Why we should turn to comforting fiction when our writer journeys get hard
What’s this episode about?
Welcome to the final episode of the fifth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways.
This season, Learn/Love, touches on learning to love your journey because it’s such a simple concept but so difficult to achieve. I will say, I thought that I loved mine. That I was content with my steps and my achievements, with the compliments I was getting from friends, family and readers who had never met me. But after the long-awaited date of my debut launch rolled up, 9th February 2021, it was as if a switch was flipped.
Let me put this in a bit of context. That week, and the months before, I was stressed. In my mind there was so much to do, so much to prepare before the world goes mad for my book. I had left the actual launch date as a celebration day, one where I would only respond to messages, eat cake and relax.
But as the day came nothing really changed. Being in another full lockdown, I didn’t harbor any hopes for a massive launch party. Yet, it was more underwhelming than my already tiny expectations. But it was a day of celebration, so I smiled and I accepted congratulations like one’s supposed to. Every time someone said I had accomplished something great, a little piece of my writer heart was ripped away. By the time the evening came, I was in for the one of the worst mental health breakdown in my writing life.
In this season, I have already touched on the things that contributed to all this. So for the last episode of this season I want to discuss what I did to get out of this dark place. I picked up a book I have read lots of times to remind myself of its simple wisdom. The book in question is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a sort of early graphic novel which discusses creativity, relationships and what makes life and living special by using quirky writing and curious characters.
The Little Prince
You might have read this book as a child but let’s get one thing out of the way – it’s not a book for children. It can definitely be enjoyed by children but the wisdom it holds is for adults.
Specifically, adults that may have lost their way and may need reminding of some basic life lessons which are often innate when we’re children, unburdened by the stresses of being serious, responsible and constantly attuned to society’s lofty expectations of people.
It’s a romantic point of view towards life and if you stick with me for the next fifteen or so minutes, I will share a few quotes from it and let you know how these notions have affected how I think about my writing journey.
If you were to say to the grown-ups: “I saw a beautiful house made of rosy brick, with geraniums in the windows and doves on the roof,” they would not be able to get any idea of that house at all. You would have to say to them: “I saw a house that cost 100,000 francs.” Then they would exclaim: “Oh, what a pretty house that is!”
I got to read this line after a somewhat usual for me mental breakdown about Pen Garden stats, book sales and overall social media engagement. All those numbers made me sad and for the most part, useless as a creative person. I couldn’t write and I felt stupid trying to push myself out there because after all, numbers don’t lie, right?
Well, yes and no.
Number are useful for the business side of things. They are useful for productivity as well to inform you if you’re on track with your goals, if your strategy is working, if anything needs to be reassessed and streamlined. But productivity and creativity have a complex relationship. Looking at numbers for too long, in my experience, can dampen creativity. It can reduce what is a really intimate, unique experience to a race against the trends to satisfy a few metrics.
Some writers find that acceptable. Some are more sale-driven than others. What I did for myself and what I would suggest you do at some point, is to evaluate what fuels your creativity. Do you have a vision? Do you need to write to make progress on an issue that’s important to you? Do you want to earn lots of money? Do you want to have masses of reader fans? Do you want to show your closest people your creative self? Or maybe it’s about leaving a legacy that will remain after you’re long gone? Whatever it is, it’s valid and it’s important to how you look at your creative journey and how relevant numbers are for you.
For me, it’s a 50/50 distribution. When I did my thinking, I understood that I have a vision of creating change by writing books that don’t fits genre stereotypes, with characters who are diverse and allowed to occupy the space usually reserved more stereotypical protagonists. This is difficult to sell, especially with self-publishing. So I need to be careful about how I read my numbers and what I take from them. My numbers might be low for now but when readers do read my writing, they connect to it and leave very motivating feedback. I figured that for me it’s more important to keep doing what I love than to satisfy the masses for profit. It’s not going to be the same for everyone but you owe it to yourself as a writer to figure out what makes your creativity tick.
“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”
On the point of numbers, I wanted to also talk about attaching worth to things due to metrics telling you its underperforming. Whatever the thing is – a book, a launch campaign, a single social media post. I would always do it, have fun or not, have a journey with the thing, then look at numbers and have my whole experience tainted by how it performs. And sometimes it wasn’t about how many people bought it or commented. Sometimes it was just great to get the idea out of my head and make something out of it in the real world.
This is your rose – the journey, the relationship you build with your creativity as you build something out of nothing.
I’m trying my best to appreciate this process more as it happens. It’s extremely rewarding for me to finish a chapter, to finish a book, to plot and scheme and watch my characters come to life. So why when my book came out and it didn’t become an overnight bestseller I reacted badly? And by badly I mean I developed an instant, passionate hatred for it. I couldn’t look at it. I thought it was the worst thing I have ever created. Why did I even write it? The whole journey was forgotten after I reached the destination of publishing it.
But re-reading The Little Prince reminded me that what makes my book special is the time I’ve put into it, the memories I’ve collected from working on it with beta readers and other supporters. After I shifted my view a little bit, my hatred dissipated.
So here I would ask you, if you’re not doing it already, to start taking notice of your writer’s journey. Not only the difficult and bad, not only the things that don’t work out. Try to commit to memory when things are amazing, when you’re feeling elated from a writing session, when everything is just fine. And when your journey takes you through a thorny path, push forward and remind yourself of the times that fill you with love and positivity.
“Sometimes, there is no harm in putting off a piece of work until another day.”
This idea is one that seems to have some stigma attached to it. There’s lots of jokes along the lines of ‘Why do something today when you can do it tomorrow’? I struggle with this a lot because as a self-driven writer and author, I set my own pace, my own deadlines and my own workloads. If I don’t respect myself as my own boss, I can simply ignore them as I see fit. And sometimes life gets in the way and I do miss my milestones. I leave work for tomorrow or for next week or I give up on ideas altogether because I can’t seem to fit them in. And with all that comes a great amount of guilt and self-hatred.
So when I read that quote, I stepped back from my daily life a little and thought about my writing practice. I quickly noticed there are definitely tasks that can be streamlined or dropped altogether, some that can be pushed way down on the to-do list. Activities that bloat my day and sap my energy, leaving me unable to perform my basic, most important function – write.
For this point, I would implore you to do an audit on your productivity system. You might find that it’s actually your system that is preventing you from being productive because your focus is on the wrong things and your time isn’t spent on tasks that fulfil your goals and realize your vision.
I will give you a recent example: I love learning new stuff and I wanted to make sure I incorporate continuous learning and improvement into my writing practice. I have a list of courses and books on many topics I think are useful to me, ready to be devoured. Last December, I took a Facebook Ads course and then got really excited, spent loads of money on Facebook Ads that were decent but not really needed for the stage I was at in my writing journey. In January, I read a book about how to start your writing journey properly, had an epiphany that it’s how I should do things. It was in complete contrast with what I had learned last summer and meant an almost complete overhaul of my practices. In February, I read a book about newsletters and focused on creating perfect emails, completely forgetting Facebook Ads and my overhaul were a thing just weeks ago. In March, I learned about Amazon blurbs and spent a ton of money on blurb copy I ended up disliking. And so on and so on.
When it comes to learning, I’m like a magpie and a shiny object. I can’t help myself because I hate the idea of growing stagnant. But what dawned on me in April is that I’m not properly digesting and implementing any of what I’ve learned. I’m just hopping from one new thing to another, confusing myself and probably confusing my readers with my inconsistency. So I vowed to slow down. I’m leaving those trainings for another day while I build something that is my own.
“You see, one loves the sunset when one is so sad.”
And with all this, I took my own advice and considered how this podcast fits in my life, how writing fits in my life and how I can focus my efforts to pursue my vision.
Truth is, I started the Pen Garden Podcast with the idea that it would supplement my writing and aid my business. I gave myself a year to see if it goes anywhere. The reality is, I’m not getting enough engagement to keep going at the moment. It might seem easy and quick on the outside, but the podcast takes a lot of my time and energy to produce. It’s discouraging to labor on it knowing that my listeners, however many there are, are not really engaging with it.
For now, I’m going to close this chapter of my writing journey and devote my time to my books and to the Beta Reading Program, which will continue to take place. I will look for a platform to migrate the podcast archive where it can still be accessed in time, until then it will stay as it is now. I don’t know where my writing journey will take me; maybe I will miss podcasting and come back eventually.
For now, this is a goodbye from me as a host to the Pen Garden podcast but not a farewell. I’m around, still writing and reading, and as I said the Beta Reading Program will continue. My newsletters will also keep coming around once a month. When I have thoughts I want to share on mental health, productivity and writing, I will put them there. I know it’s not the same as the podcast but at least I can keep chatting about this with whoever wants to listen.
That’s all for now. Thank you for listening to the fifth season of the Pen Garden. I hope you learned to love your writing journey or at least have some ideas on what to do next to improve it.
If you want to continue the conversation, you can poke me on The Pen Garden Facebook page or tweet me @laineydelaroque. Newsletters are going to be the new podcast so do sign up below! 🙂 Thanks very much for listening/reading everyone. I wish you the best in your writing life and don’t be a stranger, stick around. Goodbye for now.
- The Little Prince (book, free to read)
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