Posted by Jamie Michele Nov 11 2014, 12:01 am in am i really saying this in public, books per year, expectations, feminism, Industry, maternity leave, pace, Victoria Dahl, writer's life
Two books and a novella.
That’s what I remembered being “normal,” back in 2011, before my son was born. It felt like a lot, but as an unpublished author, I didn’t think I had much say in the matter. Swim with the big fish or get left in the shoals. And before my baby was born, I could keep up. I mean, I wasn’t writing the sort of books that I absolutely love to read, but doing so would have required a much lengthier research period, and I didn’t feel like that was possible. Not with the pressure we were all under. I had to demonstrate that I could meet the very high expectations placed upon us. Whether or not I was writing the book of my soul was secondary to meeting the expectations of the industry.
Look, the first book I wrote won a Golden Heart. Doors opened for me. I couldn’t stand in the hallway. I walked through and got to work.
Then my baby was born.
I didn’t fall into motherhood as naturally as I’d hoped I would. He was large and needed almost constant feedings. He didn’t sleep well. He cried often, not quite enough to be called “colicky” but enough to make us feel like we were doing it all wrong.
This is not unusual, I know. What was unusual was that I hadn’t intended on taking any maternity leave from writing. I’d sold my first two books just weeks after my son was born. I meant to keep writing, to capitalize on this amazing sale to a fabulous publisher. But I couldn’t. Just….couldn’t. I was too tired, too sore. Even when I found free time, which was very rare, I couldn’t think of a single thing worth writing about. I tried. But I had no interesting inputs, and therefore I had nothing to output. I was drained. Empty.
But every other mother I’d talked to had been able to do it. Why couldn’t I? Why was I so weak-willed that I couldn’t do it all? Why was I so unimaginative that I couldn’t write while taking care of one little baby?
Failure. Guilt. Shame. You know the drill.
I soon found that I was happier when I was 100% devoted being a mother. So I stopped trying to write. We moved to live closer to family, became happier. Life got easier. My son flourished. He has turned out to be a bit of a physical and mental dynamo who was probably just pissed off that he didn’t pop out of the womb ready to run. Now, he’s in preschool, and I have twelve hours a week to write.
Except I’m not writing, not in the way I used to, with #1k1h sprints and daily tracking on a spreadsheet to keep myself motivated. I was happy but not healthy on that treadmill. Worse, I’d been afraid to write my most favorite kinds of books: multi-layered, beautifully written romances with a rich cache of historical detail and intricately woven mysteries.
Why was I afraid? They take a lot of time to write, especially if you’re starting from scratch in a historical period. I didn’t feel like I had that sort of time before. I just jumped in and started swimming. Frantically.
But now? I’ve been out of the game for three years. I’m a mother. I feel like I’ve been through battle. My skin has thickened. I’m not afraid of the industry anymore. (Oddly, this has carried over into my personal life, as well.) As long as I’m being true to myself, I don’t care very much what other people think of me.
So I’m writing what I love to read. Finally.
And I’m not NaNoWriMoing. Instead, I’m researching. I’m taking weeks to read and think and plan, and I’m not feeling anxious about how many words I’m writing or what the market is doing in the meantime. What matters to me now is whether or not I’m writing my very best book. My best. Every time. That’s how you make it, in my opinion. That’s how you find and keep devoted readers. By giving them your very best every time, as often as you can, but not so often that you die trying.
Let me repeat that: Don’t die trying.
Really. How is your thyroid? Your carpal tunnel? Your back pain? How’s your neck holding up? That tingling in your toes? Your weight? How’s your caffeine consumption? Your energy level? Your sex life? Your relationship with your non-writing friends? Your children? Your family? When’s the last time you had your teeth cleaned? How much pain medication are you taking? Alcohol? Anti-depressants?
When’s the last time you lamented your slow pace and wished you could just…write…faster? When’s the last time you heard a friend say the same thing?
Honey. Stop. Just…stop. Listen to me: you don’t have to do this to yourself. This is absurd! Why are we accepting these insane expectations as normal?
Because we are WOMEN, and women are supposed to make people happy.
Aren’t we? And it makes editors and agents and husbands very happy when we are extremely productive, and all the more so when we pretend that we can get up at 4:30 AM with a smile and that our backs aren’t killing us and that we don’t harbor a secret and unhealthy addiction to caffeine.
We are supposed to “do it all,” remember?
That’s our right as beneficiaries of feminism. If we don’t “do it all,” we are failures. Even though we think it’s really hard or perhaps even impossible to be extremely productive without driving ourselves into an early and painful grave, we think it’s WHAT WE SHOULD BE DOING. This is like the Mommy Wars, only there’s no one on the other side saying, “Hey! I’m tired. I’m sick. And I’m unhappy. I can’t meet these insane expectations, and I think we need to slow down and support each other in doing so.”
I think we’re doing it to ourselves.
Or at least we’re complicit in the agreement that this is all supposed to be normal. By nodding in agreement when some editor or agent or whoever talks about the crazy pace they want us to meet, we’re agreeing with the insanity. When we beat ourselves up for not meeting this unmeetable standard, we’re complicit with this craziness.
Well, bull. I think that what I should be doing is living a full and healthy life while also writing beautiful, well-researched and fully imagined books that I can stand behind 100% (rather than some half-baked, one-handed erotica that pays the bills but makes me feel like I’m not using my talent or speaking my truth. Not that that’s what I or you have been doing, but I know we’re all wondering if that’s what it’s going to take to make it big). I think that if more of us who cannot meet these unreasonable standards take a vocal stand against such pace, we’d all be better off.
For me, this is a feminist issue.
It’s an issue of women vs. women, and how hard we are on ourselves. Victoria Dahl gave a moving and brave speech at the Emerald City conference about how the whole “your heroine must be likable and good!” message is finally fading, and it’s because writers like her took a courageous and lonely stand against it. She feels that part of the “likable heroine” messaging that we receive is an extension of the “women must be likable” messaging that most of us would agree we have been receiving since birth.
So, I’ve begun having conversations like this one with my friends who feel that the expectations placed upon us are insane, and that those who manage to meet them are very often living unhealthy lives. I’m not saying that every writer who can meet this schedule with a smile are unhealthy; please don’t take offense if you are a productive, healthy writer. 😉 But most writers I speak to who are extremely productive are also secretly very, very tired and very, very sick.
We’re killing ourselves and encouraging our friends to do the same. I say it stops now. NaNoWriMo if if makes you happy. I’ll cheer you on! But if you feel like the pace of our industry is killing you softly, then please, for your own health, join me in writing at a more reasonable pace. I realize that we’re genre-fiction writers, and our readers do expect regular offerings. But our health and happiness is more important than our writing output. Don’t let the industry squeeze you dry in ten years flat. Find a steady, productive pace that allows you to maintain your own good health and loving relationships with your friends and family.
If I hear one more of you tell me that you skipped a family vacation to write, I’m going to get seriously angry over here!
Jamie Michele writes smart, sexy suspenses about women who never do what’s expected of them, and the men who should know better than to stand in their way. Check out An Affair of Vengeance, the first in a two-book sequence, on sale for $2!
Posted by Heather McCollum Mar 6 2014, 1:00 am in authors, Bloggers, conferences, Industry, Local conferences, readers
Have you ever attended a small writers/readers conference? I used to think that I had been to several. Compared to the over two-thousand attendees at the National Romance Writers of America conference, the Georgia Romance Writer’s fabulous Moonlight and Magnolia conference seemed intimate at three-hundred attendees. But this past weekend I attended the Tasty Author’s Weekend in Wilmington, North Carolina with under fifty other authors, readers and industry professionals.
At first glance I worried about getting anything out of such a micro conference. The hotel was small and quiet. There were no bunches of authors networking in the lobby, no packed elevators of badge-wearing attendees, and no lines waiting to check in with the Tasty Tours registration table. The pre-conference lunch only sat about thirty.
My mom had come along with me and we stepped to the back of the luncheon buffet line. After spending only five minutes waiting, we sat down with full plates and sweet tea. I introduced myself and my mom to the woman next to me. She was a well-known agent who had worked at Harlequin as an editor for years. Umm…wow. The luncheon speaker sat down with us. She was a multi-published author who had flown in all the way from Alaska for the weekend. Really? I gave her advice on public speaking since she seemed a bit nervous and I used to teach professionals how to give talks. She called me her angel for helping her and did a fantastic job.
Afterwards I hurried up to the conference room where I would give my first industry talk: Juggling Scissors and Glue to find Focus by Collaging your Next Book. I had four attendees. Sigh…
Collage Book Example
But, it was fabulous! The conference organizer attended, a reader from Upstate New York, one of my own chapter mates who’d I’d never really met before, and an award winning author of over sixty romances (Joanne Rock). Whew! We had so much fun clipping, gluing trading advice and learning about one another.
I met up with my mom for dinner and we ate in the hotel restaurant with several of the attendees I’d met already, including the agent. We talked about everything not industry related: families, health, vacations, movies, etc.
The cocktail party that evening had about thirty attendees and I made it a point to sit with people I didn’t know after waving to my dinner friends (yes, after learning about their families and laughing over our own failings I was starting to consider them friends). I met some more authors (one who’d flown in from Washington State), the editor at another publishing house, the multi-published author to speak at Saturday’s dinner, and then finally sat down at a table with a fun group of Indi erotica authors who showed me all their tattoos.
The three workshops I attended the next day were exceptional and allowed for constant audience participation and questions. The talk, Scene CPR by Laurin Wittig, may have saved my next book which is due to my editor in less than a week. Not only did Laurin save my book, but we found out that we write in the same sub-genre (Scottish historical paranormal romance) and now hope to travel to the northern Scottish isles together some day. I attended Joanne Rock’s talk on self-promotion, taking generous notes from her and the various bloggers in the audience. One blogger stayed after to help me figure out how to run a big contest (giving away two One Direction tickets!) for my next book release. She knows everything about contests and I had known nothing (FTC terms and conditions? What?!).
That night we had another wonderful buffet meal together with an inspiring talk and a small awards ceremony. Apparently when hotels make food for small groups, it doesn’t taste so much like “hotel food.” I even went back for seconds. And my book won a prize! Yay! Instead of hurrying, exhausted back to our hotel rooms to pack or trying to network in the lobby or bar, we all just stayed and talked in the banquet room. By the end of the night we were hugging each other goodbye, making sure we had each other’s contact info, and begging the conference organizer to put on another one in the future.
I never would have thought that a tiny conference could be so huge in benefits. I may have learned more over those two days, with under fifty people, than I learned at a four-day conference with thousands. I connected with an editor/agent who I now consider a friend (we plan to meet for coffee after realizing how close we live). I got personal help from an experienced blogger. I found a possible writer soul mate who wants to travel in Scotland with me. I became good friends with a published author who has more than sixty books under her belt. I had fun meeting nearly all the attendees and I digested important information from the workshops in small enough segments to allow me to remember nearly all of it.
Heather & Joanne Rock
Bottom line – the mini conference can be a fantastic, HUGE experience. I now recommend them with my whole heart. Look in your area. Look around the country. See if you can find a small and intimate writers/readers conference. It may just be the best one you ever attend.
Jennifer Bernard & Heather
If you have any recommendations, I’d love to hear about them!