Self-publishing is the greatest thing to happen to writers since the printing press. Today is the easiest day to be a writer. It’s the easiest time to get your work out there and actually get paid for it. All you have to do is be more than just a writer. You need to be a marketer, designer, publisher. Self-published writers are entrepreneurs.
The problem? It used to be the case that Type A writers just had to write and write. They would channel their workaholism into being massively prolific. But now being a writer and your own publisher AND being prone to overworking can lead to painful burn out.
Been there. Done that. As self-publishers, one moment we feel awed at the times we’re living in. We’re awed at the infinite possibilities. Then at other, darker times, we feel overwhelmed. We feel burdened by a million different things. First our writing suffers. Then our health. Then we go crazy.
But there is a way to avoid “type a self-publisher burn-out”. You need to remember these 10 things.
1. Waking life feeds your writing life
You need to have experiences.
As a self-publisher, you’re gonna be sitting in front of a computer screen. A lot. If you have a full-time job, you’re probably a knowledge worker, which means 9-5 in front of a screen for someone else.
You do your writing when you can. Get up early, sit in front of that screen. Or go to bed late and, again, sit in front of that damn screen.
Once the writing’s done, you still have more screen time. Yippee! Because as a self-publisher, you’re a one-man band. You gotta market and design and publish.
I love writing. But I HATE sitting in front of a computer for any more than a couple of hours a day. I’ve got persistent cramps in about 5 different places on my body from sitting down. I also get headaches from the screen itself.
The problem with all this screen time is that it’s actually detrimental to writing quality material. 99% of people have gotta step outside occasionally. You’ve got to see the real world. Come on, there’s nothing inspirational about carpal tunnel.
When you’re committed to reaching a word count each day and putting in the time needed to become a success, it can be easy to let the days slide by without doing anything fun.
If you’re Type A, you’ve got to actually schedule time away from the keyboard in advance.
Scheduling time off actually makes you more productive. If you’re truly Type A, think back to all the times you took a holiday (probably not that many). Remember how fresh you felt when you returned to work? You’re fired up and ready to go.
I recommend forcing yourself to take a “mini holiday” every week. An afternoon off, doing something fun will reinvigorate you and solidify your mental fortitude.
2. You have to read if you’re going to write
When I first jumped into the self-publishing game, I was so enthused about pumping out material and making it available to buy that I just spent all my time writing.
I spent months – maybe even close to a whole year – barely reading anything.
I wrote reams and reams of stuff. But it wasn’t very good. Something didn’t feel right.
I quickly figured out that the reason for my poor quality of writing is because I was malnourished. I wasn’t receiving any artistic input. I wasn’t learning what makes a good story by, you know, actually reading stories!
Stephen King put it best: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
To be a good writer means, first and foremost, being a good reader.
For the last few years, I’ve ensured that I read at least 1 hour per day. On average, it’s closer to 2 hours. Some lucky days, it’s 3 hours.
By reading, I mean proper reading. No screens. No Kindle. No reading app on your smartphone.
Disconnect. Get a stack of real books.
A good way to read more is to get up an hour earlier. I like to go to a cafe with a stack of books and read a chapter from each of them, occasionally making notes.
I don’t compromise when it comes to my daily reading time. And my writing comes out easier. I feel more creative. I also don’t cringe as much when I read my work back. In fact, sometimes I even think it’s pretty good.
- Ray Bradbury Writing Advice: The Bradbury Trio
- The Nobel Prize Book Challenge: 1 Laureate’s Work Every Month
- 18 Ways To Broaden Your Literary Horizons This Weekend
Another top tip: if you feel like procrastinating, walk to the bookstore. Spend some time browsing the books. I do this at least once a week and I always feel super fresh when I come home. It’s like taking a small dose of hydrocodone.
3. Sleep deprivation makes you churn out crap (literally)
I did the sleep deprivation thing for a while. I was one of the cool kids. Sleeping 4 hours a night. Oh yeah.
I thought it made me a hustler. That’s what all the other entrepreneurs do, right?
Maybe. But who cares about idiots bragging they only need 3-5 hours a night.
I did this for a year and what was the result? Depression. Really bad stomach problems. Poor writing. Taking ages to write.
It took a long time to get the whole “sleep less, work more” mentality out of my head. Even these days, I’ll wake up after 5 or 6 hours and automatically get up. I have to convince myself (for my art, health, life) to go back to bed.
I’ve started shooting for 9 hours a night. That’s pretty hard. But I’m getting good at hitting 8 hours a night.
The result? A massive boost in productivity. No stomach issues. More creativity. Plus I’m just happier all the time. I’m living a new reality.
Don’t believe the hustler hype. If you want to produce good quality work and have the mental stability to be your own publisher, you need to be getting enough sleep.
Don’t believe me? Fine. Listen to Arianna Huffington:
4. Building an audience takes time
Don’t kill yourself trying to “make it” 2 seconds faster.
The fact that we can self-publish our own works and speak to people from all over the world at the click of the button is a marvel. But just because the world is moving fast, it doesn’t mean that overnight success is suddenly possible.
Building an audience takes time.
Building a career as a writer takes time.
Building a catalogue of respectable works takes time.
It’s easy to forget that. I certainly did. I thought it I worked really hard, sacrificed sleep, and just attacked it relentlessly, I would be an established name in a year or two. Naive, I know. But I promise you I’m not the only one that thinks this.
You have to accept that you might not make it for years. You might not make it for decades. You might not make it until you are an old man or woman. If you can’t accept that, I have to question your commitment to this whole writing biz.
We’re in this for the long-haul. So settle in. Sit comfortably. And enjoy the ride.
5. You need a flexibility routine
Sitting is fucking you up.
Even if you don’t realise it yet. Hunching yourself over a desk day in, day out is doing permanent damage.
I heard somewhere that sitting is the new smoking. As an ex-smoker who definitely felt what the nasty habit was doing, I agree with this.
If you’re not already into the whole yoga thing, it’s going to be hard to start stretching every day. I know, it’s boring. At first. But once you get into it, it’s something you look forward to. You always feel amazing after a good stretching session.
I set myself the ambitious goal of stretching 1 hour every day and walking for at least 30 minutes a day or going for a walk at least every 90 minutes.
I don’t hit my goal every day but I always make sure to do something.
An hour of stretching actually improves my productivity. If it were a choice between an hour on the yoga mat and an extra hour tapping out words on my keyboard, I would always choose the stretching.
My personal stretching routine is the one outlined in Wim Hof’s course (highly recommended):
6. Feel like procrastinating? Take a walk
Related to the point above, walking really is something every writer should do.
It boosts blood flow to the brain, it gets rid of cabin fever, and it makes you more creative. Aimless walking has been the biggest antidote to procrastination for me.
When I find myself scrolling through clickbait news websites, I know it’s time to get outside and have a little stroll.
Famous thinkers and writers who loved a good walk include:
- Charles Dickens
- Vladimir Nabokov
- William Wordsworth
- Henry David Thoreau
7. Remember why you’re doing this
Getting stuck in a routine sucks.
Having a checklist of all the super important things you’ve gotta do also sucks.
Marketing, hiring editors, drawing up cover designs, hiring designers, social media, blah blah blah. Sometimes you forget that you are a WRITER.
When you are your own publisher, you develop a sort of Jekyll and Hyde split personality. Sometimes the publisher side of you is stronger and overpowers the writer side. You see your writing as a commodity that just needs to pump out. Then your writing starts to suck.
At times like this, you have to remember why you want to do this in the first place.
Money should not be the reason.
It can be one reason… I guess. A minor one. But it definitely shouldn’t be THE reason.
Good reasons for being a writer:
- Expressing truths
- The love of a good story
- Wanting to romance readers and whisk them away
Bad reasons for being a writer:
Banish thoughts of money and fame. That’s end-result nonsense anyway. Just focus on crafting a compelling story right now.
8. Writing is only 25% of this gig
Writing definitely is the most important aspect of this gig. You need to write first and write well in order to be successful.
But there are some self-publishers that believe writing to be 99% of the game. After that, they’ll just throw the book up on Amazon and people will find it.
I used to believe that.
I worked really hard, endless hours to craft a book I could be proud of. When I was done, I outsourced the cover design and put it up to buy. I was certain people would find it because it was a good book.
I was wrong.
There are way too many books out there for people to just randomly find your own because the content is good. Thinking that is super naive. And it’s really bad from a business point of view.
You’ve got to put a hell of a lot of focus into actually doing the “publisher” side of things.
If you’re one of the Type A writers that just writes, you might want to think about allocating some of your time to actually figuring out how to get readers. After all, that’s why we write, isn’t it?
9. There is no “competition”
Don’t buy books to “research the competition”.
Buy books because you want to study the craft and you enjoy reading.
The only person you’re in competition with is yourself. Tastes differ and I’m convinced there is an audience for pretty much anyone who wants it bad enough. There is no point comparing yourself to anyone else. You’re just different.
Do your thing. Always strive to be better than you were the previous day. But don’t lose one second of sleep worrying that you aren’t somebody else.
10. Be your own number one fan
Your fanbase won’t reach its potential for a while.
In the beginning, it will feel like nobody is reading.
The only way to counter the insanity that causes is to be your own number one fan.
You still need to take market considerations into account. You still need to craft a story that you fully believe your ideal audience will love. You still need to pay attention to your craft.
But the beginning is lonely. And people give up right before the dawn breaks. The only way to get through this stage is to write for yourself.
You have to enjoy what you’re writing. Sounds simplistic, right? I mean, what writer doesn’t enjoy what they’re writing?
It happens. You can get bored of the genre, the characters, the whole thing. You might have started out excited but as the months wear on, you are completely turned off by everything you write. That’s why, at every instance, you have to ask yourself: “If I were the reader, would I enjoy this?”
This simple question can reorient you and reinvigorate you. It will help you sail the lonely seas while you’re still finding your footing as a self-publisher.