Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Happiness and the Writer

So I've been writing lately. A LOT. I've just finished my second book this year, and now I'm playing ketchup with my blog/website/email/myspace.

Now that I'm back in the swing of things, I've been thinking a lot about why I became a writer. My answer is probably the same as yours: I love to write.

And yet these past few months haven't been easy. In fact, in the spirit of full disclosure, even though I spent almost all of my time writing (not much self-promotion, not much marketing) I really haven't been that happy lately.

So what gives? I got my wish, landed the big publishing deal, and am living my dream. Shouldn't I wake up every morning with a smile on my face and a "I'm so lucky to be alive" attitude?

Yes, methinks, I should. I should be happier than I've ever been in my life. But I'm not, and after thinking long and hard about this topic over several beers, I finally understand why:

Happiness isn't productive.

I just had a long conversation with the talented Tasha Alexander, who was very excited that she got her first royalty check, having earned out the advance on her first book. It was a very nice royalty check too. I also shared good news: On my last royalty statement, I found out I'm only $1500 away from earning out on my three-book contract. Considering my third novel, Rusty Nail, hasn't even had a paperback release yet, I'm confident by the next statement I'll have also earned out.

We congratulated each other for roughly thirty seconds, then spent over two hours openly worrying about our futures.

Q: Why couldn't we just celebrate the good things, and push aside the bad?

A: Because you don't get anything done when you're celebrating.

Worrying, on the other hand, makes you work harder, which gets things done. It helps you focus on the future, and forces you to create a plan to reach your goals.

The problem, of course, is that after you spend a year worrying and working, and you finally reach those all-important goals, you only celebrate for thirty seconds.

Which made me realize something. Happiness should come from the journey, not from reaching the destination. We spend so much of our time as writers WAITING for the big something: getting an agent, landing a book deal, getting a second contract, getting a royalty check, finishing the new novel. Instead, we should enjoy the process, rather than the just end result. After all, the process is what we have control over.

So here's a list of things we should focus on as writers, to maximize happiness and minimize stress and worry.

1. Start on the deadline early. Waiting until the last minute made me late, anxious, and more worried about page count than story conflict. Had I begun earlier, I would have enjoyed the process a lot more.

2. Set realistic goals. Focus on what you have control over. Sending out three queries a week is within your control. Selling three stories is not. Attending a booksigning and giving a good speech is doable. Selling at least 40 books at your booksigning may be out of your hands.

3. Celebrate as long as you can. Enlist your family and friends. Call people up. Go out. Congratulate yourself. Break out the champagne. Smile, darn you, smile.

4. Remember why. The sad fact is, once you've done it for a few years, writing becomes a job just like any other. But it isn't like any other job. We get paid for our words, and we ARE the luckiest folks on the planet. Remind yourself of this from time to time. Look through your old rejections. Stare at the shelf with all your published magazines. Fondle your awards (wait until you're alone first.) You've got a lot to be proud of.

5. Embrace your fans. Writers write. but they also tour, sign, promote, speak, correspond, blog, network, and interview. Interacting with fans is important, because even when you doubt yourself, they never doubt you. And they constantly remind you of who you are. We all need to be reminded every so often.

6. Help other writers. Snoopy was right. Happiness is about sharing and giving and helping. Hording your success is selfish. Share what you've learned, give a hand up to those who need it, and make yourself available to your peers. In that spirit, I'll be teaching two classes at Sleuthfest in Miami Beach this Thursday the 19th of April, 2007. One class is on marketing. The other is on finding an agent and selling your writing.

Can't attend? Eventually I'll post links to the handouts on my website, when I'm all caught up. In the meantime, you can email me at haknort@comcast.net and I'll send the handouts to you. They're 90 pages of hard-earned wisdom about this business. And they're free, of course.

I'll be back to posting on this blog two or three times a week. Thanks everyone for their patience during my work sabbatical.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go celebrate something.