When Writers Face the Deadly Saying… “What’s the Point?”
Tonight’s Topic: When Writers Face the Deadly Saying… “What’s the Point?”
This topic is the reason why I have been talking about the addiction to results and the other topics last week. This is how it manifests. Read those from last week and then read below.
(Tomorrow I will go back over ROI and how it works with tracking money without numbers.)
Made it up to WMG Publishing around 1:30 to open up for the regular Sunday writer’s lunch. The restaurant we met in is moving, so until they reopen, we’re meeting at WMG in the kitchen and bringing our own lunches.
Then I stayed around until almost 7 working on Smith’s Monthly. Then to the grocery store, then home to cook dinner, then back to WMG offices to get steps, work on Smith’s Monthly, and keep working on the set-up for the new store.
Home to do e-mail around 11 p.m., then a nap, then some television to wake up, then back in here to do workshop assignments and finish that up.
Made it to my writing computer at 3:15 a.m. and managed one session of 1,250 words.
Better than not making it at all today.
In case some of you coming here on Monday missed the announcement last week, we have one new online workshop starting up in December. Plotting with Depth. Details a few posts down or under the online workshop tab above. This workshop is on the schedule through March.
And also, for two months only, we are bringing back Designing Book Interiors workshop. Just December and January for this one.
December Workshop Schedule
All workshops have openings.
Class #51… Dec 7th … Advanced Depth
Class #52… Dec 7th … Character Voice/Setting
Class #53… Dec 7th … Adding Suspense to Your Writing
Class #54… Dec 7th … Ideas into Stories
Class #55… Dec 8th … Character Development
Class #56… Dec 8th … Depth in Writing
Class #57… Dec 8th … Plotting With Depth
Class #58… Dec 9th … Designing Covers
Class #59… Dec 9th … Writing and Selling Short Stories
Class #60… Dec 9th … Designing Book Interiors
Classic Workshops and Lectures are also available at any time.
TOPIC OF THE NIGHT: “What’s the Point?”
A couple people got angry at me in letters because I told them that following sales numbers (the number of books you are selling or what Amazon list you are on) is an addiction.
A deadly one to your writing and your career for the long term.
So what are the first signs you are into the deadly part of this addiction?
Easy. When you are sitting at your computer, your creative voice really, really wants to write a certain story or a new book in a certain series, and you hear yourself think, “What’s the point? It won’t sell.”
Tust me, folks, I am not immune from this in the slightest. When I realize that one of my books or series is selling better than others, and yet I am firing up a book that is in the poor-selling series, I hear myself ask that question.
How I get around it is tell that tiny part of my critical voice that is trying to stop me that maybe this book in this lower-selling series will be the one that explodes. That answers the question, “What’s the point.”
And makes the critical voice crawl away whimpering.
But realize, I’ve been doing this a very long time, I never read reviews of my work, and I do not follow any sales numbers or bestseller lists. Yet this still creeps in at times because one of the wonderful things we have about this new world is immediate information on sales.
A real double-edged sword if I have ever seen one.
But it just isn’t choices of what to write next that this “What’s the Point?” question pops up. Let me list some of the major ones.
After each one say to yourself, “So what’s the point?” (See if any sound familiar to you.)
— Choice of next writing project that isn’t one of your top sellers. (So… )
— Comparison to others. (Speed or sales higher than yours, so…)
— Life event stops you. (You feel behind or lost so…)
— Imaginary lack of time to write in the future. (I hear this one all the time, so….)
— I’m too old to start now. (So…)
— No one makes a living with their fiction. (This one just makes my head shake sadly. So…)
— There is too much to learn. (So…)
— I’m no good in business. (So…)
There are many, many more. Sadly.
But many of these, if not all in one form or another, come from watching numbers or reading reviews.
And all of it is your critical voice trying to do its job and stop you. And when you start hearing “What’s the point?” the critical voice is winning. It really is that simple.
So how exactly does this kill your writing and career?
A thousand ways with a thousand cuts, actually.
If you listen and act on the question, you won’t learn, you won’t write anything except stuff that you think will sell and chances are it won’t, or at least not for long.
And the first time you write a couple things you don’t like just because you think they will sell and they don’t live up to some made-up expectation your critical voice has put on the project, the “What’s the Point?” question gets so loud, you can’t hear yourself think, let alone write.
Coming back from a life event is never easy, and you feel behind, so what’s the point of even starting? So you don’t do anything, because something might happen again to stop you.
You are too old (by some made-up yardstick in your head…I heard a 28 year old say this once) so it’s better to not start.
And so on and so on.
This question, when you hear it, is your critical voice trying to stop you. It is mostly triggered by watching your own numbers, reading your own reviews, or comparing yourself to someone else’s numbers or success.
It is also triggered by an attitude of dread instead of excitement.
For example, I get excited when I look at how much more I have to learn in the craft of telling a story. That excites me.
If you look at the same thing with dread, that there is too much to deal with, and here comes the question, “What’s the Point?”
Indie publishing has a lot of learning curves, from covers to interiors to decisions on where to sell your books. I love the ever-changing nature of this new world and thrive on it.
But if you stand back and look at it and shut down and think there is too much, you can’t learn it all, here comes the question, “What’s the Point?”
In my last few years of traditional publishing books, I had grown to hate what I was doing, hated writing, hated the idiots in New York, hated the stupidity of baby copyeditors, hated the bad contracts. And I got to the point where I said clearly numbers of times and out loud, “What’s the point?”
And for me, at that moment in time, there was no point.
So I quit writing, quit the business. I was headed to play poker for a living for the second time in my life when the indie world fired up.
Suddenly I could see a way again where I would be challenged with writing and publishing. I wouldn’t have to deal with the stupidity of a baby editor who thought she knew everything, even though I had been selling books before she was born.
I could see a way I could control my own life, my own writing, my own problems in publishing.
And I got excited at the massiveness of numbers of things I needed to learn. I was challenged by that.
And so, at the age of 62, just two-and-a-half years ago, I fired up my writing and my own magazine, and have been learning ever since. At that point I had one backlist book to publish and that was it. I was going to have to write all new.
I told Kris the other day that I felt like the most experienced beginning writer in the world.
To me, that’s a challenge and except for a few times when sales numbers creep into my office, I never ask the question “What’s the Point?”
I had my best writing year ever this last year (in money) and 2015 looks to be even better (from quarterly reports…see previous post).
If you can get past what is stopping you and switch your focus, stay away from watching reviews and book sales numbers, and have fun writing, you might be surprised at what will happen.
And the best way to find your trouble spots in your business and writing is listen for that one nasty question. “What’s the Point?”
Because if you hear it, you are headed the wrong way.
Figure out the Problem.
And go back to having fun telling stories. Because honestly, that is the point of all of this.
The Writing of GRAPEVINE SPRINGS: A Thunder Mountain Novel
Day 1…. 2,450 words. Total words so far… 2,450 words.
Day 2….5,300 words. Total words so far… 7,750 words.
Day 3….7,100 words. Total words so far… 14,850 words.
Day 4….2,250 words. Total words so far… 17,100 words.
Day 5….6,300 words. Total words so far… 23,400 words.
Day 6….2,450 words. Total words so far… 25,850 words.
Day 7….2,700 words. Total words so far… 28,550 words.
Day 8….2,100 words. Total words so far… 30,650 words.
Day 9….1,450 words. Total words so far… 32,100 words.
Day 10…2,750 words. Total words so far… 34,850 words.
Day 11…2,250 words. Total words so far… 37,100 words.
Day 12…1,150 words. Total words so far… 38,250 words.
Day 13…1,250 words. Total words so far… 39,500 words.
Totals For Year 3, Month 4, Day 15
Writing in Public blog streak… Day 826
— Daily Fiction: 1,150 original words. Fiction month-to-date: 44,400 words
— Nonfiction: 00 new words. Nonfiction month-to-date total: 00 words
— Blog Posts: 1,500 new words. Blog month-to-date word count: 11,700 words
— E-mail: 27 e-mails. Approx. 1,600 original words. E-mails month-to date: 323 e-mails. Approx. 18,200 words
— Covers Designed and Finished: 0. Covers finished month-to-date: 1 Covers
You can support this ongoing blog at Patreon on a monthly basis. Not per post. Just click on the Patreon image. Extra stuff for different levels of support and I will be adding in more as time goes on. Thanks for your support.
Or you can just toss a tip into the tip jar with a single donation at PayPal. Either way, your support keeps me going at these crazy posts.
Lisa Nixon Richard
Good Morning Dean,
When I finished my first novel and uploaded it to Smashwords and Kindle last year, I had fun the first couple months watching the numbers. They were terrible numbers, but numbers just the same. Soon, they flat lined. Because I have heard this theme from you over the years of reading your blog, I stopped looking. This is a first book. The reality is that it will not take off. I concentrated on word numbers instead, on inventory. Sure I am going really slow due to life events, but I am writing and enjoying my process. That is what matters. Eventually, I might like my quarterly reports, but I am not worried about them until I get oh, maybe 10 novels out there. Even then, I write for me, my two first readers, and my two fans:-)
Thank you Dean. Without your blog, I probably would be crying into my coffee this morning instead of working towards 2,500 to 4,000 words for the day.
How do you always know when to post the topic I’m most stressed about? I’ve given up on my current WIP, but after reading this I think my problem is genre. I don’t know how to keep my books in one genre while I write.
Kristine Kathryn Rusch
So don’t. 🙂
who couldn’t stay behind a genre line even if it were a electric fence, with barbed wire on top, and manned by guards with automatic weapons
And that’s probably part of what makes Kris’ voice so personal, and of what makes me love her books – they never feel stuck in one genre. As a reader I love to be surprised, to not expect what’s happening next.
It’s probably harder to market but once the readers get to know you they’re more likely to stick with you!
Thanks for the post. In addition to challenging the “What’s the point” feelings, it also serves as a good kick in the butt to get started in the first place (which I keep needing).
Another completely timely and wise post, Dean. Thank you for this. What you do matters and what you say matters. You set a great example with your attitude and your work, and you really do a service to other writers with these thoughtful Topic of the Night posts.
I think I’ve mentioned before in a comment that I read my reviews as character fodder (and to make sure I’ve not screwed something up on the publishing side of things). Even negative reviews never do more than sting slightly. My major reaction “So this person wasn’t my target audience. Did something I did mislead them into thinking this story was up their alley? No? Okay. Yes? Let’s fix that.”
I also check my numbers…but for me, those things are heartening, encouraging me to get more writing done. Folks who are finding my work want more, and folks who aren’t finding my work will need more to find it.
Both tactics actually help me rather than hinder me, as a writer. It’s actually when I DON’T look at numbers or reviews that I start getting those self-sabotaging thoughts you describe.
Seriously, a scathing review is like candy for my muse…but perhaps that’s because my own family has always treated me far worse than any online bully or flat sales line. (I’m now far away and all that jazz.)
The fact remains, though, that negativity/toxicity is my native environment. By the grace of God, an ocean of negativity makes me want to pull myself up from the water and look for the shore, but there’s a comfortable familiarity in things that are theoretically supposed to hurt me.
After you’ve survived a pattern of dangerous-to-you “accidents” that probably should’ve resulted in more hospital visits than they did, even online trolls are more laughable than anything else.
I get discouraged sometimes and start asking myself “What’s the point?” Then I remind myself of this:
A few months ago, I noticed a sale of one of my books that’s sold very few copies. Several days later, another writer I know online contacted me to say she had suggested that book to someone in a group she’s in, who was looking for that genre. She told me that the person wrote back to her and said she was in tears at the end of the book because it was so beautiful.
Just, wow. I still get chills thinking about it, to have had that kind of effect on someone with my writing.
And that’s the point: I’m having fun telling stories I love, and while I’m having fun writing for me, I also never know when a book will turn out to be THAT book for another reader. If I don’t write the book, that reader out there will never find it.
Kyra, wonderful. Thanks for sharing that. Exactly right and it happens more than you can imagine. A very good point.
I’m with Suz on this Dean. You always seem to know just what to write about to help me back into the saddle when I fall out.
I don’t have sales numbers, and nothing I written is in series, and I don’t have a back list at all. So when I look around and see all the things I need to do, I hear the voice shouting at me from inside, and the overwhelm seems to make the question echo.
Such great insights here, from an experienced author who knows what it’s like, and who’s been there, to say, “Don’t listen. Just keep working.” Thank you so much.
And LOL at “baby editors.” Someone who’s not even dry behind the ears yet, telling you how to write books, simply boggles my mind. I can’t comprehend that level of hubris or disrespect. I wonder if those baby editors would say those things to Stephen King, James Patterson, John Grisham? And yet they will say them to you. Shameful.
Well, thank you for being out here guiding us. It means a lot to me personally, and my “career” (such as it is) has been renewed and reinvigorated thanks to you and Kris.
All my best, always.
Not just me they are doing it to, trust me. Writers you would be stunned about. Many have written about it, others just felt “What’s the Point” and moved on or retired. The list that I know about of writers treated poorly by the new crop of editors is over twenty and gaining. Writers above my level. And there aren’t that many of us.
I’m self-employed, and I’ve supported myself with my business, which is utterly unrelated to publishing, for twenty years. One of the most important questions I ask myself now is: ‘Is (blank) important to my business? What do I need to learn? What data do I need to track?’
I want to do only what I need, and no more. I’m absolutely clear about what I track and why it’s useful to me. This took me some years to work out, and it’s an alive process. That means if something isn’t useful anymore, I’ll stop tracking it. If I see it becoming important, it gets added.
FWIW, my process that I came to on my own through independent thought, looks a lot like what Dean describes. I track total income in some basic categories on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis. This helped me become much more aware of seasonal shifts.
I track by week because its the incremental ‘size’ that gives me the most information around seasonality. A month is a little too blunt for my purpose, although general trends are quite clear.
I don’t track by the day, or the hour. I don’t need to know the data expressed in that small of an increment. It isn’t useful. Going back to answer my original question…It doesn’t help me in my business.
When I see people tracking their writing sales daily or weekly, it looks a lot like as if I were to track my income hourly… or by the minute. Lot of time and bandwidth for information they don’t really need.
Back in the day when I had a ‘real’ job, I was the most pessimistic person you could imagine. “What’s the point” was probably one of my favorite sayings. Then I lost my job, gave myself permission to write full-time, and never looked back. My sales each month (after 2.5 years of indie publishing) are just edging into double digit territory each month, but I guess somewhere in the last 3 or 4 years I’ve become a glass-half-full kind of girl.
Now I say, why not me?
If I do the math. Out of 100 people who say the want to write, maybe 30 actually start writing. Of those, maybe 5 or 6 actually finish a novel. Of those, maybe 1 or 2 learn to indie publish instead of waiting around for an agent to call. So I’m in an elite group.
–> and then I think, well hey, out of 100 people who indie publish a novel, and of those, maybe 20 take classes and actually work at honing their craft and write ANOTHER novel. And then of that twenty, I’m thinking maybe 10 ‘get’ it and write regularly, and produce to a schedule and get good covers and write in series and eventually find their readers. And maybe 1 of those makes it big, and 1 or 2 others make a pretty fine living at it. So now, I’m on that path. and the odds look pretty good. I’ve made a few sales, and the trend is going up. Why not me?
Exactly Sharon. Why not you? I like that.
I get that checking the numbers is an addiction, but one can get past it. I certainly have.
I am one of those lucky self-published writers who started this gig more or less as a hobby, sold a bit, wrote more books, and currently can pay my entire living expenses from my book income, though who knows how long that will go on? I used to check the sales numbers several times a day but lately I hardly care about them. Results that would have made me ecstatic two years ago don’t even deserve a yawn, and occasional dips are met with an indifferent shrug.
After writing thirteen novels in a row I too feel this “what’s the point” and have not written much in recent weeks. The reason is not poor sales numbers, though they will fall off soon if I don’t publish anything new; rather my worry about the crashing economic system that will devalue my savings, the weirdly changing climate and dying environment, and most urgently threats of impending war where I live, developments that impact the safety and future of my children.
So merely worrying about a comparative lack of sales strikes me as pretty frivolous, but the end result is the same – the enjoyment and optimism required for writing is gone for now; I hope only temporarily.
Yup, difficult to keep the world out, either big events or family events or personal events. They all impact, which is why that was one of the major triggers of “What’s the Point.”
Remember, all of my posts here have a basic focus of trying to help writers remain writers for a long time. You don’t get over or past addictions, but you do learn to control them, often with help.
Great topic, Dean. This one question has stifled my writing efforts many times over the last decade. I’m still struggling with it, but have made a lot of progress overcoming it this year. Thanks for describing the problem and possible solutions so eloquently.
Hey Dean, thanks for writing this. This had been on my mind for the past few weeks since November started. Had a major life event moving from the southwest to the Seattle area and had to put writing on a hiatus. It bugged me to no end until I just started writing Writing was just easier than not writing.
Then it all stopped.
Couldn’t get anything started, with that question nagging at my brain. I figured I’d start reading more, forcing myself to the page. Somehow these words came out of nowhere. At yet, it still bugged me. I mean in the past year I’ve written 11 books in 12 months. (Practically no sales and only a few published…still working on getting good beta readers for the others) This book seemed to be working at a snail’s pace. The “What’s the point” question kept popping up.
Then, just for kicks, I looked to see just how many new words of fiction you’re writing a day. Turns out, we’re neck and neck…and here I was thinking, “I can’t do this. I’m just not good enough.” Thanks again for the words of inspiration and transparency. I know I’m a newbie, but it’s nice to be reminded that the myths are just myths.
Hey Dean! Thanks for this post. I’m bookmarking it (along with a pile of other posts by you and Kris and other writers) so I can come back and re-read it on those difficult days.
I had the “What’s the Point” thought quite a bit this year, after getting laid off in April and spending the summer job-hunting (bleah) and then picking up not just one full-time job but a part-time job as well to get caught up for a couple months of unemployment.
But now that the 2nd, part-time job is winding down, I started re-reading the novel I got stalled out on earlier this year, and I’m excited to write the rest of that sucker. So yeah, looks like I found the point again.
P.S. I really enjoyed reading your daily blogs during those dark days of unemployment. Helped me get through it, and I’m glad to be back. 🙂
Luke J. Kendall
Your comment about baby editors made me realize that that’s another way in which self publishing has an advantage over traditional publishing: you have a much wider range of editors available to you. (Of course, you still have to pick one of the good ones!)
Actually, the reality now is that you don’t need one. Trust your own art, believe in your own story, have a good trusted first reader, and hire a good copyeditor to find mistakes. No need for a standard editor.
Timely and insightful post. Thank you.