(TL;DR - I cancelled my latest book pre-order and I’m not sure when the book will be done. If you love long posts, keep reading. If you don’t have time for that, thank you for understanding!)
Something has got to give.
I used to write a lot, lot faster, and so I keep doing the same thing over and over again: convincing myself that I * CAN * do it.
I USED to do it, piece of cake.
I used to smash out 5k in a day, 7 days a week. These days, many days, I struggle to write 300 words. I just had an entire month off from serious writing, when I went to England to attend a book signing and my brother’s wedding. So my brain has had a decent enough break.
But … it hasn’t helped my concentration.
My ability to focus is still shot. And all the noise-canceling headphones, word count trackers, babysitters, sprinting buddies and good intentions aren’t helping me to stay focused for long enough to get any measurable word count happening.
Some people THRIVE on deadlines. I call them professional writers.
Me? I’m a messy, crazy artist.
I have my writing set up like a professional. I have a fancy sit-stand desk and the best accountants money can buy and a fancy official business structure that helps me with my tax.
But there is exactly zero “professional” action involved about the way I throw words at a page. I have a lot of stories I want to tell, and they don’t follow a linear timeline.
When I wrote my first series, I was able to hyper-focus. I smashed those words out like you wouldn’t believe. I managed to do it all in the 2-3 hour nap that my daughter would have every afternoon from age 2-2.5 (coincidentally, the only time in her life when she has slept like other kids).
It was a crazy couple of years, when I first became a mother. I wasn’t getting any sleep anyway, so those nights sitting up typing with one hand and rocking the baby with the other were my first introduction to the torture that is sleep deprivation.
The writing was my distraction from the utter chaos my life had become. I became obsessed with it. I thrived on pushing myself as much as possible, and I’m damn proud of what I wrote.
It became addictive, too! I couldn’t control when my baby would sleep, but I could damn sure control my writing. There was something so soothing and fulfilling about having that escape in a life full of chaos.
Well, a lot. After about four years of staying at home, my husband confessed his need to be in the workforce again. Away from the home. With other adults. And I totally got what he was saying, even though it was a hard pill for me to swallow (What do you mean you need me to DO STUFF other than write?)
Being the one at home is, I think, much harder than being the one at work (I mean, unless you’re an ER nurse or the Prime Minister or an SAS soldier. Those jobs are HARD). But I recognised that his role at home – essentially being the manager of the family, doing school drop offs and pick ups, making sure everyone is fed something halfway nutritious, the monotony of dishes / washing / vacuuming that only seems to last a moment before the “clean” house falls apart again – was infinitely more difficult than mine, and in many ways, less personally fulfilling.
Yes, it’s wonderful to be able to get to see your kids at pick-up each day, and having a parent at home is a luxury that is becoming increasingly harder to achieve in this day and age of requiring dual incomes just to pay for life’s essentials. But it’s also dealing with the after-school whining from tired kids, the mountains of washing that seem to breed in the laundry hamper, finding stuff your picky kid will eat, remembering to pick up the fucking milk because you ran out again – it’s a frustrating role.
And I’m trying not to be sexist here, but I do believe that woman, for the most part, ARE better at this constant multi-tasking, everything-in-your-head-at-once, family management. My husband had filled this role for four years out of the six that we’d been parents. I’m tagging in again.
And running a household is a full-time job in itself.
What else changed?
My daughter grew up, from a non-sleeping, always crying baby with a million allergies and a set of lungs that could shatter glass; into a toddler, and then a little girl, who is now six.
She sleeps (has done for a long time now).
She can eat anything. Her allergies / intolerances are gone.
She is smart and sensitive and tells the best jokes. She laughs now instead of crying.
I find her fascinating.
I adore her.
I don’t want to always be working at night and on weekends.
I want to be with her.
The fact that I have 6 kid-free hours every day (while the kiddo is at school) should mean that I can get those words written a damn sight faster than I used to when I only had 2-3 hours available… right? No, well, I should at least be able to write at the same pace?
You’d think so!
I wrote this insanely long post about my mental health and stress levels and how this crazy 80-hours-plus-a-week work schedule I’ve been dedicated to for the past five years is killing me. But I deleted it. I tend to overshare when something disappointing like cancelled book release happens, but nobody needs to know every single detail. Nobody needs to know my entire life history or shit like that, just because I’m postponing a book release date.
So here’s the gist …
A total Optimist when it comes to a release schedule
A parent who hasn’t been around enough
A wife who needs to spend time with her husband
A girl who doesn’t want her dream to become a nightmare
And I have been SO FUCKING STRESSED. I’ve been exhausted from the constant floods of panic. It’s self-induced and it’s unnecessary. It stops now. I’m getting off the hamster wheel. I feel better already, just from making that decision.
Part of being a writer is being fascinated by what makes people tick. Why we do things the way we do. And in the interest of self-preservation, I turned that curiosity on myself. I started to look at the things that cause me a lot of stress and make me go into avoidance mode (procrastinating is classic avoidance).
I really wanted to figure out WHY deadlines make me crazy. WHY release dates make me break out in hives. I love the writing. I even love the marketing. So what gives? Why can’t I just release a book when I say I’m going to?
I read some books, did a bunch of personality tests. One of them was The Four Tendencies by Gretchen Rubin. Here’s a nifty little image representing the four personality types she identifies:
Guess which one I am? Go on, take a wild stab.
I’m a rebel, ladies and gentlemen. It’s not a common personality type (ooh look, I’m unique! LOL.) I’m the kind of person who isn’t motivated by expectations: from other people, or from myself. Yeah. Unless I want to do something, I just don’t do it. Sounds like a fucking toddler, if you ask me. I was actually pretty down after I first read this book and recognised the rebel flame burning bright in myself. Because the book gives every other personality type specific and plentiful instructions on how to make life easier and achieve more with your particular personality quirks. The message for rebels boiled down to this:
Good luck. You’re basically fucked.
So, yeah. After I got over that, I decided to stop beating myself up. I am who I am, and although I am NOT defining myself based on some book that someone wrote based on their own opinions and biases, I AM giving myself permission to go back to creating my art the way it works for me. Without pressure. Without pre-orders. Without STRESSSSSSSS.
I’m taking an undetermined amount of time off, to just be Mom and chill TF out. Have some Mother/daughter dates with my daughter. Drink some wine, cook some elaborate dinners with said wine in hand. Get out to see friends that I’m always “too busy” to see. Be parent helper for my daughter’s class for the first time this year. Take a road trip that doesn’t involve me on my laptop the entire time, trying to get a book finished. I might even get all my washing folded, who knows? (Haha just kidding, let’s not get too carried away).
I likely won’t be on social media much, except for putting up some posts when I feel like it. I definitely won’t be checking Messenger. I probably won’t send a newsletter, I won’t answer emails, and I doubt I will write much. I want a proper break. My family needs me to be present, instead of mentally checked out. And you, my beloved readers, don’t need me to burn myself out so hard that I just walk away and never write another book again. Because we’ve got a nasty fucking cliffhanger dangling at the end of my last book, and I’m determined to give you the rest of the story! All in good time.
Here’s what I’m not doing anymore:
Working any time other than school hours (9-3 Monday to Friday – yup – terrifying to me)
Working during school holidays
Working through family holidays
Working through school events like assemblies and sports carnivals
Keeping the Facebook Messenger app on my phone (DELETE!)
Checking emails when I’m not at my desk (bye bye, gmail app!)
Enabling private messages on my Facebook Author page (that’s what email is for!)
Being an asshole to my family when they interrupt me while I am working the entire weekend again
Stumbling to bed at 8am (yup, AM) again to grab a couple hours sleep because I HAD to get something written urgently
Answering emails / messages / texts / anything immediately
Announcing release dates before the book is completely written and with the editor
Doing Amazon pre-orders. EVER AGAIN.
Promising anything that revolves around firm dates or times – release dates, I’m looking at you!
I’m too all-over-the-place to plan too far into the future. I used to think that was a terrible affliction to have, but you know what? It just makes me different. I’ve tried being a “business” person and scheduling out my releases. It doesn’t work. I don’t know what I’ll be most inspired to work on from one month to the next. I’ve tried forcing myself to just work on the one project at a time. It makes me sad because then when I do ever get to the next project, the fire to work on it has turned to a pile of ash.
I’m not a NYT Bestseller, but I’ve still managed to sell over a million books since I started out.
And as I have been constantly reminding myself lately, I didn’t build a career on selling books through (amazon) pre-orders.
I built it on passion and love for the written word and connecting with you lovely people about our shared obsession with good books.
The moment I started trying too hard to be a “real” author, everything stopped being fun.
The joy got sucked right out of what I do.
And without the joy and the fire, why on earth would I keep writing?
Never fear. I am not quitting. I am just flipping things. Moving priorities. I’ll be back in good time. And I’ll be back with ALL the words.
This is not meant to be a “woe is me” post.
I’m really, really happy.
And now I’m signing off to go and drink coffee in the spring sunshine on this FABULOUS friday afternoon, with some dear friends and our kids.
If anyone else is struggling with overwhelm, I hope this helps in some way. As women, we are told that we can do anything! Be anything! But it doesn’t mean we have to do EVERYTHING, be EVERYTHING all at once.
Being a martyr is not a life goal I’ve ever had.
Spinning all those plates in the air is overrated.
Go hug your kids if you have them, kiss your husband / partner / best friend, take a bath, jump in the ocean, go for a walk outside.
The work is still going to be there when you get back – and you’ll be that much happier doing it, because you took care of yourself first.
P.S. Some answers to questions I am anticipating:
Will all be sent out as normal. I’m still waiting for the latest shipment of ordered books to arrive at my house, so I can sign, pack and send them. Western Australia is sooooo far away, things take forever to get here. Your books and candles ARE coming on time, as promised :)
I’m still attending all of these that I’m booked in for.
My pre-order forms are up on my events page, and invoices will go out closer to the event. Perth, that’s looking like next week for invoices, and pre-orders for that signing close tomorrow.
Sydney, I’ll make contact in November / December – but feel free to pre-order now so you don’t forget!
If you have a burning question, the only way to make contact will be email. You can find contact details on my about page xxx