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.


Tasha Alexander said...


I did--champagne and Thai food. Think it doesn't go together? You're probably right. But I didn't care, because I was celebrating and I wanted it.

And it was good. Really, really good.....

Joe Moore said...

Stop and smell the roses. My wife keeps telling me to live in the moment, not in the next one. She's right, and so are you. See you in Miami Beach!

Victor Gischler said...


I think the key is to be happy, but don't be satisfied. It's a fine line.

Victor Gischler

Scott Marlowe said...

You're more or less describing the great rat race we all deal with. We set goals. We attain them. We set higher goals. We attain those. And so on and so forth.

Sometimes you just gotta stop and enjoy what you have right now, not what you might have someday.

anne frasier said...

great post, joe.

Spy Scribbler said...

Such a good point, Joe! Celebrating is SO important! My husband (bless him!) is so amazingly supportive, and he celebrates every little writing achievement. I don't know how I got so lucky, but without him, I'd have trouble with that bit.

But we are the managers of our "company." Just because we are also the "employee," doesn't mean we can skimp on the positive reinforcement and the employee motivation and the leadership skills. It's important to learn how to handle ourselves, so our mind and ten fingers can be happy, productive employees.

Stacey Cochran said...

Okay, here's what's fucked up. I'm currently working on my tenth novel. I've done nothing but write fiction for twelve years. I've never gotten published, and have just come off of a winter that yielded 440 rejection letters.

And yet I'm a relatively happy guy. My life is probably about as balanced, normal, and happy as you could possibly imagine.

But people don't want to read novels by people who are happy and balanced.

People want to read novels by people who live in fear and anxiety, people who suffer.

For whatever reason, abberant psychology fascinates us.

Normal psychology bores.

I guess. Hell, I don't know.

Jude Hardin said...

Great post, Joe.

You're absolutely right. We should all enjoy the journey and take time to celebrate our triumphs.

Congrats on finishing the book! That's always a huge accomplishment, and cause to do the Snoopy dance. Best of luck with it!

Rob Flumignan said...

Tasha, champagne and Thai food actually sounds GREAT. Have to keep that one in mind.

Joe, good to "see" you around again.

Mark Terry said...

Or embrace your awards and fondle your fans. Whichever works.

Otherwise, great post, Joe.

Linda C. McCabe said...


You should check out this blog post:


I'm actually glad I read Pat Wood's blog before yours, because she is a first time author who is excited every step of the way.

Granted, it's been a while since your first book was publihsed, but you are correct in that you should try to enjoy the journey more than you have been.

My advice to you is the same that I gave her. Savor the moments when something positive happens, because it doesn't happen every day.

Use it as an excuse to celebrate and enjoy your life.

Why not? You can go back to worrying the next morning.

Congratulations on your recent burst of creativity. May your muse continue to bless you for years to come.

Linda McCabe

Allison Brennan said...

Well, I'm very happy and I still worry constantly. I love what I do, every step of the process, and I stress over every step of the process. I don't know if it's me or the business. I do believe in celebrating our successes and achievements, even the small achievements. And I'm not so jaded that I don't jump up and down the first time I hold each of my books. The first book will always be doubly special, but to be honest, I was just as excited to hold book #2, 3, 4, 5, 6 . . . and every time I type THE END, I reward myself. Why? Because even though I have completed 10 books and one novella (the first four books will never be published), I know that FINISHING the book will always be the hardest part of the process for me.

Be happy, celebrate, worry, stress, but most of all we have to love what we do or the worry will be for nothing.

Adrienne said...

So wise man, so wise.

Fortunately I'm one of those baby authors for whom everything is noted in my diary (or in this case blog). Baby's first contract. Baby's first edits. Baby's first cover. Baby's first proofs. Baby's first mental breakdown.

I had one comment on my blog when I shared a photo of my proofs that wondered how neglected my next novels will feel, it all being old hat by then and all. He made a good point.

So I will save your list for when things get mundane, and then remind myself to enjoy and be happy! Right now though, feeling pretty darn good about the whole thing!

Spy Scribbler said...

That's absolutely adorable, Adrienne! I meant to do that with my day job, but I didn't. You've inspired me to do it with writing!

Anonymous said...

Nice post, Joe. Very nice.

s.w. vaughn said...

Damn, this could be the best post you've ever written.

Thank you for this.

And congrats! Celebrate.

Terrie Farley Moran said...

Be happy and celebrate. Celebrate good news. Celebrate sunshine. celebrate rain. Celebrate that you are earning a living doing what you love. (I know it's work.) Being happy is a good thing and doesn't have to be mutually exclusive with worry. Being CONTENT can mess with your brain. I have enough (fill in the blank-- books in print, money in the bank, adoring fans.) Now that kind of thinking is counter-productive. but happiness is an aura, a feeling that makes everything easier and theat includes writing.

Went off on a tangent there, but I really wanted to thank you for the Sleuthfest handouts. I got 'em, read 'em and loved 'em. I'm sure your presentations yesterday were a huge success.


Douglas V. Gibbs said...

words of wisdom. See you when you make it out to SoCal.

billie said...

I have a card on the bulletin board above my desk that says: Anxiety is the handmaiden of creativity.

A certain amount of angst does seem to push the process. :)

Great post.

Sasha White said...

Thank You! I've been thinking about all this stuff for a while now, and this puts a lot of my thoughts into a coherent place. Now I can get back to work. *grin*