Well folks, we made it: 2021. And while nothing’s really changed, I think we all feel a weight has lifted. The vaccine rollout has started and while it will take time to get to most of us, our collective gaze is focused on the future. Hope is back. We know this upside-down hellscape will end.
Clearly, we’d all prefer to pretend the calendar went from 2019 to 2021 but we can’t. And guess what? We shouldn’t. This past year was full of lessons – we were challenged beyond belief. We had to juggle and handle more than we ever thought we could. And we did it, proving we’re stronger and more resilient than we believed ourselves to be.
It’s taken a toll, though. This last year we had to be all the things to everyone just to keep our battered lifeboat afloat. Unfortunately the struggle isn’t over, so we need to find a new way to manage everything to avoid a crash-and-burn. Let’s unpack what can be done.
1. Slow Your Roll
Typically January is a time for beating our chests, shouting writerly war cries, and leaping into the new year. Admirable, but we haven’t yet figured out if 2021 is an older dog snoozing on the porch or a rabid, blood demon ready to bite. So, rather than stacking your next twelve months minute-by-minute, step back and self-assess: how is my family doing, and what do they need? How am I doing and what do I need? Once these are answered move on to, how can I take care of these and make strides forward in my writing?
Balance should be on our radar right now, and not stretching ourselves too thin. What will fuel you and make you happy this coming year? Set intentions for yourself that help your writing career and nourish your spirit. Maybe you want to read more fiction, play around with a new genre, or take a class on screenwriting because you’ve always wondered what that side of the fence is like. Or you know creating new habits will make you feel better overall: walking every day, taking breaks from the desk, eating better or getting more rest.
I get your first instinct might be to hit the writing/publishing/marketing/go-go-go mat with everything you’ve got, but is it sustainable after such a rough year? Do what you can but make room for things that bring you joy.
2. Don’t Freak Out
Every year I read predictions from industry experts to better see what the marketing landscape looks and I’m sure you do, too. Some are saying that last year, lots of people picked up a pen and so they’ll be publishing those books this year (whether they should is another discussion). The consensus is that authors should expect more competition and so will want to focus on platform to help themselves stand out.
This may be excellent advice for a normal year when your tank is full and your engine is revving at January’s starting gate. But a year when you’re carrying a heavy load already and trying to ration your last energy bar? I don’t know. Is pushing yourself to spend even more time on social media, investigating, joining, and navigating new platforms, figuring out visibility algorithms, investing ads to bring people to you, etc…is this the best use of your time?
I can’t answer this, only you can. But it’s wise to remember two things: 1) you only have so much time and energy in the bucket and 2) sometimes less is more. Investing time in one or two social spaces to connect with potential readers will pay off more that stretching yourself thin trying to do it all. Identify what is best to focus on and don’t feel pressured to do more than you think you need to. For you, maybe the biggest platform move you can make is growing your newsletter list, not getting yourself on TikTok, starting a podcast, or mastering Facebook.
Will there be more books published in 2021? Yes. Some will be terrible, some will be good, as always. Remember, only a fraction of a fraction of the good books are your “competition” (Why air quotes? Because other authors aren’t competitors, they are assets. Another post for another day). Every book has its own set of readers so you only need to worry about reaching the ones right for YOUR book. So whatever you do regarding platform, make sure you’re specifically funneling time into gaining a foothold with your exact audience not worrying about all those other authors and their books.
3. Remember Your Why
I am speaking from experience on this one when I say that when you’re overwhelmed, it is easy to become utterly disillusioned. You question your path, why it’s taking so long to achieve the success you hoped, and maybe start thinking your path lies elsewhere. This often leads to setting aggressive goals in a “this year I kill it or I give up” deadline, or you plod along, unhappy and even more unproductive, which in turn causes more stress and feelings of inadequacy. Both are unfair to you, the work you have put into your writing, and will leave you feeling even MORE worn out.
So, cut yourself some slack. This career doesn’t happen overnight, and that’s okay–anything worth doing is worth doing well. Pick up a book, watch a movie…get lost in the beauty of story. Remember WHY words called to you in the first place. Remember how books made you feel BEFORE you started to write, how they were your companion, your solace, your guide. And then think about how your stories will give that gift to others one day. There’s no race going on here, so remember your “why” and let yourself fall in love with the journey again, not just the result.
4. Stay Connected
We writers are often lone wolves when it comes to putting pen to paper, but we still need people. Our peers can help us problem solve, grow, and stay sane. Having an online writing community is a great way to stay connected when other avenues for connection have closed. I’m partial to The Critique Circle as it’s where Becca and I met, but here’s a list of communities to look into.
5. Set Micro Goals, Not Macro Goals
I know many of us want to set big goals because we feel like the last year totally sidelined us, but in times of uncertainty, things are not always in our control. So this might be a year to plot our course forward through a series of achievable, micro goals. Like stepping stones across a creek, they will still get us to our destination, and we can celebrate each one as we accomplish it rather than pine for the “big” goal. Succeeding on a smaller scale renews energy levels and, should something happen to derail us, allows us to pivot and regroup more easily. Win-win.
All of these are about the same thing…protecting your mindset so you don’t overextend yourself.
Burnout isn’t pretty and many of us are flirting with it (or we’ve hit the wall already). 2020 was about survival, and managing a crisis. 2021 will be a year of transition where we continue navigating challenges but are looking to also begin reclaiming our lives. So as you chart your course, think about your own well-being as much as the goals you want to achieve. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, so let’s pace ourselves and celebrate each win as it comes!