Business Musings: The Upcoming Year
I come to the end of 2015 dog tired. Not stressed, like I was in 2013 and 2014. Plain good old-fashioned tired.
As you could tell from my blog posts the past two weeks, I wrapped up a project that had been on my plate for maybe 15 years. I wrote the first draft of the book in 2005, realized the book didn’t work because I was scared of it (and approached it wrong), and have tried it several times since. Some of the parts of those earlier books will appear in the future in other novels. I now know how the story all lays out.
No matter how I sliced it, this book ended up at 170,000 words (yeah, I know), and Dean is reading it now. The sheer physical work tired me, yes, but more than that, the complexity of dealing with this project really co-opted my brain.
At this time last year, I wrote several pieces at year end about the state of the publishing industry. I had hoped to do the same this year. I woke up on Christmas Eve, and realized it was the end of December—which meant the end of 2015—and what with the health issues, the travel, the marathon book, and some changes in two of the other businesses we own—I hadn’t been paying attention to the publishing industry as a whole. I thought about cramming, but I had left some other projects for year end (one anthology to edit and four short stories to write—eek!), and I wanted some time off (we all need to see Star Wars, right?).
I didn’t have time for cramming on the industry.
But I did want to talk about the year end. I wanted to look forward as well. In doing so, I decided to read some of the blog posts other people have written about the state of their writing careers in December of 2015, and the plans they have for 2016.
I discovered a theme. And ironically, it was the same thing that Dean and I had been discussing.
This year, I’m boiling my resolutions down to the essence:
He’s not alone. I said to Dean as we were planning our 2016, “I need some time to write, to be alone with my creativity, to just think about new stories, experiment, and focus on the writing, not on being a business person.”
Note the word focus. I didn’t say I was going to give up doing the business stuff and the business research. In fact, as I was reading the year end blogs, I made some notes of business things I wanted to do in the future for my own writing.
For the past four years, though, I have worked on building several businesses that are not my writing. Some involve my writing in a peripheral manner, and one publishes much of what I do (although not all of it—still hybrid, still proud of it), but none of them are writing-only.
How do I plan my writing?
I don’t. I write. Planning my writing is a business strategy. Writing is what I do and what I love.
Yep, I have four short stories due, and while that seems like planning, it’s more happenstance. I accept short story deadlines because I love to write for anthologies and other projects. Writing for other people like that forces me outside of my comfort zone. I know I’m doing well when my first thought as I sit down to write one of these projects is Oh, my God, I’m not good enough to write this thing. Especially now. Especially in this limited time frame.
Gauntlet taken up.
Over the past week, as I’ve relaxed into the idea of writing as my focus, I find my brain exploring ideas it was too preoccupied to consider in the past four years. I see that as a good sign.
What I find fascinating is that as I click through the blogs of friends, peers, and colleagues, I discover a similar sentiment. It’s not just Joe who stressed writing, but other writers as well.
Perhaps the clearest example of what I mean by focusing on writing comes from Elizabeth Hunter’s year-end blog. She writes:
In the past year, I’ve had so many friends feel burned out. Tapped out. Done. Finished. Writing became this chore that they had to do to keep up with… what? Financial obligations. Reader expectations. Personal goals….
When I start to get burned out, it’s usually because I haven’t had enough creative time. It’s because I’m focusing on the publishing and selling aspects of this business and not on the writing parts. I NEED the writing. It’s still my most-fun-thing. My escape. My happy place.
I managed to continue writing while storms swirled around me, while we built 3.5 other businesses (the .5 is still being built), while we dealt with all kinds of other stuff that make up this everyday thing we call “living,” but I couldn’t write as much as I wanted to. I was telling my own stories, but there always seemed to be some outside crisis that took precedence over writing time. And when you’re building something else, you have to tend to the crisis.
What I thought, as I prepped this blog, was that these emotions were unique to me. And yet, I found them in blog after blog after blog.
Ron Vitale, in his year-end blog, echoes what Joe Konrath says about focusing on the writing, and adds the life lesson he learned in 2015:
To everyone who is new to publishing and living the indie writing lifestyle: It’s not possible to do it all. I will say it again for myself so that I can remember this and not get myself in the mess I was in. I cannot do everything. I need to rest, eat, relax and connect with those around me. I can’t be plugged in all the time writing and then working at my day job. I learned a hard lesson this year. Yes, I love writing and want to write more books, but they can’t happen as fast as I would like and that’s okay. In fact, that’s better than okay. It’s normal and I’m perfectly fine with that.
That’s something I’ve already learned…and relearned…and relearned…and, yes, dammit, learned again…and again…
The fact that Ron learned this is one reason he’ll stick around. A lot of writers didn’t. I noticed that in the responses I got to blogs all year. Writers who wanted to quit. Writers who did quit. Writers whose work I sought out for a variety of reasons only to find that “I’m done with this awful business” blog post. Or worse, a website that hasn’t been updated since early 2013, and no new works published since then either.
I’m not the only one who noticed this. Elizabeth Hunter remarked on it in her blog:
A lot of people quit publishing in 2015. More will quit in 2016. Everyone has their own reasons. Some are good and some are bad. But if you’re getting into this business as a quick way to make a buck, then you’re doing it for the wrong reasons. If you’re writing and publishing to tell your story, then no matter what happens on the sales front you still have your work. [Emphasis hers]
I blogged about that very topic a few weeks ago, because I’d seen so many writers trapped in that loop and getting burned out. And really, it’s sad to get burned out doing something you love.
These blog posts from other writers, plus discussions with Dean and the professional writers I meet with every week, did spark something, though. A realization, I guess.
It’s not a coincidence we’re all thinking this way.
Our industry has changed phenomenally since 2009. Joe posted his resolutions for the past several years in that blog, and some of them are true blasts from the past.
What we’ve been doing is inventing a new way to go about being writers. In the past, the path was stable. If you wanted to get published, you had to go through gatekeepers. And if you wanted a career as a published writer, you needed a lot of resilience and creativity to survive inside a system that was hostile to your creativity and your needs.
The new world isn’t actively hostile, but it is difficult. And why shouldn’t it be? We’re working on an international level.
But one of the degrees of difficulty we’ve been dealing with since 2009 is that the new system hadn’t stabilized yet. Things changed, sometimes weekly, and those of us who jumped into indie publishing from the beginning were constantly revising expectations as well as ways of doing things. Even the kinds of files we had to upload for ebooks changed, and changed again, and then changed again. The files haven’t stabilized yet, but the rate of change (at least in that area) has slowed immensely.
We all had incredible learning curves, and we worked with each other—sharing information on blogs and in person—trying to figure out not only what worked best for the readers, but what worked best for us.
Most of us became what I call outer-directed. We focused on things outside of our writing and, for some folks, to the detriment of their writing.
Well, the industry is stabilizing. It hasn’t stabilized entirely, but it’s not going through such a rapid state of change either. We can actually envision parts of the publishing future.
And that has allowed writers to breathe. As we breathe, we realized—hey, I want to write more. I want to be creative, not in marketing or cover design, but in making up and living in imaginary worlds.
Some of us are too burned out to do that. And for those of you who fit into that category, time to recharge. Rest. Think about things other than writing and publishing. See a movie. Walk on the beach. Spend time with your family.
If you’re destined to be a career writer, you’ll come back to it—or rather, it’ll come back to you. One day, a story will pop into your head, a story that needs to be told. I just got an e-mail from a long-time published writer who said that very thing. For the longest time, he thought he was done writing, and now he’s turning his attention to a new novel.
The burnout I recognize. It happened a lot in traditional publishing, but for different reasons. Usually writers were driven so crazy by publisher-agent-editor demands that the writers had to leave to maintain sanity. Or the writers went on book tours and wrote books at the same time with no breaks at all. Or the writers wrote to order, forgetting to tell stories they wanted to tell.
The writing to order happens in indie as well, but writers impose that on themselves. (Sad, I think, to see writers forcing themselves into old molds based on some mythological “you-should” way of doing things.)
I never expected, though, writers to burn out because they were learning and trying so many things. It makes sense. That outer-directed thing, for creative types, is utterly exhausting. Necessary, especially when you’re learning and building, but tiring just the same.
So I think I’m ending up with a prediction after all. 2016 will be the Year of the Writer.
Not because writers will suddenly become the darlings of the culture. (Wouldn’t that be weird?) But because the writers who have survived all the changes and have worked hard to publish in whatever way is best for them are now returning their attention to the very thing that got them started in the first place:
What a great thing. Because…speaking as a reader now…that means we’ll have all kinds of marvelous, new, exciting books by 2017. Things writers have longed to write and either hadn’t had the time to write, the energy to write, or the courage to write.
It does take courage to write what you want. To follow your own creativity and see where it will lead you. To walk down a path that doesn’t exist yet.
So maybe I should modify my conclusion and call 2016 the Year of the Courageous Writer. Because we’ll be seeing a lot of courage in print this year.
And we’ll all benefit from it.
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“Business Musings: The Upcoming Year,” copyright © 2015 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.