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.
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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.
- Why the Super-Successful Get Depressed (website article)
- The Dark Side of Success and What I’m Changing in the New Year (website article)
- Lorraine Mace (Author)
Listen and subscribe
Listen to all Available episodes of season 4:
Or the episodes from seasonS 1,2&3: