Self-Publishing and Burnout

Once upon a time, I had an idea. It wasn’t like my other ideas. It was bigger and brighter and shinier. A whole imaginary universe went into motion when I sat with my notebook and pen and turned the key. I’d written stories before. Short ones, just a couple of characters, a quick resolution. None of those ideas were like this one. None of them had kept me awake at night; none of them had me leaping out of bed, eager to get the dialogue I’d dreamed down on paper. None of them had me in such thrall that I almost burned my house down, not once, but twice.

As I finished this first novel and wrote a few others, I cherished that joy. It sustained me through some of my darkest times. Nothing hurt when I was writing. My worries melted away for a while, and novel after novel piled up in photocopy paper boxes in my closet. Once in a while I’d dust one off and send it to an agent, and occasionally someone would get excited about it, but nothing ever came of that. So I kept writing.

Then, when self-publishing became an affordable possibility, I began to release them. Online friends helped me learn how to hit all the bases: get the website going, get an Amazon presence, and market, market, market and sell, sell, sell.

I marketed and marketed. I sold…sold…and then, not so much.

Approaching the five-year anniversary of “living the dream,” as we call it in Indie Land, I had a meltdown. I was sick. I lost weight. I was exhausted. I wrote, but I didn’t have the same verve. I keep a folder on my computer named “When I Feel Like Quitting.” Believe me, I dipped into that a few times.

I almost quit.

Then, at the end of 2016, I sat down with a big sketchpad I’d swiped from Art Husband and started sketching out my plans for the upcoming year. I’d been doing this for a while, inspired by Jim Devitt’s blog on Indies Unlimited.

That’s when I had my epiphany. I was in danger of letting everything needed to be a successful self-published author kill what I’d originally loved about the process: the writing.

And I knew that if I let it kill the writing, I’d be sunk. Writing keeps me sane; writing is my release valve; writing saves me from turning into a raging bitch.

So I made lists. A lot of lists. Things I needed. Things I needed to stop. I pulled back on a lot of my commitments, nearly everything that wasn’t related to paying the bills and regaining my health.

I’m ready to dip a toe back in again. I’ve already done a couple of small promotions, and I’m using that same sketchpad to make notes for my next book release, which will happen later this year. But maybe a little less frenetically and more mindfully than in previous years.

And yes. Writing is a joy again. You’re welcome.

Have any of you come out the other side of burnout? What did you do to get over it?

The Sacrifice

Happy Friday! I’ve been thinking about this character for a while, so I let her tell me what to write for 2-Minutes-Go. Maybe you’ll want to drop by and play sometime.

—–

Svetlana searches for a way out of her predicament. Her opponent has boxed her up good. How he’d managed to hold the center of the board and push her powerful pieces to the outside is a mystery. Is she slipping? Staring so long at the squares she can no longer grasp the big picture, the end game? Grime blurs the seams between black and white squares, between good and evil, between past and future.

“You’re a tricky one, Anatoly.” She imagines a corner of his mustache lifting while she keeps her laser focus on the game and considers what to do next. Move this one and he takes the pawn… She can live with that. Move that one and he captures the bishop and she’ll take his knight… It will be a good trade; it will give her more freedom. But then… The headache is starting again, the burning pain behind her eyes, the tension up the back of her neck.

Too much chess. Since she was small her father had been teaching her; he claimed it helped young and wayward minds learn focus and problem solving. She credits him for that. She knows how to focus. Perhaps too well, at times. Well enough that she can concentrate on a game for hours and not notice the time until her stomach cries for food, until the muscles in her shoulders ache from stillness. Problem solving? That hasn’t always worked out so well. But at least she knows she has the power to work through all of her available options.

She squeezes her eyes shut to block out the old voices, the old memories, as Papa taught her, and in that space of moments, a fly has landed on king’s bishop five. It’s the first thing she sees when she again opens herself to the world. Bottle green and wings buzzing, it turns a complete circle as if evaluating her position and his. Easy to do with his complex eyes. “Tell me, friend,” she says to the uninvited guest. “What would you do?”

Anatoly doesn’t answer. After all these years he knows Svetlana, how she reasons things out to herself, usually aloud, sometimes for minutes or even longer.

Finally, with a gasp of triumph, she slides her bishop across the board and takes his rook. How could he have been so careless to leave it undefended? And worse, how could she have been staring at the eight-by-eight grid and not have seen something so blatant?

Perhaps they are both slipping. “Ha,” she says, clapping her hands together. “Now how are you going to answer that?”

“Well, I don’t know,” says the voice. Startled by the intrusion, Svetlana looks up. The woman is back again, the new one, her mouth an angry slash as she sticks a long, crooked finger through the bars. “But I know how I’m gonna answer. I’m gonna ask you to shut the hell up, ’cause you’re keeping everybody awake playin’ your damn invisible chess again.”

Svetlana lets out a long breath as the spell breaks, as the chessboard melds back into the black and white tiles of her cell floor. The game will keep. She remembers where they’d left all the pieces. And Anatoly will always be waiting.