time, I knew that I’d be done in July. Cue the laughter here because I did not publish my sequel in July. In the real world, I was done in late October. I still felt good that I wasn’t forgetting any steps.
4. Adjust Your Expectations Forever & Ever
Prepare for things to change all the time. Each week or month, review your plan. Did you expect too much of yourself? Did you not give yourself enough time to finish a step? I needed double the expected time to apply my beta readers’ feedback, so I know the feeling. I’d rather take my time and get things right. I’m so proud of my edits and re-writes.
We don’t live in a world that lets us create without worry or anxiety. Thus, changes and adjustments are inevitable.
You probably heard this year about how Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a plague. First off, it’s not even my favorite play. And second, he did not have to worry about his income while writing. Someone else (probably his wife) took care of the household. I would be shocked if everything else was delegated and he still wrote nothing.
Many of us aren’t paid to write. Many of us are a one-person show and we wear all the hats to get these books out there. So I don’t want anyone to feel bad because they didn’t produce genius writing this year. Don’t feel one-upped by a dead guy. People tweeting about Shakespeare did not read the room. Luckily, many writers stepped in with some witty responses of their own. Instead of tweeting, I literally said F*ck Shakespeare!” during therapy. It was cleansing.
But back to what’s important: due to everything working against us, it’s okay to adjust your goals so you actually finish them.
I want you to get to the finish line and not resent your books. I don’t want you to question your ability as a writer because you can hardly get any work done. To think that we survived so I could write this post and you can read it is a miracle, honestly.
5. Give Yourself Time to Take Care of Other Concerns
This step involves giving up something that doesn’t serve you—someone else’s goals. Every author has their own goals and lifestyles, so now is the time to work with what you have and not mourn the fact that you cannot write like everyone else.
You can free up some mental space by taking care of the rest of your life. If it’s hard to juggle ten things, try to address some stuff so it’s more like three. I can’t imagine that it’s fun to write if you’ve lost your job this year. Real talk—working from home has been difficult mentally. School. I always joked that all through college it was “work on this novel that is a secret to the known world” or “write this essay due tomorrow.” I put a pause on creative writing until I was done with school. And oh my days, so many of y’all have lost beloved friends, family members, and pets this year. I could go on.
Maybe your time, resources, or energy have run dry. I want to give you, yes you, the permission you need to really sit with and process everything on your plate. Some of it can be delegated to others but not everything. If you’re jobless, slogging through schoolwork, adjusting to parenthood, or starting yet another type of medication, give yourself a f*cking break.
(You have me swearing twice in one post—I’m getting serious!)
I Wish I Could Take the Pain Away—But I Can’t
I’ve come to learn that my analysis paralysis and my anxiety stem from a huge fear of wasting time and money. There it is. I’m afraid of making a mistake and having to fix something or endure regret. That’s ultimately another way of defining perfectionism.
Again, I’m not a betting woman but based on some of your Instagram accounts, I can tell we’re all fretting about not feeling good enough, productive enough, or successful enough. We already wear too many hats—let’s not keep wearing this “mean critic” hat, if possible. It sucks and doesn’t help.
All I’m asking of you is to survive. Let’s thrive later when we can catch our breath. As I said, I want you to enjoy your hard work rather than resent it. You can keep pushing unrealistic expectations—but based on personal experience, you will loathe your work. All the negative self-talk will warp your shiny project into something unrecognizable.
While I can’t take away what happened this year, I can listen and empathize. I can sit here with you until you’re ready to get back to writing.
Take all the time you need.
In the meantime, I would love to hear from y’all. How are things and how are you navigating and writing at this time?