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.

Part I: 

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.

Part II:

“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.

Part III:

“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.

Part IV: 

“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.

Goodbye for now! (To my voice.. my written words are not going anywhere!)

 

Conclusion

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.

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Juggling a writing routine among your other life routines

 

What’s this episode about?

Welcome to the second 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.

Routines in general are great. This is what I’ve been saying in this podcast since day one and I’m not going to disprove that in this episode. They’re still great and all that I suggested as information to help you build your ideal routine from before still applies. But today, I want to shift the focus a little bit, move it away from the macro picture that I painted before, emphasizing why building a writing routine is so great and instead now look at where the writing habit fits in a writer’s daily life – and why it’s not always easy to start and maintain a consistent writing routine.

Part I: From frame to cage

I wrote this episode while on my holiday. Only with the benefit of hindsight and actually getting away from my many daily routines, including my writing and author one, could I appreciate how they all fit together to create a perfect symphony of stress, unmet expectations and guilt.

I know this sounds a bit negative but hear me out – I’m the queen of routines. If there’s an activity I enjoy or think it will be beneficial, I will make a routine out of it. I will slot it in my life and start following whatever rules I set out for myself. Then rinse, repeat for any new interest I obtain. Some routines might disappear quietly into oblivion but more often than not I will do my best to follow them all, thus boarding the fast train straight to burnout.

Back in Season 1, I discussed that routines are linked to higher Meaning in Life. A study discovered that “life is not only made meaningful through extraordinary experiences but also in its daily living.” So routines can give us familiar, cozy comfort but what about when there’s not enough hours in the day to satisfy all the conditions of each routine? What to do when they clash?

I will give you an example with my March 2021 – for that month, I had a humble 9 daily routines. Briefly, there was daily author writing, daily planning, daily yoga, daily morning and evening routine, daily meal planning, daily walk, daily family time, daily self-care. There were also weekly routines like weekly goal planning, weekly social time, weekly cardio exercise.

All of these things by themselves are great but lumped together without a period to reflect how it will all work? Not as awesome as I thought. Routines give us a framework for the day but with so many, I found myself getting more and more framed by each and every one, until I was essentially in a cage, panicking and feeling trapped.

Part II: A holistic approach

If the situation I described sounds anything like yours you may be wondering, how do I stay productive, keeping up with all the routines and still maintain my sanity? Well, I’m still working it out myself but from research I see there are primarily two camps of productivity thought when it comes to sorting out your whole life and building sustainable routines – schedule builders and system makers.

The first practice, which some call ‘timeboxing’, includes working through your daily life by slotting your responsibilities in neat little boxes of time on your schedule. Nir Eyal, a writer and marketing expert, has a great guide on his blog about the benefits of using a schedule for all the aspects of your life. Briefly, he says: “If we don’t plan what we will give our attention to, we risk having our time stolen by distraction.

This method is not without its limitations of course and it’s not going to work well for people who require vast amounts of flexibility like maybe parents of small children or those who have really hectic stop-start day jobs. Stress can be reduced because you have your day planned out, leaving no chance for issues and deadlines to blindside you but on the flip side, if you fall behind, stress and feelings of failure can mount up really quickly.

Then maybe the second approach will be more suitable – creating a time-management system. The idea behind this is not to simply block out time in your calendar for everything but to take a look at the way you already spend your time and identify opportunities to streamline your processes and create a time-management strategy. Schedule building may be part of it but it’s not the only component. On the subject, one of my favorite productivity apps, Trello, has a whole article on debunking time management and suggesting ways to improve. Check it out.

Part III: Productivity through play

You may have already thought to yourself by this point, I can use elements of both schedule building and system creation. And that’s absolutely valid. Most writers will probably feel most comfortable in some split between the two, utilizing the benefits of stress relief and avoiding burnout.

I personally am more of a system builder but when the system is in place, I do build a schedule around my tasks and block out time, making sure things have a chance of actually being done in the day, minimizing procrastination. That worked for me for a very long time. With lockdown however and a myriad of other personal issues, including a significant worsening of mental health, my productivity took a hit and neither my system nor my schedule survived the change.

I wasn’t procrastinating anymore, I was slipping into a pocket dimension where nothing from the real world mattered. Everything felt detached and things that were strong motivators before, like looming deadlines, became more like suggestions. As I missed opportunities and lost momentum in my author journey, I became increasingly agitated at the fact that I knew I had to be more productive but I just couldn’t. I would start and fail. So I turned to the one thing which has always bailed me out since I was a child – I turned to play.

Part IV: Hat lotto, productivity bingo and gaming tokens

During my exploration period, where everything took way too long and was excruciatingly difficult to start, I discovered an online game which I enjoyed very much. It quickly took over my life, replacing my reality with its way more ordered, vibrant world. As I started to feel guilty about the amount of time I was putting into it and not into writing or my author business, I set out to examine which elements of it make me happy and I brainstormed ways to apply them to my writing process with the hope of boosting productivity.

I will share three of the play-productivity games I came up with. Feel free to try one or all of them, and if you want to improve them so they can serve you better, please do – and tell me about it. I’m excited to chat with fellow writers who enjoy the lighter side of productivity.

First, I tried a hat lotto. I picked up some pretty paper, wrote a number of small, broken-down tasks I had to get going with and chucked them in a hat. I started pulling out some and doing them. This helped with beginning anxiety. After every three tasks I got to play my online game for half an hour, then I would pull three more and do them. This worked well in the beginning, but its limitations started to show after a time – I realized I had many interconnected tasks to do so I couldn’t just have a random picking order.

Following that, I created another game which solved this issue. It utilizes a five-by-five grid – I called it productivity bingo. It existed on my whiteboard, where I filled every square with a task that needed doing. Then I could pick and choose what to do and prioritize either to get a ‘bingo’ line or to do what I felt like doing. For every ‘bingo’ win, I got to spend an hour in my online game. After crossing out a line, I would erase its contents and fill out the newly-opened spaces with other tasks. Again, this worked great for a time. Then, a new bout of mental health issues struck and I found that completing five tasks to get a reward was too much. If I had more stable productivity levels, I think the bingo game would have been sustainable for me.

Right now, I’m using a play system I called ‘Gaming tokens’. The gaming can be replaced by whatever activity or thing is your desired reward. I looked at my writing and author priorities, wrote them down in Trello and prepared my whiteboard. The crafty part of me was really hungry for a little side project, so I created cute cardboard tokens and was ready to use them. The rules are simple. For every hour of work, I get one gaming token which gives me 45 minutes of chill gaming time. I was surprised by how much I can get done if I have an uninterrupted hour of work. Here are some photos of my tokens and whiteboard on the blog post for this episode if you want a visual to aid the explanation.

Conclusion

To summarize, I rediscovered the simple effectiveness of the work-reward connection. It never quite worked for me before because I was following other people’s reward suggestions so the rewards never really felt rewarding. If you want to try any of the productivity games or even make your own, my one advice would be to start with picking your reward.

What are the things that bring you joy but may fall under ‘guilty pleasures’? Now is the time to harness the power of pleasure and put it towards your productivity. I’m still learning, trying things out and changing every day but that’s okay. After lots of thinking, I came to the conclusion that this is the only way to juggle many routines at the same time – by reflecting on your priorities and current practices and not being afraid to turn to something unorthodox if it means your work gets done and you’re your happiest self.

Next week on Tuesday, for the final episode of this season, I will discuss why we should return to comforting pieces of fiction when our writer journeys take unexpected turns that we’re struggling to process. One of my favorite books, and the one I re-read when I’m feeling stuck in life, is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. I will talk a bit about how I interpret some of his ideas and how they have helped me with my mental health and my writer’s journey.

If you want to be up to date on Pen Garden news, subscribe to the show and sign up to my newsletter – sign up form available on the right (or bottom if you’re on mobile). Newsletters come once in the beginning of a season and once at the end so your inbox won’t fill up. As a bonus, all of them feature a cute animal and a book recommendation. So no spam, only cups of writing joy.

If you want to continue the conversation, you can poke me on The Pen Garden Facebook page or tweet me @laineydelaroque. Thanks very much for listening/reading everyone. Hope you have an awesome week and speak to you soon.

Sources

 

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What beta readers want you to know before you send them your novel

What’s this episode about?

Welcome to the bonus episode of the fifth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full episode above and/or scan the transcript below.

The Pen Garden Podcast is usually about writing productivity and mental health. I say usually because today I will be sharing a discussion with my friend Flora Kittle, who is a fellow author and beta reader. The both of us together oversee the Pen Garden Beta Reading Program, a project which provides writers the opportunity to receive extensive feedback on their current book.

Briefly, a beta-read is a preliminary read of an edited manuscript with the purpose to provide feedback which will improve aspects of it. A beta reader will look at your story from the eyes of a critical reader and identify places that are confusing or inconsistent. Some beta readers might help you improve your writing style too but it depends on their own skills.

The Pen Garden Beta Reading Program provides feedback on four areas in the shape of a letter. There has been one round so far, and all the participants have been thankful. If you have a self-edited, complete manuscript you’re seeking feedback on, the Program Round 2 is a good opportunity for you.

Applications opened on Saturday 24 April and will close on Tuesday 4 May 2021.

Transcript

Lainey:

Hi, Flora, welcome to the podcast. Do you want to tell us a little bit about yourself?

Flora:

Hi, Lainey. Nice to see you. I’m Flora. I’m a technical writer by occupation. And I have yourself Lainey to thank for challenging me to turn my writing skills to creative writing. This past year, obviously, it’s been a bit of an odd one. But it’s given me time to, to challenge myself. And I’ve drafted a couple of novels. And I’m actually in the editing stage of the first one. I’m an avid reader, and I host a book group. And this last year, I’ve discovered the great joy in beta reading other people’s stories.

Lainey:

Great. Welcome. And as you can all hear, Flora is very well placed to give feedback on your books. So keep listening. Why do you think beta reading is so great, Flora?

Flora:

I think it’s a great thing to do, both for the author themselves, but also on a really personal level. For me, it’s been great to see examples of other people’s writing. And also to see the very, very common writing stumbling blocks that everyone makes in other people’s work so that I can appreciate them in my own, because I’ve definitely learned through beta reading other people’s, where I’ve made mistakes.

Lainey:

I agree. For me, as a writer, it’s that and also the fact that it’s receiving safe, nurturing feedback. It’s constructive. And it’s really different from say, receiving a scathing review, after the fact, when you can’t really change anything; it’s a chance to grow in many ways. And I’ve received lots of beta reader feedback. So for me, it’s a chance to pay it forward as a reader, and this is why we’re offering this program, it’s rewarding. But it’s not always easy, of course, and it’s really hard work sometimes. As readers and writers, we all have pet peeves, for example, mine is adverb overuse. If I see more than two or three on a single page, I can feel an itch to scratch them out. Sometimes there’s a few in a sentence, or even in the same line. And yeah, I guess that’s something as a beta reader that I wish I was spared from.

Flora:

Why do you hate adverbs so much?

Lainey:

It’s a technical issue. Really. They’re like shortcuts. And I believe writers can always find more imaginative ways to convey what they want, their story. For example, if you have someone saying something angrily, I would much rather read a line about how this anger is manifesting. Maybe they’re clenching their fists or gritting their teeth, whatever it is, it’s more food for my imagination as a reader. What about you? Any technical issues you wish writers considered before submitting their book for beta reading?

Flora:

This may sound a bit nitpicky, but a technical issue that I think would be worth considering as a writer when you submit your manuscript to a beta reader is the formatting. Now, I appreciate that you will all use different software to write your story. And there’ll be the old school Word, the convenient Google Docs, or the writer’s delight Scrivener. But when submitting your manuscript it’s worth assuming a standard Word document or PDF should be shared. But beyond that, make it easy for your beta reader. The average reader will not read a whole novel in one sitting. With a paperback you can use a bookmark on your page, or with a Kindle or equivalent, a digital bookmark is added. This won’t necessarily be an option for an early draft beta read, but you can use formatting to help your readers to navigate through your lengthy document, have a table of contents and easy links to chapters. Your reader will thank you.

Lainey:

That’s a very good point. But what about plot then? Any specific things you would advise writers to just focus on when doing self-edits?

Flora:

One thing that I’ve noticed in all of the stories that I’ve beta read, and let’s be honest, in some traditionally published novels as well, is that there are promises made early that are not necessarily fulfilled. This can be anything from an interesting character trait that is not explored, a quirky world dynamic or setting that is underutilized, or a plot thread that is not completed. On the plot thread, it’s not necessarily a plot hole, which is an event that is improbable or unbelievable, but just something that isn’t followed through. So in every piece of feedback I wrote for stories I beta read, I referenced Mary Robinette Kowal’s MICE Quotient. It was Lainey that shared the resource with me first and maybe because I am a scientist at heart I find the MICE Quotient a really good way of following through with all of the many elements needed to make a good novel. Mary Robinette Kowal uses the idea of nested promises, each concept that is opened should be closed by the end of the story, preferably in the order that they were introduced. Lainey will provide some resources in the show notes for a fuller explanation and all I will say here is that it is a powerful tool for plaiting in all the threads. From the manuscripts I read, you all had some really exciting promises and concepts, make sure you don’t throw them away!

Lainey:

Yes, definitely a very good point and also a pet peeve of mine. On that I do want to add on that there is another similar thing that I’ve noticed in the books I’ve read, which I will come out and say I’m also guilty of as a writer. And that’s not having some vital scenes in because the writer may deem them boring to write, or think that they’re implied, because obviously, writers have their whole book in their heads. So they may think that some things are very obvious. But when the reader reads the story for the first time, they may never know certain things that are just left in your head as the writer. So the connections between all the actions and all the action moments are very important because they break the pace, and they give the reader a chance to rest and reflect on the story so far, to sort of check in with how they are feeling subconsciously. I would recommend writers study novel structure, and particularly rising and falling action and tension. I will drop a resource in the blog post about this, which explains things better than I do. So now you all know a few things that beta readers want you to consider. Obviously, not all of us are the same. But generally if you think about what you love and hate as a reader and try to implement that in your self-editing process, you’ll be well on your way to having a clean manuscript to give to your beta readers. As a reminder, the Pen Garden beta reading program is open now until 4 May. We accept romance, fantasy, women’s fiction, thriller, crime, and historical fiction, and all of their sub genres. If your completed novel fits any of those, and you’re looking for feedback, make sure you fill out the application form on www.thepengarden.com. Now to close off our discussion with a light topic. What’s one of your favorite tropes, Flora, and why?

Flora:

I’m not sure if it really counts as a trope. But I’m a sucker for interconnected stories that span timelines. I love a story that’s essentially a mystery through time, with old artifacts or spirits influencing a modern-day quest. I don’t know why I like it so much. But to me, it feels really clever, to be able to tie in those two different timelines. How about you?

Lainey:

Well, for me, one of my favorite tropes has to be genuinely good bosses and managers, it is so satisfying seeing a main character get into trouble of any kind, and then know that their boss has their back and supports them emotionally and professionally to get through their rough patch, that they’re not going to betray them. It’s really empowering to have an honest caring manager who sees employees as people. I watch a lot of Korean dramas, and there for some reason, often the people who have power are the baddies so I have this involuntary reaction every time I meet a new boss or manager character to just very vigorously hope that they’re a consistently good person in the story, or if not consistently good, at least, you know, reasonable, and that they’re not like a villain in disguise. Um, so yeah, thanks for doing this podcast episode with me Flora. Any closing thoughts before we wrap up?

 Flora:

I would just like to thank you all for listening. And I really look forward to reading some of your awesome stories in the coming months. So please apply.

Lainey:

Yes, we’re both really looking forward to all the applications for round two. Thanks again, Flora and speak to you soon!

Application link

To apply, you need to provide some information about your completed manuscript and a 500 word sample. Click THIS LINK to go to the application form. The deadline is Tuesday 4 May 2021.

Next Tuesday, I will talk about a favorite topic on this podcast – the writing routine. I will discuss how it fits with all the other routines you might be juggling on the daily. For me it wasn’t easy to slot it in, and I’m still struggling some days, so if you do too, you’re not alone.

If you want to be up to date on Pen Garden news, subscribe to the show and sign up to my newsletter – sign up form available on the right (or bottom if you’re on mobile). Newsletters come once in the beginning of a season and once at the end so your inbox won’t fill up. As a bonus, all of them feature a cute animal and a book recommendation. So no spam, only cups of writing joy.

If you want to continue the conversation, you can poke me on The Pen Garden Facebook page or tweet me @laineydelaroque. Thanks very much for listening/reading everyone. Hope you have an awesome week and speak to you soon.

Sources list to explore beta reading & writing advice:

 

 

Listen and subscribe

 

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Reading as a writer and writing as a reader

What’s this episode about?

Welcome to the second episode of the fifth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways.

The topic last week – money and writing – was a bit heavy so I thought I would switch gears for this one and talk about something lighter – reading. This whole season is learning to love your journey and I can 100% say that the way I read changed dramatically since I became an author.

As most writers, I’m an avid reader and have been since I could read at the age of five. I still remember the first children’s book I could read aloud without stumbling, it was a cute story about a little horse chestnut who didn’t have any friends because of his spiky case. When he shed it though, and saw he was a gleaming conker all along, he learned to love what’s inside. As you can see the topic of self-love has been a thing in my life for many, many years and yet I still struggle.

Part I: Reading as a writer

One unexpected avenue to this writing journey and love struggle was how my relationship with reading changed. It was prompted by that Stephen King quote, you might have heard it: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write”. So naturally, I thought, that’s true. I should read and I should learn. Reading for pleasure gradually became reading to learn. When I had a riveting fiction book in my hands, I was looking at it no longer as entertainment and relaxation but as an opportunity to gleam insight into the success of others. So, to fortify the impression you have of me from the last episode, I wasn’t only trying to do all the marketing stuff other writers did, I was trying to read between the lines of their works, put myself in their shoes and then have that knowledge inform my own writing journey. In itself, this isn’t a bad thing, because I did learn a lot about the craft of writing from reading books analytically. But the main reason I held a book in my hands shifted from relaxation to learning.

Some of you will say that you find studying relaxing but for most people, those two things won’t be on the same level. That was the case for me too. Instead of getting sucked in a story, escaping the tough reality of lockdown, I was using active brainpower to keep track of how the author had approached their writing. Where there should have been adventure, intrigue and excitement, there was an active search of character arcs and novel structure used, an almost painful awareness of adverbs, repetitions and grammar mistakes and an always simmering need to know how this book was marketed and where it falls in our current publishing reality. Now, these things by themselves are really useful. There is a lot to be learned from this practice and I’m in no way suggesting it’s a thing you should avoid.

Observational learning, as defined, is people’s ability to learn behaviors from others by observing and reproducing the action. I think as I engaged with books from a certain point in my writing journey, I approached them as real-life case studies to be observed, dissected, and evaluated, eventually serving to better my own craft and knowledge. For me, this was invigorating in many ways but after time passed, I started missing the simple pleasure of reading a book with a cup of tea, tucked under a blanket, my mind wandering in amazing made-up worlds. So I really wanted to know, why wasn’t this accessible to my mind anymore? Why was I looking so deeply into the words, unable to truly enjoy the story? After a bit of research on observational learning, I found that it has 4 distinct steps: attention, retention, reproduction and motivation. I will drop an article which looks into what each of these steps entails in the blog post for this episode but I want to focus on the first and last steps of the process. For me, those two hold the secret as to why I wasn’t enjoying reading in the same way anymore.

Part II: Attention and motivation

According to psychology, observational learning begins with giving the object or model your attention. “For an observer to learn, they must be in the right mindset to do so. This means having the energy to learn, remaining focused on what the model is engaging in, and being able to observe the model for enough time to grasp what they are doing.” This is significant for me, because the way I focus when I learn is different from when I’m enjoying myself. The next few bits are my own thoughts and are not scientifically proven, but I split my focused time in two categories: analytical focus and flow focus. When one occurs for me, the other remains dormant unless something triggers it. Generally, I can’t be in both states at once. Analytical focus allows me to pick up small details, make logical connections, connect writing knowledge to its application and recognize flaws and strengths in a book. Flow focus is when I’m completely immersed, letting my imagination dictate how I perceive the words and characters instead of my logical author mind. In this state, I can often lose myself for hours in a book, ignoring any technical parts of the writing and simply riding the high of a story well-told. I did mention that something might trigger a switch in states for me, but that’s very rare. It has to be something like a very emotional scene that pulls me in or the opposite, a page full of repetitions that my writer brain can’t ignore.

So you might wonder at this point, if I’m so aware of this, why can’t I just choose the mindset I need for a particular book when I start it, instead of agonizing I now struggle to read for pleasure? This is where the last step of observational learning comes in – motivation. How do we decide if what we’ve gleamed from someone else’s work should be applied to our own writing? Psychology says that “in order for the observer to engage in this new behavior, they will need some sort of motivation. Even if the observer is able to imitate the model, if they lack the drive to do so, they will likely not follow through with this new learned behavior.” And this is where for me things started to go downhill with reading for pleasure. I estimated the benefits of simply enjoying a book in a flow state versus analytically approaching all elements used by the author and decided that in order for me to grow, I need to be constantly learning. If anything, I was too motivated to learn and adopt new practices in my journey. So reading stopped being a relaxation activity, instead each became a case study of what to do, what not to do or a bit of both. This, to many of you, might still sound reasonable. To me it did too. But the thing is, the mind needs rest. I didn’t have any downtime to actually reflect on what I’ve learned, if it’s applicable to what I write or to check in with my mental health. This led to me dreading turning on my Kindle or opening a book. It reminded me of my time in school when I would sit down to do my homework some days and release a massive sigh because I wanted to do something else. Play computer games, read some elaborate high fantasy novel, see friends. Back then however, I had an obligation to study the way I was told to. The beauty of being an adult is that you have more freedom with how you spend your time. When I realized the familiar feeling, I asked myself why I was essentially making myself hate something that used to give me so much joy. Unable to find an appropriate answer, I decided I had to reclaim reading for pleasure no matter what.

Part III: Reading for pleasure

Why do people read? If we take the learning element out of it, meaning we don’t look at textbooks and academic literature, manuals and various practical books, why do people read fiction and creative non-fiction? To put it simply, it’s an action you engage out of your own free will, knowing that the act of reading will bring you satisfaction. You choose when, where, how and what. It’s an activity that can help you escape reality for a bit, or assist you in partaking in play scenarios that may never happen in your real life by feeding your imagination. Seemingly, by these definitions, I was reading for pleasure, even when doing beta reading or highly analytical reading. It was my own choice how and when to read after all. Well, it’s not that simple. Knowing the extent of the pleasure I can derive from reading, when I  finished book after book and it was missing from my experience, this limited the benefits of this whole reading undertaking to just improving writing craft and knowledge. And I know what you might say. Just? Isn’t that a lot. Yes, it is, especially for a new author, but the benefits of reading for pleasure are far broader and dare I say, sometimes more important.

Evidence suggests that in adults, reading for pleasure can contribute to better self-esteem, improved ability to cope with difficult situations and to problem-solve, a higher life satisfaction and reduced risk of depression. If those aren’t enough, reading for enjoyment also impacts on our abilities to connect with others, helping us understand others’ feelings, giving us awareness of cultures and experiences that might be unfamiliar to us and aiding us in our social life overall by making it more pleasurable, accessible and easier to maintain. While the social benefits are a little bit difficult to gauge at the moment, I was also missing out on all the other benefits, particularly all the mental health improvements that I was so used to getting before I turned fiction books into writing school textbooks. So as with the budgeting in the previous episode, at some point the balance shifted. Educated and empowered by dreams of finding that amazing flow focus when reading, I set out to find a way to even out the scales.

Part IV: Two ways, one reader

When I finished the books I had committed to for The Pen Garden Beta reading program round 1, I knew I had to try reading something that I wasn’t obliged to do anything with. Not provide feedback and reviews, not even study for its popularity or because someone recommended it for a certain writing approach I should take notice of. It was just an interesting book picked out a haystack of other books. I can also call it trashy maybe because it’s nowhere close to a literary read and I picked it because I found a cluster of my favorite tropes in it. I’m not ashamed and I couldn’t be happier with my choice. I read a chapter, then two, then three. I was immersed. From time to time, my logical brain would pick up a repetition or a pesky adverb that I hate but I would just let it go and turn the page. As the action progressed and I got to know the characters, the little typos and issues became easier to ignore. I knew the author didn’t want or need my input, no one did. My only purpose to read was chasing my enjoyment. Luckily for me, I found plenty. On a roll, I picked up the second book in the series and I’m still going strong on the pleasure front. As I started to relax around reading again and finding my flow state with it, it became clear to me that I need to establish a balance which protects my reading-for-pleasure time. The benefits are too good to pass up.

But analytical reading and learning from others’ writing is here to stay also. It has greatly improved my writing craft and helped me meet many new fellow authors. It’s been rewarding in another way. For myself, I will try to establish reading goals in the beginning of each book I pick up. Some might be easy – for example, if I’m beta reading, I will be engaging my beta reading brain. I tend to slide into that when I’m reading extremely popular books too, either traditionally published or self-published, because I want to understand the elements of their success. But beyond that, I will try to shed my author skin and embrace the reader me which has been around for much longer. It will be a real shame if I lose her so I will do my best to remind myself often of the mental health benefits of reading for pleasure.

Conclusion – Writing as a reader:

Finally, knowing how I read, how I swing back and forth, I want to incorporate that in my writing too. I want to write books which are enjoyable and let readers get completely immersed in the story. That of course means looking out for what triggers me away from my flow state and avoiding that. It means keeping my mind open at all times. But an open mind is different from a constantly turned-on critical state. So as I navigate these subtle differences in my inner world, I hope that you too have found something useful to think about in this episode.

And thats all I wanted to say today. Do you read a lot? Are you using it to learn the writing craft or simply to enjoy a relaxing moment in time? Maybe both? Let me know. Let me know. I’m on Facebook and Twitter or simply send me an email at laineydelaroque@gmail.com.

A bonus episode is coming next Tuesday. I had a short chat with my friend and fellow author and beta reader Flora Kittle who some of you might know is a reader for The Pen Garden Beta Reading Program. Round 2 of the Program opens at the end of this week so we discussed what we wished writers considered before submitting their work to beta readers. Even if you’re not participating in the Program, I think it’s worth listening as what we discuss is broad advice that can help you with any beta reader you invite to give feedback on your books.

If you want to be up to date on Pen Garden news, subscribe to the show and sign up to my newsletter – sign up form available on the right (or bottom if you’re on mobile). Newsletters come once in the beginning of a season and once at the end so your inbox won’t fill up. As a bonus, all of them feature a cute animal and a book recommendation. So no spam, only cups of writing joy.

If you want to continue the conversation, you can poke me on The Pen Garden Facebook page or tweet me @laineydelaroque. Thanks very much for listening/reading everyone. Hope you have an awesome week and speak to you soon.

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The emotional place of money in a writing journey

What’s this episode about?

Welcome to the fifth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways.

Today I will discuss the emotional place of money in a writing journey. I will touch on investing money in your writing, spending, profits and how they all affect writers’ mental health.

Part I: True value

I will come out in the beginning of this episode and admit that I don’t have the healthiest relationship with money. When growing up, I believed money should be saved and given away only after a long thorough thought process has occurred. Only after I had estimated the true value that something will bring to my life could I spend the money on it. That attitude led me to develop a chronic health condition. I was only buying the cheapest food ever in a supermarket. I couldn’t justify to myself to pay twice more for seemingly the same product. So my health failed and I took a long, hard look at my relationship with money. I decided I could spend more on more nutritious food. But beyond that, I didn’t really change. I was still weighing up every night out, every birthday present, every holiday. And I’m sure you won’t be surprised that this attitude transferred to the way I spend money on my writing journey.

Now, if you have been listening you would have heard me say I estimate the true value of an item or service. And this is where my thinking fails me. Establishing the true value of intangible things is nigh impossible. There are too many moving parts, too many variables. I read extensively before setting out to publish my first book and decided that three things had true value for the beginning of my writing journey – an editor, a proofreader and a hefty marketing budget. I knew I could do the cover myself as I have design knowledge and I was fairly confident in doing the formatting too. So in my brain, I was being prudent as I was only spending on the items that for me had ‘true value’.

Part II: The theory of ‘value for money’

But let me move away from my experience for a bit so I can talk about the theory behind estimating value for money. Yes, this is still a podcast about mental health, bear with me, it will all come together in the end. Researchers argued that the phrase ‘value for money’ or what I call ‘true value’ of buying something, “is a poorly understood concept in practice. There is a lack of clarity in its application, especially in the distinction between “value” and “money” when assessing VFM in investment evaluation and decision making.” So they set out to deconstruct value and came up with three components: “useful purpose, beneficial outcomes, and important features”. So something that brings value won’t necessarily also bring money.

When I was making the investment decisions around my first book, I did them with the wrong idea that value always equals profit. I won’t dive too deep into this, but the fact is, profitable enterprises don’t only have valuable contributions, they’re also good at picking the right time to put them forward, and the right way to market them to achieve results. So when I invested a lot of money into an editor and proofreader, I believed that a good book can’t go unnoticed. Well, let me tell you – it can and it did. I know my book is good because readers have told me so. But there aren’t very many of them. So while I honed my craft and made the story and writing great, I added value to my product but for now, I didn’t bring money with this value. On the marketing component, I tried to invest in whatever authors have said works for them, thus copying steps of their journey and not really embracing mine. Lots of money thrown at Facebook Ads, Newsletter promotions and Review sites later, I realize now I was throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping something will stick. For now, they have all slid down to the floor, leaving a bright red line of shame on the wall. In a way, I’m back where I started all those years ago – with an unhealthy relationship with money, believing I made stupid investments that will somehow undoubtedly tank my whole dream of being an author.

Part III: Investment vs. Emotional spending

Here you can already tell the emotions are creeping up. It’s not about the value anymore, it’s about me and my worth. I came across an article about emotional spending and something clicked. At some point, I had stopped investing and had started buying things to make myself feel better. To believe I’m a true writer, I made it, because I’m buying the same things other authors are buying. Successful authors. Somehow my unhealthy relationship with money changed from me needing to evaluate everything to make sure I was financially stable, to me putting my writing business in a separate brain box and thinking that it’s all justifiable spending, an upfront investment into my future. A business expense, not an impulse buy.

But looking at it from where I stand now, I see those were just labels. The purchases I was making weren’t passing my usual rigorous vetting process. In fact, they were bypassing it altogether. My logical brain was off and my emotions were running the show. Soon I had spent more on marketing than I had ever set out in my bare-bones marketing plan. And yet, book sales were few and far in between. The latter thing in itself is not an issue. Debut authors are unknown and need to work hard until they start having consistent sales. The issue for me is that the more I spend, the more the gap between my expenses and profits will grow. And it’s pretty big now. So when I look at other debut authors who opted to spend nothing on their first book and are now happily taking every sale as a win, I’m a little envious. Not of their sales but of their insight.

Part IV: Curbing those spending impulses

Envy will get me nowhere however, so I set out to try and fix my emotional connection to money and maybe somehow get to a better place. As any proud millennial would do, I went online and found out that it wasn’t just me having trouble curbing my impulses when it comes to buying stuff online. For me, it was book marketing courses and services, for others it was whatever their passion was. Dr. Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist and certified financial planner, was interviewed on money.com on the subject of impulse buying and he was clear that nowadays, marketing is expertly done to trigger buyers emotionally. So whether it’s boredom, insecurity, or chasing that nice feeling one gets when they get a present, the current online commerce reality is waiting to catch us out. For me, I now know it was the unreasonable desire to be like the big authors instead of embracing my writer’s journey and realizing I can only be me. Now, and in the future. I can’t be anyone else so there is no use buying tons of stuff to try and fake it. The ‘true value’ simply isn’t there.

So what does money.com recommend? They have three ideas: “Be conscious of your decision-making process”; “Train your brain to prioritize long-term gains” and “earn your present-day rewards”. Briefly, it’s all about analyzing why you’re turning to impulse buying and trying to work on the root cause, taking more time to make spending decisions, thus neutralizing a bit of that emotional marketing magic, and meeting your saving goals no matter what, then spending the rest as you see fit by connecting purchases to goals in your life. If you want to read the article for yourself, I highly recommend it, it was really eye opening for me.

Conclusion

Managing money is hard. It’s especially hard if you’re trying to break out in a new field. To start from zero while you’re surrounded by success stories and so much marketing. While writing this episode, I was returning time and time again to the quote ‘Cream rises to the top’. This was my mantra when I invested in making my book better. In many ways, I do believe thanks to that editor feedback I do have a cream of a book. What I realized just now is that quote is missing a time component. It doesn’t say how long it will take for said cream to rise.

So when it comes to money, I will return to doing my best to rationally examine each potential spend, thinking about the value it can bring to my journey and not just think of the monetary return of investment or if someone else has vouched for it. It sounds basic but it’s a actually a very difficult mind state to maintain. I’m sure I will get swayed along the way, but when I do, I will return to this episode and listen to my own advice.

And thats all I wanted to say today. What is your relationship with money? Does it affect your writing life? Let me know. I’m on Facebook and Twitter or simply send me an email at laineydelaroque@gmail.com. Next Tuesday, I will talk about how reading, an activity I remember loving since being a tiny bean, has changed since I became an author and all the benefits and pitfalls that came from that.

If you want to be up to date on Pen Garden news, subscribe to the show and sign up to my newsletter – sign up form available on the right (or bottom if you’re on mobile). Newsletters come once in the beginning of a season and once at the end so your inbox won’t fill up. As a bonus, all of them feature a cute animal and a book recommendation. So no spam, only cups of writing joy.

If you want to continue the conversation, you can poke me on The Pen Garden Facebook page or tweet me @laineydelaroque. Thanks very much for listening/reading everyone. Hope you have an awesome week and speak to you soon.

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Keep your writing career expectations in check

What’s this episode about?

Welcome to the final Episode 5 of the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways.

In episode one of this season, an author I surveyed about what success and failure is, said it depended on the person’s expectation around writing, and highlighted the fact that even if people are happy with their work, society or those in our social bubbles can bring our writer confidence down by forcing on us their often unrealistic and unreasonable expectations about what a writer should be. So in the final episode of this season, I want to deconstruct some of these interactions and hopefully inspire you to take pride in your writing and to have the confidence to stand up for yourself when you feel wronged in any way.

Define what success means to you and stick to your beliefs

As we discussed before, the meaning of success is different for everyone. Yet there are many misconceptions about being a writer that are weaved into the fabric of our society and can make you feel inadequate if you don’t meet them.

Most of those are unrealistic or even undesirable by most writers, yet people who are not writers continue to peddle these ideas like they are the be-all and end-all for anyone who puts pen to paper more than they do.

A few examples are, “I don’t see your name in the bookstore, you must not be very popular’, or ‘you have no agent so your writing must be pretty bad’, or ‘I don’t see you rolling around in money, you must be struggling to find copywriting clients’. I’ve personally heard some of those, and more, mainly from well-meaning friends and family, wanting to set me on a right path to success.

My favorite one of all is when I tell people I’m a writer, and they ask me what I do for a real job. It used to annoy me, because while my office job is in fact real, my writing doesn’t feel any more ethereal to me. In both instances, I spend time and effort on something.

But this is the way our society is, it places big value on monetary gain and while I believe writers do and must make money from their words, for many money is a by-product of their passion, and not the inherent reason why they’re writing. To put it simply, there’s much easier jobs to pursue than writing.

So as you’re faced with a person who diminishes your passion or your efforts, decide whether it’s worth telling them the details of what you do and why they’ve misunderstood what is important about being a writer to you. And if you think it’s a lost cause and there’s no need to explain, agree to disagree and don’t dwell on their jabs at your lifestyle.

Trust both yourself and trust the industry

This, however, doesn’t mean you should dismiss every single criticism you receive about your writing life. No matter what stage of your writing career you’re at, there will be like-minded people around you with something to say. Their opinions will sometimes be in contrast with yours, and sometimes they might force you into an internal conflict between your head and your heart.

 For example, if you write a novel and submit it to an editor, who then comes back and says the novel has major issues and you have to go back to the drawing board. No one likes to hear that and it can be easy to dismiss. But think about where a person with vast experience is coming from.

As opposed to the people from my first point, they do not only know what writing is like, they probably know more than you. So in cases like that, you have to really listen. You need to strike the difficult balance between trusting yourself and trusting industry professionals of any kind to know what could be better for your career.

Each decision like that will be different but what I urge you to do here is to always take the time to think about your next step. Never blindly trust someone to choose a path for you but similarly don’t shut everyone out and miss an opportunity to grow because you’re too rigid in your beliefs. Well-meaning people will try to steer you in a direction they feel is best for you. It’s up to you to take stock of your personal situation and see if this is where your writing career can flourish.

HOST ANNOUNCEMENT

The book to which you owe listening to this podcast. The Lavender Phantom, my upcoming romance thriller, is now available for presale at a special price for all the early birds. It’s 25% off and if you preorder now, you can join me in my preorder giveaway and win some gift cards, books and tea.

All details can be found on my website www.laineydelaroque.com/books. The creation of that book has informed a lot of the content I’ve discussed in this podcast, so I’m excited to share it with you all. It’s not been an easy journey but I’ve learned a lot along the way about writing, mental health and productivity.

Embrace your journey and don’t get swayed by others

Now that we’ve talked about how you should decide on what success looks like for your writing life, next it’s time to embrace your personal journey. This means coming to terms with the fact that things will happen the way things will happen. You can steer them in a direction you would like them to go but you will never be able to replicate another writer’s journey. Even if you follow their steps fully, the conditions you will be doing it in will be different, and most important of all, you are not them. You have your own unique strengths and limitations and that will shape how your career progresses.

From right now, decide what you’re seeking and how much you want to put yourself out there. Any writing shared in any shape or form, can lead to negative feedback. So if you feel ready to tackle that, brace yourself and learn from any teachable opportunity. If not, that’s fine too, write for yourself and people close to you.

There is no rush to reach milestones, despite what non-writers might say. You don’t need to be a bestseller, a published author, or indeed known to anyone for writing to bring you joy and for you to take pride in your work. All creative journeys are different and there’s no hurry to be first. Considering writing and storytelling are pretty much as old as time, no one can be first anymore. We’re all on the road of creativity and I think there is something really inspiring and humbling in that.

Reflect often and with an open mind

And while we’re talking humbling things, there’s nothing more humbling than returning often to the roots of why you do what you do. It’s important to not let others put value on your work, your time and your practice as a whole. This is a task for you only and I suggest you set yourself a timeframe for when you’re going to look back and see if there’s anything that’s changed in your beliefs, if you’ve strayed from your creative morals and if there’s any room for conscious improvement.

I try to do it every 6 months, and if I miss it because I’ve been bad, I do it at least once per year. Reflection is a beneficial tool in anyone’s self-improvement toolbox. People tend to think a lot about what they did wrong when they reflect but that’s not all there’s to it.

A study in reflection and change argued that “reflection is […] not entirely a tool for uncovering and rectifying deficiencies in performance or practice, but a process of discovery of strengths and successes, and an opportunity to both celebrate those, and to confirm and plan for continuation in that same path.”

So when you next reflect, don’t forget to acknowledge what you did great and to think about how you can ensure continued success, whatever that means to you. 

sO, TO SUMMARIZE…

And on that very positive note, I end the fourth season of the Pen Garden. I hope you feel more confident about what you’re doing with your writing. The gist is this: “If it makes you happy and you’re not hurting anyone, you’re doing great and you’re a successful writer.” So keep writing, keep learning and keep growing. I believe in you.

On the topic of flourishing writers, last week I briefly talked about changes coming to The Pen Garden. I introduced a new offering which gave writers the opportunity to apply for free beta reading. It is still open for applications. So if you are about to finish a draft and you’re looking for a beta reader, go check it out for details and accessthe application form. Applications close on the 15th of January.

Now that The Pen Garden has grown too and has expanded to offer beta reading, it means that the schedule changes I hinted at last year are indeed happening. In brief, a season of the podcast will alternate with a round of beta reading. So season five will come out in early April. The reason why I think this is a good idea is because I feel like I’ve imparted all of the writing wisdom I have collected so far. I don’t want this to be a space where I ramble aimlessly, I want to give people content informed both by science and my own journey to inspire them to look into theirs and create a more mindful, productive writing practice. So while I collect more experience and interesting research on creativity, I will be helping authors grow by beta reading their words. I hope you support my choice and remain with me throughout this adventure.

If you haven’t joined my newsletter yet, you’re missing out. I’ve now sent my first few ones and I’m really enjoying the process. Newsletters come once in the beginning of a season and once at the end so your inbox won’t fill up. They all feature a cute animal and a book recommendation which can improve either your mental health or your productivity as a writer. Feedback about the newsletters has been really positive so far, so after you finish this episode, go sign up. And if you think they can be improved, email me and I promise that I will do my best.

If you want to continue the conversation, you can poke me on The Pen Garden Facebook page or tweet me @laineydelaroque. Thanks very much for listening everyone. Hope you have an awesome week and speak to you soon.

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Listen to all Available episodes of season 4:

Keep your writing career expectations in check– Success & Failure Episode 5

    Keep your writing career expectations in check What’s this episode about? Welcome to the final Episode 5 of the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways. In episode one of this season, an author I surveyed about […]

Set realistic writing goals– Success & Failure Episode 4

    Set realistic writing goals for 2021 What’s this episode about? Welcome to Episode 4 of the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways. Happy New Year! Let’s start 2021 with a bang and talk about setting achievable […]

Accepting feedback and rejection in your writing journey– Success & Failure Episode 3

    Accepting feedback and rejection in your writing journey What’s this episode about? Welcome to Episode 3 of the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways. We’re midway through season four, so it’s the best place to tackle […]

Success and your writing routine – Success & Failure Episode 2

    Success and your writing routine What’s this episode about? Welcome to Episode 2 of the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways. In this episode, I will look into why achieving your writer career dreams can be […]

Writers’ perception on creative success & failure – Success & Failure Episode 1

    Writers’ perception on creative success & failure What’s this episode about? Welcome to the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways. Today I will try to define what writerly success and failure is, and how they impact […]

Season 4 – Success & Failure – Overview

    SEASON 4 OF THE PEN GARDEN IS HERE!   What’s this Season about? Welcome to the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. It’s titled Success & Failure. After a short break, I’ve come back to the podcast with lots of new ideas so I’m once again very excited to share them with […]

 

Or the episodes from seasonS 1,2&3:

 

 

 

Set realistic writing goals for 2021

What’s this episode about?

Welcome to Episode 4 of the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways.

Happy New Year! Let’s start 2021 with a bang and talk about setting achievable writing goals. Some of you may call them writing resolutions and may well be setting some pretty ambitious ones as we speak. But hold off for the next ten-fifteen minutes and listen to the following tips, tricks and ideas. This episode will help you evaluate your practice and set up your yearly writing objectives with your personal situation in mind, and hopefully prevent you from burning out or feeling like you’ve failed in the coming year.

Begin with a vision

Many people set unrealistic goals because they pull them out of the hat of their wishful thinking. It would be great if I could publish a novel every month in 2021 but it only takes a second to remember I work two jobs, have this podcast and love to engage in the occasional Netflix show or computer game. Sometimes I even spend time with friends, global pandemic allowing. So this mix of activities doesn’t lend itself to a realistic novel-a-month timeline. But let’s say I did have the time for it, why do I want to produce so much? Am I chasing money? Am I trying to work hard this year so next year is easier? Will this churning out of novels make me happy? Basically, if I don’t know what my vision for my writing practice is for this year, goals are pretty much meaningless. So, to set a realistic objective, one needs to start at the beginning.

What writer do you aspire to be? Where would you like to see yourself as a writer in five or ten years? Boil down the answers to those questions in one sentence and you have your vision. It should encapsulate your writing dream and excite you for the future. If it doesn’t, think some more and tweak it.

Some examples are: “to earn a living by being a full-time copywriter, well-established in the business and consulting industries” or “to supplement my existing income by publishing a fantasy trilogy” or even “to consistently find magazines and anthologies to publish my poetry and bring joy to others through my witty sentences”.

Whatever it is, it needs to reflect your aspirations. And after you have your vision, you can more confidently set your goals and targets for 2021. Keep your vision sentence close by throughout the year and read it often. If you find your dream has changed, don’t be afraid to alter it and revisit your writing goals.

New Year’s writing resolutions – at your own risk

I’ve been really careful not to use resolutions and goals as the same thing, because they aren’t. A resolution is a “firm decision to do or not to do something” while a goal is an “object of a person’s ambition or effort; an aim or desired result”. I don’t do resolutions because I believe they often come from a place of self-judgment, of negativity.

If we move away from writing for a bit, lots of people want to get fitter in the New Year, to drop eating sugar, to stop smoking, etc, etc. And by themselves these are not harmful aspirations. But they come with the expectations that from January 1st, one will change suddenly, find their lost motivation, and let their old self which they dislike stay in the past year. But this kind of thinking does a disservice to everyone who struggles with addiction, body image issues, mental health and many other problems which require ongoing effort to keep at bay. And for many people, it’s simply a promise to themselves which they will not keep, betraying their trust in their own motivation and abilities.

So there’s no need to make a resolution. Set achievable goals and objectives instead. I want to leave you with something you can start using straight away, so here is a tool which is used a lot in business but writers and anyone doing personal development can benefit from it too. It’s called SMART. SMART is an acronym which helps you be realistic in your planning.

So when setting this year’s writing goals, try to make them SMART – Specific (or simple), Measurable (or meaningful), Achievable, Relevant (or reasonable) and Timely (or time bound). Here is how to use the SMART tool as a whole. Making sure your goals meet all SMART criteria means you will be properly evaluating all aspects of your writing and personal life which could affect your writing practice. As a starting point, don’t forget to think about how your health, your social bubbles and your knowledge of previous barriers like procrastination, may impact on any of your writing aspirations for the year.

HOST ANNOUNCEMENT

The book to which you owe listening to this podcast. The Lavender Phantom, my upcoming romance thriller, is now available for presale at a special price for all the early birds. It’s 25% off and if you preorder now, you can join me in my preorder giveaway and win some gift cards, books and tea.

All details can be found on my website www.laineydelaroque.com/books. The creation of that book has informed a lot of the content I’ve discussed in this podcast, so I’m excited to share it with you all. It’s not been an easy journey but I’ve learned a lot along the way about writing, mental health and productivity.

Cultivate a ‘growth mindset’

A year is a long time. Lots can happen in these 52 weeks and even if you set the best, most personalized objectives, things will throw you off balance. I know most of us have learned this hard lesson already, 2020 after all had curve-ball after curve-ball for everyone. The only way to be prepared about these inevitable difficulties is to train ourselves to grow from every experience, positive or negative.

In the book ‘Mindset – The Psychology of Success’, Dr Carol Dweck discusses the power of one’s mindset when reaching for success and achievement. She makes a clear distinction of two ways we can approach thinking about our skills and results – with a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset. “Believing that your qualities are carved in stone—the fixed mindset—creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. […] It simply wouldn’t do to look or feel deficient in these most basic characteristics.” In contrast, the “growth mindset” is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts, your strategies, and help from others.” This idea fosters a passion for learning and a more resilient mind, allowing you to spring back up from things that others can view as failures.

If you want to explore the science and strategies behind the growth mindset further, make sure you take a look at Dr Dweck’s book. There is also some further reading which I found really thought-provoking: it lists the 10 habits resilient people have and how to adopt them in our own lives.

Try the life of a stoic

And while on the topic of introducing habits, we need to look no further than the philosophy of Stoicism to see the benefits of living a life of purposeful routine. Epictetus said that “Progress is not achieved by luck or accident, but by working on yourself daily.” It leaves a lot less to chance – meaning less unpleasant surprises and less chances to feel like you’ve failed in your practice, provided you’ve set SMART goals for yourself.

The Stoic life centred around habits and routines — practices in which they engaged daily, from their waking moments until going to sleep, that provided the structure necessary for a day lived well.” These practices can be incorporated in your writing life and add structure, purpose and a feeling of well-earned achievement.

The Stoics’ idea was to live life to the fullest, and there is much we can learn from them, particularly in our anxious, stressed, constantly turned-on society. I recommend you read the article which inspired this point – How to Structure Your Day Like a Stoic – and maybe give some of their ideas a try. They promote self-reflection and growth, as well as useful practices which will enrich your writing life and open the door to more creative inspiration.

sO, TO SUMMARIZE…

Beginning a new year leaves a lot of us buzzing with excitement and eagerness to write more, write better, be altogether better creative people. But before you make any grand promises for the state of your creative practice, take a step back, evaluate, look at how you did last year. Set realistic goals for your personal situation and try to adopt a ‘growth mindset’ to build resilience. Use psychology to harness your renewed energy and maybe try out a new routine or revamp your old one with new elements.

And I’m no different, I will be doing exactly the same thing. My first book is coming out in February so I’m trying not to get swept up in unrealistic dreaming and goal-setting. I’ve also looked at how the Pen Garden can be improved, expanded, so the hinted changes to the format from last episode are indeed happening. The Pen Garden is growing, and I’m happy to announce that there is new beta reading service offer. It is free and open for applications. So if you are about to finish a draft and you’re looking for a beta reader, go check it out for details and access the application form. Applications close on the 15th of January.

Next week, for the final episode of the Success & Failure season, I will look into how to manage unreasonable outside and personal expectations when it comes to your writing practice. Being a member of our society and a writer means that people have reactions to us writers that are not always helpful. So I will discuss that and leave you with some practical advice on how to handle such remarks while still being happy and proud you’re a writer true to your aspirations and situation.

If you haven’t joined my newsletter yet, you’re missing out. I’ve now sent my first few ones and I’m really enjoying the process. Newsletters come once in the beginning of a season and once at the end so your inbox won’t fill up. They all feature a cute animal and a book recommendation which can improve either your mental health or your productivity as a writer. Feedback about the newsletters has been really positive so far, so after you finish this episode, go sign up. And if you think they can be improved, email me and I promise that I will do my best.

If you want to continue the conversation, you can poke me on The Pen Garden Facebook page or tweet me @laineydelaroque. Thanks very much for listening everyone. Hope you have an awesome week and speak to you soon.

Sources

 

 

 

Listen to all Available episodes of season 4:

Keep your writing career expectations in check– Success & Failure Episode 5

    Keep your writing career expectations in check What’s this episode about? Welcome to the final Episode 5 of the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways. In episode one of this season, an author I surveyed about […]

Set realistic writing goals– Success & Failure Episode 4

    Set realistic writing goals for 2021 What’s this episode about? Welcome to Episode 4 of the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways. Happy New Year! Let’s start 2021 with a bang and talk about setting achievable […]

Accepting feedback and rejection in your writing journey– Success & Failure Episode 3

    Accepting feedback and rejection in your writing journey What’s this episode about? Welcome to Episode 3 of the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways. We’re midway through season four, so it’s the best place to tackle […]

Success and your writing routine – Success & Failure Episode 2

    Success and your writing routine What’s this episode about? Welcome to Episode 2 of the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways. In this episode, I will look into why achieving your writer career dreams can be […]

Writers’ perception on creative success & failure – Success & Failure Episode 1

    Writers’ perception on creative success & failure What’s this episode about? Welcome to the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways. Today I will try to define what writerly success and failure is, and how they impact […]

Season 4 – Success & Failure – Overview

    SEASON 4 OF THE PEN GARDEN IS HERE!   What’s this Season about? Welcome to the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. It’s titled Success & Failure. After a short break, I’ve come back to the podcast with lots of new ideas so I’m once again very excited to share them with […]

 

Or the episodes from seasonS 1,2&3:

 

 

 

Accepting feedback and rejection in your writing journey

What’s this episode about?

Welcome to Episode 3 of the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways.

We’re midway through season four, so it’s the best place to tackle a sensitive topic – receiving criticism. In this episode, I will discuss why criticism is important, and how to spot when a negative review might be useless to you. Then, on the mental health side of things, I will look into how to process feedback while still maintaining your feeling of self-worth.

Feedback is good for you

Most writers have heard or know that feedback is important. Some beginners however are only happy when they receive compliments as feedback and either get discouraged when they get critiqued, or offended. So I wanted to very briefly summarize why getting any sort of feedback, positive, negative and everything in between, is a useful tool in your writer’s journey.

An article by Haley Grant identifies three main benefits to receiving feedback on your written work. Feedback is crucial because it improves learning, enhances relationships and promotes growth. Receiving comments in relation to your writing helps you see your work from a different perspective. Writers are often too close to their words and it’s wise to listen to critique – this way the piece will be streamlined and much improved. Relationships between writers and those who read their writing, be it clients, customers or fellow writers, are really important. When a writer listens to reader feedback, readers feel seen and listened to. They feel a part of the creative journey and are thus more engaged. And finally, feedback is essential because it keeps a writer from going stagnant. It helps creative people who are willing to listen to focus their energy on self-improvement, analysis and self-reflection. Nurturing these skills is not only important for your writing journey but also for your growth as an individual in world which increasingly places value on authenticity.

Not all criticism is constructive

Now that we’ve established that feedback of all kinds helps you grow, let’s talk about the fact that not all criticism of you and your writing is constructive. Sometimes people are mean for no reason related to you and there’s nothing you can do to improve following their comments.

To illustrate my point, I will give you a bit of homework. Go to a book’s Amazon or Goodreads page, any book, and look at a few five-star reviews. Then filter all reviews and look at the one-star ones. Notice how many of the points made there relate to the reader and not the writer.

One of the books I was amazed by recently, and which made it into my sparse list of five-star reads, was The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon. I love it because it was a beautifully written fantasy book which was thought-provoking as much as it was entertaining. But here is a one-star review of it:

‘This book weighs 1119 grams…I have a 1 kilo limit so my books don’t knock me out if I fall asleep reading them 🙂 Also it takes itself so fekkin seriously and lately I’m into writers who make me laugh along the way.’

This is the worst review a writer can get – it doesn’t say anything about the writing, or the plot, and only speaks about the reader. It also fails to inform other readers about why this book would or wouldn’t be for them. The size of the book and its tone are obvious from the listings and the blurb, and delivered in much less aggravating way.

So I ask you, for the sake of your mental health and your writer journey, evaluate criticism first before you take it to heart. Think whether you have found the correct audience – maybe it’s not your writing but the way you market and advertise your work. Maybe the time for it is a bit wrong. Whatever it is, try to understand the underlying reason for negative feedback received, and if you can’t find out, it’s more than likely that it’s an issue with the reviewer and not you. Let it go and move on to other constructive comments.

HOST ANNOUNCEMENT

The book to which you owe listening to this podcast. The Lavender Phantom, my upcoming romance thriller, is now available for presale at a special price for all the early birds. It’s 25% off and if you preorder now, you can join me in my preorder giveaway and win some gift cards, books and tea.

All details can be found on my website www.laineydelaroque.com/books. The creation of that book has informed a lot of the content I’ve discussed in this podcast, so I’m excited to share it with you all. It’s not been an easy journey but I’ve learned a lot along the way about writing, mental health and productivity.

Unattach your self-worth from your achievements (or lack thereof)

Many people, not only writers, believe that consistent achievement in life makes them a worthy member of society. If they’re contributing to the greater good somehow, they know their existence is not meaningless. They think if they pursue socially defined life goals like marriage, having children, earning big money, receiving peer acclaim, they would be happy, fulfilled, and most importantly, worthy.

But what does it mean to be a worthy human, or a worthy creator? Does having a mental health illness which prevents you from consistently writing make you less of a writer? Or is an obscure poet who loves their craft less worthy than a best-selling author who doesn’t enjoy writing too much anymore? Is there an issue in any of those scenarios when it comes to worthiness?

I, and many more around the globe, argue that people are intrinsically worthy of their life and aspirations. If you’ve ever compared yourself to other people and felt lacking and less worthy of success than them, maybe it’s time to unattach your self-worth from your achievements, or lack thereof. 

In a Ted Talk about Cultivating Unconditional Self-Worth, Dr. Adia Gooden makes a clear distinction between self-esteem and self-worth: “Our self-esteem is derived from our abilities, accomplishments, social positions and things we believe and we can achieve. We can bolster our self-esteem by improving our skills or performance, and our self-esteem goes up and down depending on how we’re doing in various aspects of our lives.

“In contrast, unconditional self-worth is distinct from our abilities and accomplishments. It’s not about comparing ourselves to others; it’s not something that we can have more or less of. Unconditional self-worth is the sense that you deserve to be alive, to be loved and cared for. To take up space.”

Cultivate unconditional self-worth

So, to bring this back to writing, how do we cultivate unconditional self-worth when it comes to our creative selves? How do we reconcile the difficult emotions which come with receiving rejection, negative feedback, sometimes downright hate for the work we’ve poured our hearts and souls into? Dr. Gooden suggests four ways, which might not always be easy but can be very beneficial if adopted with patience and care.

  1. Forgive yourself

“Many of us struggle to feel worthy, because we are angry with ourselves about past mistakes.[…] To forgive yourself, reflect on the circumstances that led to past mistakes, acknowledge the pain you experienced and identify what you learned from the situation. Then say to yourself “I forgive you” — in an honest and kind way.”

Writers can regret their reactions to negative feedback or blame themselves for a book’s bad sales record. Let go of the baggage that blame carries, and try harder the next time you’re in a similar situation.

  1. Practice self-acceptance

“Many of us struggle with low self-worth because we think there’s something wrong with us and we refuse to accept ourselves the way we are. We receive so many messages that we are not OK the way we are. […] See if you can let go of the thoughts you have about how the way you think, feel or look should be different. Instead, focus on the things you like about yourself. Over time, begin to embrace your quirks.”

These quirks are probably what will set you apart from other writers, they are going to be the small things that readers love about your characters and plots. You’re a writer because you have something to say, a story to tell which only you can tell. So embrace that and celebrate it.

  1. Be there for yourself

“When life gets rough, many of us engage in harsh self-criticism — which only leaves us feeling worse. What we need most when we are going through a difficult time is for someone to say ‘I see you. I see how badly you’re hurting. I’m here.’ We can do this for ourselves. The next time you experience emotional pain, acknowledge how you were feeling and offer yourself some comfort.”

So don’t bash yourself for the next bad review you receive. Don’t jump to the conclusion that it’s only natural for you to get it, that you’re not a good writer after all. Recognize that you’re hurt— there’s nothing wrong with that— and tend to yourself before you address the feedback. Come to it from a place of inner strength and understanding.

  1. Connect with supportive people

“Low self-worth can leave us feeling isolated and alone. When we think there’s something wrong with us, we tend to pull away from our relationships, and this isolation only exacerbates our feelings of unworthiness. Connecting to people who are supportive helps us to get in touch with our humanity and our sense of worth.”

So reach out to your writer friends, your communities of writers who undoubtedly also get bad reviews and bad days. Share your pain and allow yourself to believe that what they tell you is true. Let them uplift you as you would uplift them in their time of need. Other writers are not only there for you when you need inspiration as I said in season 3, they’re also there to support you when being a writer is not as nice as it sounds.

sO, TO SUMMARIZE…

Feedback is important. Writers learn from it, improve their writing craft and use it to build long-lasting relationships with fellow authors and readers. Not all feedback is constructive, so it’s best to let some negative comments go and not let them affect your feeling of self-worth. Your writing achievements do not determine whether you’re a worthy writer, you are by default because you enjoy your creative journey and have a story to tell. Cultivating unconditional self-worth can help you maintain good mental health which is invaluable for any writer’s creative practice.

Next week The Pen Garden will have an unexpected break because I won’t have access to my recording equipment and didn’t have the organizational prowess to pre-record an episode. But I’m sure you’ll all be fine during the holiday season – resting, writing and reflecting on this difficult year. So the next episode will come on 5th January. Its topic will be very timely – focusing on how to set achievable, personalized writing goals. It is the best episode to listen to before you decide on your New Year’s writing resolutions.

If you haven’t joined my newsletter yet, you’re missing out. I’ve now sent my first few ones and I’m really enjoying the process. Newsletters come once in the beginning of a season and once at the end so your inbox won’t fill up. They all feature a cute animal and a book recommendation which can improve either your mental health or your productivity as a writer. Feedback about the newsletters has been really positive so far, so after you finish this episode, go sign up. And if you think they can be improved, email me and I promise that I will do my best.

If you want to continue the conversation, you can poke me on The Pen Garden Facebook page or tweet me @laineydelaroque. Thanks very much for listening everyone. Hope you have an awesome week and speak to you soon.

Sources

 

 

Listen to all Available episodes of season 4:

Keep your writing career expectations in check– Success & Failure Episode 5

    Keep your writing career expectations in check What’s this episode about? Welcome to the final Episode 5 of the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways. In episode one of this season, an author I surveyed about […]

Set realistic writing goals– Success & Failure Episode 4

    Set realistic writing goals for 2021 What’s this episode about? Welcome to Episode 4 of the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways. Happy New Year! Let’s start 2021 with a bang and talk about setting achievable […]

Accepting feedback and rejection in your writing journey– Success & Failure Episode 3

    Accepting feedback and rejection in your writing journey What’s this episode about? Welcome to Episode 3 of the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways. We’re midway through season four, so it’s the best place to tackle […]

Success and your writing routine – Success & Failure Episode 2

    Success and your writing routine What’s this episode about? Welcome to Episode 2 of the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways. In this episode, I will look into why achieving your writer career dreams can be […]

Writers’ perception on creative success & failure – Success & Failure Episode 1

    Writers’ perception on creative success & failure What’s this episode about? Welcome to the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways. Today I will try to define what writerly success and failure is, and how they impact […]

Season 4 – Success & Failure – Overview

    SEASON 4 OF THE PEN GARDEN IS HERE!   What’s this Season about? Welcome to the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. It’s titled Success & Failure. After a short break, I’ve come back to the podcast with lots of new ideas so I’m once again very excited to share them with […]

 

Or the episodes from seasonS 1,2&3:

 

 

 

Success and your writing routine

What’s this episode about?

Welcome to Episode 2 of the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways.

In this episode, I will look into why achieving your writer career dreams can be disruptive and how to pre-empt any issues and establish a routine which will stand the test of change.

Success and depression

Firstly, we need to discuss why success can have a negative impact on our lives. A great article by Forbes writer Alice Walton looks at why the most-successful people get depressed. In theory, they have it all, so what do they have to be unhappy about?

She identified six research-backed reasons for it. Some of these definitely apply to the successful writer too, while others are more corporate.

The fact that we perceive successful people unlike us, the regular people, adds up to two of the reasons Alice puts in her article. Successful people may feel detached from their former selves, leaving them with a fractured identity if the success is too sudden, or they can be less resilient because they’ve always had privilege propel them forward. Difficult times will get those people down easier than when their self-made counterparts experience them.

Successful people often work a lot and without taking too many breaks – this doesn’t allow them time to focus on the small things in life which normally bring joy and are natural anti-depressants. The industry culture and competition can also wear a person down to the point of depression, something which is less common in writing circles but still could be an issue depending on how writers see their peers.

Finally, the values of successful people can change, and they might find themselves in an environment they no longer want to be a part of. Which is terrifying, and can happen to anyone. Do any of these apply to your writing career so far? Let me know after this episode.

Avoid the dark side

A lot has been said in the media about the dark side of success. The evidence that succeeding is not just rose petals and prosecco is very obvious when one looks at child musician and actor stars. As these people grow up, they frequently pick up a number of unhelpful or downright damaging behaviors.

Are writers safe from that? Writing is, in its essence, something that requires a lot of practice so children authors who become bestsellers are rare. If you encounter success as an adult are you then safe from its disruptive touch? Children celebrities grow up under pressure and many have a skewed view of their worth because so much importance has been placed on their achievements. Unlike children, however, the pressures successful adults receive are not only external.

Writer Jeff Goins, speaking about his experience with success on his blog, argues that fear of losing what one’s gained and a desire to appease consumers is what sets a person on a dark path ultimately leading to their loss of creative self. When he reached what he thought was his success and he had a chance to ask himself why he was doing it all, the answers surprised him. He was doing it because of three reasons:

  • People expected it and he didn’t want to disappoint them.
  • He felt like this is what he had to do to succeed.
  • He was too afraid of being ignored or irrelevant to try something new.

And for many of us these immediately sound like the wrong reasons. But the key here is writers are often oblivious to their own ways, their own fears and the mental obstacles they set for themselves. It takes courage to stop for a second and evaluate your practice. Jeff Goins managed to avoid a full-scale descent into the dark side of success and I know you can too.

HOST ANNOUNCEMENT

The book to which you owe listening to this podcast. The Lavender Phantom, my upcoming romance thriller, is now available for presale at a special price for all the early birds. It’s 25% off and if you preorder now, you can join me in my preorder giveaway and win some gift cards, books and tea.

All details can be found on my website www.laineydelaroque.com/books. The creation of that book has informed a lot of the content I’ve discussed in this podcast, so I’m excited to share it with you all. It’s not been an easy journey but I’ve learned a lot along the way about writing, mental health and productivity.

Change spares no one

If you think perceived success pitfalls are for those of us who are just starting out with our writing careers, you’re wrong. Success, as we established, is a change in circumstances, and change spares no one.

Bestselling author Lorraine Mace faced a new challenge when she was signed on by one of the top-five publishers. It was the launch of her fourth book in a series, and she had gotten used to the marketing strategies of her previous small publishers. Part of her promotion plan was holding a book signing event in a bookshop.

Here is how she describes her initial feelings in Writer’s Magazine: “I was excited about the idea of taking over a book shop for the launch, but it didn’t take long for the doubts to kick in: what if no nobody turned up? […] What do people eat at these things? I asked the bookshop owner, but she only added to my anxiety. […] By the time it was necessary to make a decision about the drinks, I could barely think straight.”

This sounds exactly like the stress and anxiety that comes from new-found responsibility. And then unfortunately for her mental health, a series of things led to a lot of people canceling their attendance, leaving her fearful that all her nightmares would come true. This couldn’t have been easy, but she went through it anyway and ended up having a successful launch with lots of people who hadn’t indicated they were coming.

In the end, it was her willingness to push through no matter what that made her event a success. That attitude is closely linked to adaptability and grit, skills we established in the last episode were crucial to successful writers.

Your rough action plan

So let’s say I’ve convinced you that achieving whatever you perceive as success is not all fizzy drinks and rainbows. What can you do to prepare mentally for the time your hard work pays off? Or what to do if you’re already stressing out about it and kind of lost in your career because you’ve achieved great things but it doesn’t seem to matter anymore?

Well. This won’t come as a surprise – you need to take a deep breath and then a longer moment to evaluate your practice. Why are you writing? What are you writing and for whom? These all have to align with your current goals and aspirations – and if you’re not clear on those, don’t worry, we’ll tackle that issue in episode 4 of this season.

Consider if you have taken too many new responsibilities that are negatively impacting on your previous commitments. Be realistic about your time – you’re a writer and if social media, marketing or other activities keep you from writing, you’re going to become unhappy in no time. Decide what the main things are for you, and don’t neglect them – anything else can be a bonus for when you have some free time.

And last but not least, remember that you’re only human. Don’t get sucked in a fairytale – burnt-out writers stressing about life each day might be interesting to watch in films and series, but in reality, being one is not fun – and not sustainable.

sO, TO SUMMARIZE…

Before I discuss how to set proper goals for a successful writing career, I will look at the other side of the success-failure coin. Next Tuesday, in episode 3, I will talk about how to accept criticism and avoid the mental health traps that rejection and critical feedback inevitably bring. Writers of any kind will encounter this at some point in their practice, be it from agents, editors, clients, readers or even family members and friends. Learning how not to be discouraged is immensely useful both for your writing life but also for your overall mental health too.   

If you haven’t joined my newsletter yet, you’re missing out. I’ve now sent my first few ones and I’m really enjoying the process. Newsletters come once in the beginning of a season and once at the end so your inbox won’t fill up. They all feature a cute animal and a book recommendation which can improve either your mental health or your productivity as a writer. Feedback about the newsletters has been really positive so far, so after you finish this episode, go sign up. And if you think they can be improved, email me and I promise that I will do my best.

If you want to continue the conversation, you can poke me on The Pen Garden Facebook page or tweet me @laineydelaroque. Thanks very much for listening everyone. Hope you have an awesome week and speak to you soon.

Sources

 

 

Listen to all Available episodes of season 4:

Keep your writing career expectations in check– Success & Failure Episode 5

    Keep your writing career expectations in check What’s this episode about? Welcome to the final Episode 5 of the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways. In episode one of this season, an author I surveyed about […]

Set realistic writing goals– Success & Failure Episode 4

    Set realistic writing goals for 2021 What’s this episode about? Welcome to Episode 4 of the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways. Happy New Year! Let’s start 2021 with a bang and talk about setting achievable […]

Accepting feedback and rejection in your writing journey– Success & Failure Episode 3

    Accepting feedback and rejection in your writing journey What’s this episode about? Welcome to Episode 3 of the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways. We’re midway through season four, so it’s the best place to tackle […]

Success and your writing routine – Success & Failure Episode 2

    Success and your writing routine What’s this episode about? Welcome to Episode 2 of the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways. In this episode, I will look into why achieving your writer career dreams can be […]

Writers’ perception on creative success & failure – Success & Failure Episode 1

    Writers’ perception on creative success & failure What’s this episode about? Welcome to the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways. Today I will try to define what writerly success and failure is, and how they impact […]

Season 4 – Success & Failure – Overview

    SEASON 4 OF THE PEN GARDEN IS HERE!   What’s this Season about? Welcome to the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. It’s titled Success & Failure. After a short break, I’ve come back to the podcast with lots of new ideas so I’m once again very excited to share them with […]

 

Or the episodes from seasonS 1,2&3:

 

 

 

Writers’ perception on creative success & failure

What’s this episode about?

Welcome to the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways.

Today I will try to define what writerly success and failure is, and how they impact your writing routine. I’ve asked writers about what they perceive as success and failure and their answers were eye-opening. Listen on to find out why these two seemingly opposing things can affect a writer’s mental health in unexpected ways and how the pandemic has contributed to lowering many writers’ self-esteem.

Success and failure

Maybe you’re listening to this hoping to hear how to be a successful writer, or how to avoid failure. But I can’t tell you that, and beware of anyone who claims they can define this for you and get you there. How writers, and people as a whole, view success and failure is deeply personal. For some, success might be selling a million copies of a book, for others it can be research being noticed by a renowned scholar. It could be writing every day for a period of time, or sharing a piece with loved ones after dinner. I wanted to explore what writers believe success to be, so I asked around a few writing communities.

Most of them put great emphasis on tenacity and determination. Author and blogger Eden Gruger argues what makes a writer successful is their “perseverance, [to be able to] put words on a page even when life is really challenging. Which […] can be a lot of the time.

Others say success is for a writer to not ignore their true self and write because there’s no alternative, because of that compulsive passion within many of us. The answers all circled around the same idea of putting words on a page and focusing on bettering your writing craft always and without excuse. I was interested to find no one mentioned money or fame.

Many writers avoided giving their opinion on what constitutes failure in your writing practice. A few brave ones mentioned that stopping to write renders a writer unsuccessful. Going from their definitions of success, it’s pretty much impossible to fail at being a writer, because if you stop writing for a time, it’s a hiatus, you can go back to it when you’re ready, on the path to success once again. And if you stop forever, you’re not really a failed writer, you’re simply choosing to step away from being one.

A reaction to change

If you are wondering why I’m looking at success and failure together, it’s because they’re two sides of the same coin. And for many creatives, when you put something out in the world, it’s like the flip of a coin – there’s so many variables, it’s hard to predict results.

What is almost certain though, is that if you hit is big, or receive a disappointing response to your work, your resolve to continue working the way you were will be tested. Perceived success and failure brings about change and throws people’s routines off. They’re either celebrating or wallowing in despair. No matter which, they’re not being their most productive selves.

Writers’ desire for things to remain within their control and their comfort zone is not surprising.  A study on people’s resistance to change asked students to abstain from a habit and record their daily experiences for 3 weeks. Most of the students found that challenging in many different ways. Some found they set themselves up for failure by focusing on a big, difficult to reach goal; others self-sabotaged by putting themselves in situations where the cues for their habits were screaming at them and they had to work way harder to resist them; others found “ the actual amount of difficulty that a person encounters when implementing a change could be vastly different from the level of difficulty estimated by others”, meaning the people around you might not understand how difficult it is for you to go through with the change. All these barriers make people resistant to change.

HOST ANNOUNCEMENT

Before I continue with the stories of a couple of fellow writers, I want to plug the book to which you owe listening to this podcast. The Lavender Phantom, my upcoming romance thriller, is now available for presale at a special price for all the early birds. It’s 25% off and if you preorder now, you can join me in my preorder giveaway.

All details can be found on my website www.laineydelaroque.com/books. The creation of that book has informed a lot of the content I’ve discussed in this podcast, so I’m excited to share it with you all. It’s not been an easy journey but I’ve learned a lot along the way about writing, mental health and productivity.

Success and failure in the time of a pandemic

Unsurprisingly, when I asked writers about success and failure, there were those who referred to how the pandemic had affected them. It’s hard to imagine what the world was like when one could plan ahead comfortably, and rely on their surroundings to be predictable.

With chaos comes uncertainty, anxiety and inevitably, change. That same change that people fight against for the sake of known comfort. And I’m not judging anyone’s response to the difficulties of current times here, I’m only saying it’s unsurprising many people have slipped into unhelpful habits to cope. I’m one of those people too.

Here’s how Writer Jerry Greif shares his experience of writing and the pandemic: “I am finding that a general environment less engaged, less motivated, less focused is quite prevalent, understandable, right now. It’s reciprocal, I perceive and I contribute to it. Without an author partner […] I languish, doddle and develop more convincing (to me) distractions and excuses. I have two books well on their way developmentally and they currently are proficiently collecting dust. One is on pandemics and Covid for kids. Couldn’t be more appropriate and timely!

To Jerry I want to say that his book on the pandemics will be relevant for years to come so he shouldn’t feel too bad about being distracted by an international health crisis. Now is not the time to be harsh and punish ourselves for diminished productivity. From episode 1 of this season, which focused on self-care, I’ve been advocating for writers to treat themselves with respect and kindness, and take time to rest and replenish their creative energies.

While we’re in the middle of the pandemic, it’s difficult to see the big picture. Writers feel they’ve failed if they haven’t written anything during these turbulent, stressful months. But the truth is, this too will pass. And writers will write again. So be gentle with yourself and take it easy, one day at a time – if you can write, great, put pen to paper, if not – you’re not failing at being a writer, you’re just taking a much needed break to take care of the other parts of your being.

Author and Activist Victoria Noe shared her story to motivate those of us who think the pandemic is doom and gloom. Here’s what she said: “I think the thing that has enabled me to achieve what success I have is a willingness to adapt and learn – to be open to change. This is my fourth career, so I’m used to making big transitions. When all of my speaking engagements for the year were canceled in March, I had to regroup, because that was the major focus of my year. I was not resistant to change or to learning new skills. So success to me is a constant willingness to grow.

So, to sum up, while it is pretty much doom and gloom, there’s always opportunities for those who are prepared to be flexible and to embrace a little bit of discomfort to welcome change. The ability to pivot after a rough time is crucial to develop. Especially after we’ve established the path of a successful writer is one of perseverance and grit.

sO, TO SUMMARIZE…

Overall, success is in the eye of the beholder. Writer Terri Thomas commented that “the basis of mental health and success depends on a persons personal definition of success. If its defined by other people or by the expectations of society, then the person may feel failure and never see their accomplishments as success.

And I fully agree with that. Which is why in the last episode of this season I’m looking at exactly how to manage those external pressures and expectations and how not get discouraged while on the journey of being a writer.

But before that, next Tuesday (15th December), I will teach you how to deal with growth and success, whatever that means to you. It can introduce new stresses and unexpected time black holes in your writing practice, so reestablishing your routine and keeping your focus on the important things is crucial.

If you want to be up to date on Pen Garden news, subscribe to the show and sign up to my newsletter – sign up form available on the right (or bottom if you’re on mobile). Newsletters come once in the beginning of a season and once at the end so your inbox won’t fill up. As a bonus, all of them feature a cute animal and a book recommendation. So no spam, only cups of writing joy.

If you want to continue the conversation, you can poke me on The Pen Garden Facebook page or tweet me @laineydelaroque. Thanks very much for listening everyone. Hope you have an awesome week and speak to you soon.

Sources

 

 

Listen to all Available episodes of season 4:

Keep your writing career expectations in check– Success & Failure Episode 5

    Keep your writing career expectations in check What’s this episode about? Welcome to the final Episode 5 of the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways. In episode one of this season, an author I surveyed about […]

Set realistic writing goals– Success & Failure Episode 4

    Set realistic writing goals for 2021 What’s this episode about? Welcome to Episode 4 of the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways. Happy New Year! Let’s start 2021 with a bang and talk about setting achievable […]

Accepting feedback and rejection in your writing journey– Success & Failure Episode 3

    Accepting feedback and rejection in your writing journey What’s this episode about? Welcome to Episode 3 of the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways. We’re midway through season four, so it’s the best place to tackle […]

Success and your writing routine – Success & Failure Episode 2

    Success and your writing routine What’s this episode about? Welcome to Episode 2 of the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways. In this episode, I will look into why achieving your writer career dreams can be […]

Writers’ perception on creative success & failure – Success & Failure Episode 1

    Writers’ perception on creative success & failure What’s this episode about? Welcome to the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. Listen to the full first episode and/or scan the blog post below for the main takeaways. Today I will try to define what writerly success and failure is, and how they impact […]

Season 4 – Success & Failure – Overview

    SEASON 4 OF THE PEN GARDEN IS HERE!   What’s this Season about? Welcome to the fourth season of The Pen Garden Podcast. It’s titled Success & Failure. After a short break, I’ve come back to the podcast with lots of new ideas so I’m once again very excited to share them with […]

 

Or the episodes from seasonS 1,2&3: