Creativity Busters (AKA Avoiding the Writer Meltdown)

This was written around October 2010.  I originally published it on Myspace.  I found this in a draft folder and thought the same stuff still applies so why not post it?

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I have been thinking of the things that have led to my “writer meltdown”.  You know, the one that inspired me to write multiple posts that drove everyone crazy and earned me the title “ranter of the year” on a certain website?  Just kidding.  I got no such title…at least not that I know of.  

I’m in the period of reflection.  What drove me to this point?  How could I have set up enough boundaries (with myself and others) that would have allowed me to go through the crazy period I just did unscathed?  How can I avoid another meltdown?

I guess I should define “writer meltdown”.  It’s when a writer, for one reason or another, hits an invisible wall where he/she is unable to write anything on paper because of all the things going on around him/her.  This is different from writer’s block.  And yes, I’m aware some authors don’t believe in writer’s block, but I do because a block is what it sounds like: the inability to press forward and write the story…however, the thing stopping the author from writing is within.  Most of the time it’s because the story isn’t going in the direction it’s meant to go.  This has nothing to do with outside influences.

But a writer’s meltdown does.  I’m going to list some of my outside influences.  And yes, I know I am responsible for how I responded to these things, but since they threw me off guard, I didn’t see them coming and didn’t adequately prepare myself ahead of time.  Also, in a meltdown the author can successfully write the story if the outside influences are dealt with, which also makes it different from a writer’s block.

Okay.  So here we go.  This is my second writer’s meltdown this year.  In my first on (back in March-April), these were the culprits:

1.  Checking for any reviews I got on places like Amazon, Smashwords, and Goodreads.

This is such a bad idea.  It doesn’t seem like it at first because for the longest time you don’t have any reviews.  The danger isn’t there until you’ve sold enough books to get outside your immediate circle of influence, and the wider your circle gets, the more people you reach and sooner or later, you’ll reach enough people where you’ll run into people who hate your book.  Not only will they hate your book, but they will often be nasty and rude about it.

Look, one thing I’ve learned in all the reviews I’ve gotten (good and bad and indifferent) is that reviews are not a true reflection of the book.  It’s a reflection on that particular reviewer’s reading preference.  That’s it.  Either the book “jived” with them or it didn’t, and even if that book had been a hit with them, someone else wouldn’t like it.  So if you’re checking out reviews, you’re letting someone else put a value on your book, and when you do that, you’re letting them tell you how good or bad you’re doing as a writer.  When you do that, you will suffer in your ability to write at your best.

I say, “Screw that.  Leave the customer reviews to the other readers to read and deal directly with your fans instead.  Your fans (your target audience) are the ones you want to please.  Those outside your target audience don’t matter.  It might sound cold, but it’s true.  We write for a certain audience, not everyone.  

2.  Paid attention to people who emailed me with “your book sucks because…” or “you need to change…” message.

Don’t give these people the time of day.  The problem with these people is they never put “book complaint” or “your book sucks” in the subject of the email.  If they did, we would save ourselves a lot of grief because then we’d never read the email.  We’d hit reply right away, send out the “Thank your for your feedback.  I’m always looking for ways to improve my writing.  Sincerely, your name here.”

But no, they usually put the title of your book or “feedback” (which I’ve gotten on good and bad emails so I can’t use that as an indicator to what I’m going to get when I open it up) in the subject.  So it’s a gamble.  However, as soon as you see, “I dont want to upset you but…” stop reading.  What comes next does not apply to you because it really applies to this person writing the email and what they would do as a writer.  Do you know who typically sends me those types of emails?  Other writers.  I rarely get these from readers-only type of people.  Writers will either be among your biggest supporters or harshest critics.

If your fans (target audience) likes the book, you’re okay.

3.  Watching the sales’ reports.

Yeah, I know it’s hard.  It’s like a gambling problem, but it’s devastating on the ego when the numbers go down, esp. when you get a huge jump.  Sooner or later, you hit your peak, and then you come back down.  Now, I will say there does seem to be a leveling off effect that slowly emerges after the book has peaked.  And adding another book does increase sales after about a month of being up.

What I’m saying is the book doesn’t always stay at the peak.  Unless you are mentally prepared for this, it will devastate you because you’ll fear no one will ever buy your books again (you are now off the map for good).  So expect it.  Sales will ebb and flow, and I am starting to believe they will eventually level out so they sell at a consistent pace.  And yes, I truly believe offering all your books for free will kill your potential for making this steady income stream a reality because time and time again, people would buy my book off of Amazon, go to my website, and download the rest for free.  I’m not begrudging them that they did this.  I’m kicking myself for being stupid enough to offer them all free like that in the first place.  (Plus after awhile, people take advantage of that generosity and expect you to send them your first draft because they just can’t wait to read the next book or send pdf files because everywhere they tried to download, it wouldn’t work.  I’ve gotten these emails and more.)

[Edited in 2012 to add: a couple of free books, esp. the first in a series, can work to your advantage.  But every single book being free?  Bad idea.]

Okay.  That’s what I did wrong in March-April.  What did I do this time that led to the great meltdown of September-October.

Well, I will start with what someone else did and blogged about:

4.  Responded to people who left negative (as in nasty reviews) on her books.  I just witnessed a well-known author who I kind of know but not really (acquaintance) getting burned for this.  She was polite, offered a free book to make up for their bad experience, and suddenly, she had two people ganging up on her on Amazon and Goodreads.  Currently, she is on a break from the world because she went through her own version of what I term a “writer’s meltdown”.  It turns out, this is not uncommmon.  Other authors reported on her blog that they were also ganged up on when they tried to be nice to someone who left a nasty review on their book.  [Edited 2012: To clarify, there is a huge difference between an objective 1-star review and a blatant nasty review.  1-star objective reviews are good.  Nasty reviews meant to attack are bad.]

Just face it.  Some readers will leave scathing reviews on a book and feel perfectly justified in doing so.  You can’t stop mean people from being mean.  All you can do is ignore them, and fortunately, that is easy enough to do if you don’t check your reviews.  By the way, this author concluded all writers are better off not looking at places like Amazon and Goodreads to check reviews, so I’m not the only one preaching this, and she is a very well-known and popular indie author.

5.  Tried to help every single author who emailed me with a question.  This was draining on my time, and you can spend a good couple hours a day doing this because their questions which take five seconds to write, take a good half hour to respond to.  Or they want critiques or book reviews or for you to read their blog, etc, etc, etc.  If you haven’t gotten these yet, then you haven’t sold enough books.  I promise you if you sell enough, they’ll come.  I’m not the only author who has needed a break from everything becasue of this.

I’m currently exchanging “war stories” with another author (different from the one in 4).  I also wouldn’t get caught up in sharing interviews (unless you do it with one or two authors every blue moon and make their blog post relevant to your blog topic–as in no “promo this book from this person only” post).  Why?  Because then you’ll have another author who wants to be featured and another and another until you’re no longer writing for your blog readers but servicing other authors, not getting paid for it, and losing your readers.  I get a lot of flack from new writers in this area, but hey, I’ve seen too many blogs fall flat and become meaningless because of this.  Your blog is about you.  It’s not about other authors.  Let other authors get their own blogs and plug their books all they want.  They don’t need your space to do it.  If you want to mention an author, fine.  But don’t make it a common thing.

I get a lot of emails from other authors.  You spend all your time helping everyhone else, you end up with no real time to write your own stories, and when that happens, you get drained.  Your fans email you and want to read the next book so “Are you writing it yet?  When do you think you’ll start?  I’ve read all your books and there’s no one else I enjoy as much as you.”  Then you think, “What the heck am I doing, busting my butt for these writers when my first priority is to my readers?  You know, people who are actually willing to buy my books?  I don’t get paid to give writers advice.”

Here’s my solution to this one: on your blogs and contact me page, make a form letter ahead of time.  Tell writers to ask you their questions in your blog (if it’s dedicated to writing subjects, such as this one or the Self-Published Author’s Lounge), give them links to book reviewers you know about, send them to websites where you believe they can glean good information about publishing and/or book promotion.  Then explain you have too many writing commitments to spend all your time in emails answering questions in this area.

That is what I opted to do because I figure why flood my inbox when I can nix this in the bud?  It’s working so far.  I had a couple of writers follow me on Facebook and subscribe to that Self-Published Author’s Lounge blog because of this and now they are asking questions there.  This is great because other writers can benefit from the authors on that blog answering their questions.  Or you can make a form letter and deal with them on an individual basis.  I’d rather not go through the individual headache, though.

6.  Fear that people won’t think my books are worth buying.  So my sales will sink and I’ll lose money.  This is one I have to press through.  And it’s why I’ve had to surround myself on Facebook with my fans to admit my fears and remember that I got the fans not because I gave out free books but because I gave out free books that were worth reading.  And I was surprised by the people who said they’d be willing to buy my next book, some saying they already did, and others saying I should have done this sooner.  I have been getting some emails in the past saying I need to charge for my books to get paid for my work, so it’s not like I suddenly heard this.  But I think every author goes through the, “Will people really think my book is worth buying when they can get others for free?”

I don’t want readers who settle for me.  I want readers who seek me out.  I do believe I’ll work through this fear just fine.  It’ll just take a couple months of the “sky not falling” for it to sink in my head.  Now, I still have three novellas and one short story up for free on my site, and yes all of them are still up on Obooko (and I decided to let those stay there instead of going through the hassle of taking them down).  I know my books are on Scrib’d.  But Joe Konrath is not particularly concerned about pirated books and neither have other successful authors.  So I’m not stressing it.  But in the future, my future books will not be uploaded to Obooko and it’s as easy as that.

I’ll end this here because that is the bulk of it all, and you know, the minute I put a price tag on my books and told writers that I will no longer be taking personal emails, my meltdown resolved quickly, and I have been able to to write 11,200 words in two weeks.  I think it’s been two weeks since I went on my writing break, right?

Categories: The Writer & Author, Writer's Block & Burnout

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14 thoughts on “Creativity Busters (AKA Avoiding the Writer Meltdown)

  1. I haven’t had a meltdown yet. But sometimes I feel like I’m right on that edge. If I didn’t have such an easy-going nature, there’s no telling what kind of stress I would have allowed in my life.

    • I usually stress out over things and need to figure out ways to decrease worry. I know there’s the whole “you control how you react to things” part of stress, but if I can avoid the triggers, it helps.

  2. Well said! I am passing this on!

  3. I’ve had more than my share of meltdowns!

    I don’t obsess over sales reports or Amazon rankings. I started out in conventional publishing, and the numbers on the royalty statements had ups and downs to rival any roller coaster on the planet! I got a huge check once, and six months later, I got one for $12!

    A friend and fellow author has observed–more than once–that marketing our books to another authors just doesn’t work. One author in our circle never gives reviews, never promotes anyone else, but is probably wondering why no one is offering support/reviews/etc. I’ll support friends, but I don’t have the time to do it for everyone.

    I do free ebook promos when I have a new book coming out, just to generate interest. None of them are always free.

    And I couldn’t agree with you more on the topic of reviews. I just did a blog post on the topic of Amazon customer reviews myself.

    • I read your post and agree. Reviews are at the point where they’re meaningless, especially when they’re loaded with poor written and don’t say anything useful. Objective reviews that take a good look at the contents of the book are rare and hard to come by.

      I stopped reviewing books on Amazon because it seems that some of the people on the forums over there view that as a bad thing. I’d rather pass along a book I enjoy on a blog if I think the readers of the blog would also be interested in it. At least there, people thank me instead of accuse me of being a shill for someone.

      The sales fluctuations are way too erratic for me to handle. I guess regardless of how you publish, the amount of money isn’t something you can rely on. I’d think going with a publisher would give authors a competitive edge when it comes to self-publishing since they’ve proven their ability to write quality books. Are your self-published titles are more stable?

  4. I agree that checking your reviews and responding to bad reviews are bad ideas. Some advice I received in this regard is that a bad review is usually the result of someone outside your target audience finding you. They would not like your book regardless of who wrote it. It’s one of the reasons that genre, tags, and book blurbs are so important.

    Watching your sales report can make you crazy. Too many people get suck on checking their ranking and sales everyday. Although checking it at the end of the month can help with business because you know which books are doing good and which aren’t. When you sell the most books in the year or seasons. Also what type of books to focus on so you can tailor your writing more for readers.

    Reading fan mail from people who think your book sucked can be terrible, but also enlightening in some cases. I know that the biggest complaint I get is editing. They liked the book, hated the editing. But it’s still hard to hear, especially when you’ve had a lot of people looking over it and proofreading it. I have a fan mail folder so when I’m down I can read through them and know that people liked the book. They are my target audience, not the others that stumble upon it.

    Fear of people thinking your book isn’t worth buying is a hard one to overcome. It helps having fan mail and seeing that “yes, my book is selling” that helps that. If the book isn’t doing either, it’s time to find a honest reader/writer in your target audience that will tell you what they think of the book. Sometimes we are blind to the faults of our work and a small tweak on the cover, back blurb, or in the book itself can help.

    For writers who contact me with questions, I usually answer/send them here, or I send them a list of links of writing and publishing website that I found helpful. They should be doing their own research first and then ask other writers when they can’t find the answer. Most often I find a quick search will bring up pages of results, letting me know that they either didn’t use the proper search term or didn’t want to take the time to research their question which is pure laziness on their part.

    Okay, I think I’ve commented enough to make a post. I’m heading back to my other work. :D

    • Yep. I think most of the time when someone doesn’t like your book, it’s because the person wasn’t in the target audience you wrote for. I do look at sales at the end of the month so I can budget out two months in advance for what I can or can’t do. And I agree that looking at what books are selling well and which aren’t can help when we’re looking at what to write more of in the future. Those are all good business moves. :D

      I agree on the rest of what you said, too.

  5. Awesome post, Ruth. The information, as you stated, is as true today as when you wrote it. I check reviews every once and awhile but do not do it often. It can either give you a high or a low. However, either way the results are easier to handle in small doses. Your target audience is who you need to focus on and anything new comes your way is just added exposure. God’s blessings to you.

    • I found a couple of old posts in my draft folder and am sorting through the ones that I think l can use. I still have some posts I need to write. I’m waiting for inspiration to strike. :D

      If you check reviews, the only way to do it is once in a while when you’re prepared for it. Sometimes I’ll have my husband check them just to make sure no one is chatting (like they did on B&N) and you have to notify the place to see if the reviews can be removed. But I tell him not to tell me what the reviewers said.

  6. Brill post / info Ruth. Great to read it, provides a real snapshot / reality check!

  7. Outstanding post, Ruth.

    I’ve had something of a meltdown- outside issues were wrecking havoc with me at the time, and that made writing hard to come by.

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