How To Make Yourself Completely Insane in Three Easy Steps

Okay so there are no real steps here. That’s just the title. I have a special talent for making myself bug-shagging crazy. I am not good at moderation. (Well, except with alcohol. Seriously 3-4 ounces of wine and I’m done. Thank GOD I have an ability to moderate drinking otherwise I’d be in a rehab center somewhere.)

Anyway… too much of almost anything makes me really depressed and anxious and neurotic. Lately I’ve been driving myself crazy trying to be more productive, largely because I feel this huge pressure to get enough work out there to maintain a living and to have a book “break out” because I have this completely neurotic and overwhelming fear of just “disappearing” and everything drifting so far to the bottom of sales rankings that nobody even finds it anymore. (even though this probably is NOT how it works.)

[Publetariat Editor’s note: strong language after the jump]

I’m not saying it has to make me famous or get me on some kind of “list”, I’d be happy at this point for a book to get into the top 1,000 in the Kindle store and stay there for a few weeks, just enough to bump me up all across the boards enough that I can relax and fucking breathe.

And I know you can’t “plan” for a book to break out. A book either catches fire or it doesn’t. You can’t plan it, you can’t know what will make people sit up and take notice in large enough numbers for it to matter. But the more books you write and the stronger/bigger your backlist, the higher the odds raise just from a pure numbers perspective of something breaking out. The other factor is the learning curve. The more you write, the more you learn either overtly or sort of humming in the background, what works with books and your style and what doesn’t. What you excel at and what you’re not so great at. So each book (hopefully), gets stronger, and while it gets stronger, you’re putting out more books which keep raising your odds. (But when you’re in the trenches, believe me, it does not feel like that. It feels like a treadmill that will never reap the benefits you want.)

I rarely do whine fest posts like this, so bear with me. I put SO much pressure on myself. I’m not sure Olympic hopefuls put this much pressure on themselves. It’s a serious character flaw and it causes me more angst than I want to deal with, but I can’t help pushing. If things aren’t going great sales-wise, I push harder (i.e. work more, write more, publish more). If things are going great… I push harder… to capitalize on it more… because I know from experience that it won’t always be like that.

I’m not sure what magic or luck came together to get Mated so close to the top 100 in the Kindle store when it first came out (105), but at the time it seemed EASY. People were making a big deal about all three of my novellas being in the top three spots repeatedly of the Gothic romance section and high in the top 10 of other related sections and in my head it just wasn’t a big deal. Because it came too easy. It came so easy I didn’t know how hard it was and couldn’t appreciate what I’d accomplished until something happened to put me and my work in a more realistic place.

NOW I know how hard that is. NOW I know why people were going: “Holy crap, look where Zoe’s books all are on that list?” Gee, it would have been nice to be able to have truly appreciated it, THEN. Probably some people thought I was being modest, and certainly I wouldn’t have run around tooting my horn like I was the shit, because that is supremely obnoxious and as hard as it is to make a go of it in such a competitive industry in a crappy economy where people have a billion distractions and too many things to do to crack a book open in the first place… you just don’t gloat when you “get there” wherever “there” is. Because it’s fucking hard, and you can feel the pain of every other writer around you desperately wanting to be even where you are that you just don’t shit on people like that when you’re successful.

Jumping tracks…

I don’t understand how to back the fuck off and take a break, and it’s making me certifiably crazy.

This past week I decided I was going to write a book in a week. The book had been percolating for awhile, so why not. I’ll tell you why not? Because it’s INSANE. I wrote 30,000 words in 3 days. I don’t recommend it. I don’t think I ever want to do another 10k day. Unless I’m just in such a white hot writing heat and so excited about the book I can’t stop or slow down. But to say: “Okay, this is my quota today” and do these crazy, draining, grueling days. No. Never again.

I have to bring some sanity back into my life. So yeah, it’s cool and awesome that I wrote 10k words 3 days in a row. I’ve never done that before, and unless it’s at gun point, I’m never doing it again. I’m going back to my normal 2,500 word days that don’t feel like they are sucking the life right out of me when I do them. I may write more if I feel like it, but it surely won’t be the quota. Know how many words I’m writing today? 2,500. Unless I just feel wildly inspired. Because otherwise it’s too much stress and pressure. And if I’m not in the right place emotionally, I’m going to write a truckload of shit anyway.

I believe strongly that the muse doesn’t show up unless you do, but at the same time, you can’t just grind out huge huge word counts (unless you’re some kind of prolific writing savant), without there being a strong psychic cost for that.

And speaking of breaking out… (Sort of jumping back onto the first track) Judging from what my betas are saying, Life Cycle has a strong potential to break out… BUT… there’s a hurdle… there are 3 books before it in the series. New people have a giant hurdle of time commitment with me and my books to jump before they get to the magical potentially break out book (and when I say break out, again, I don’t mean riches and fame. I mean a book that really catches on strongly and gets me back into the top 1k again and bringing my backlist with it.)

So Life Cycle HAS to be able to stand alone. Which is what I’ll be working on in edits. The problem with this series is that I have basically done everything I can think of to KEEP it from breaking out. (Not on purpose.) Book 1 (Blood Lust) is a series of 3 novellas which in itself is problematic because it’s confusing to people. People who hate novellas aren’t going to want to read what is basically a novella anthology as the first book to bring them into a series. People who love novellas and hate novels won’t stick around for book 2.

Book 2 (Save My Soul) is problematic in its own way because at times it feels like a totally different series. Things don’t really start coming together for the whole world until book 3. Plus some people may be turned off by some of the Catholicism (even though I am far from promoting traditional religion in my work) that forms part of the backbone of the world. And those who ARE Catholic or Christian might be turned off because again… I’m not promoting it… I’m twisting it in my world (not in a malicious way, but hardcore religious people probably wouldn’t see it like that). Others may feel the title “Save My Soul” implies the book is in first person. Which it’s not.

Book 3 (The Catalyst) is much stronger than the first two books (not that I think the first two are bad… it’s just that writers grow the more they write, generally). But, it doesn’t exactly “stand alone”. I tried, but there’s too much backstory to give it all to you in the book. And it’s too much backstory that’s necessary to the front story.

That brings us to book 4 (Life Cycle). I think it’s a really strong book. The strongest in the series. And I know fans of the series have been WAITING for Cain and Tam. If it can stand alone, I think it’s a strong enough hook to bring in a lot of new readers and hook them back into the first 3 books. But if it’s not, I feel like the series is pretty much dead in the water. I’ll finish it, of course, if for no other reason than *I* love it, but after Life Cycle, I can’t bring myself to keep hoping it will break out in a bigger way.

Which is why it’s very good that I’m going to start a new series. I’ve learned a lot about what to do and what not to do when writing a series, plus my writing has grown stronger. (And lest anybody think I’m an egomaniac here, this is the judgment and commentary of OTHER people… not me sitting around going: “Oh look, I just get more and more awesome each day.”) So the solution is simple, start a new series. I think the concept for the new series is strong, but I have some details left to fill in before I start.

But of course ALL of this stresses me out. As hard as it is, I have to stop caring how well a book does. The one drawback to self-publishing (even though I love what I do, don’t misinterpret this.)… is that it’s extremely hard (unless you have MPD), to be those two TOTALLY different people… the business person who has to care about sales and numbers and promotion. And the writer… the person who CAN’T care too much about that or the work will suffer and they’ll go insane.

You can probably put two and two together at this point and realize why so many writers have substance abuse problems. If writing and publishing fiction won’t drive you to drink… nothing will. At least I win that one consolation prize. I just have to bring the alcohol moderation into the rest of my life and I’ll be golden… at least from a mental health perspective. And maybe from a general career perspective as well, since it’s usually when you stop clinging and fighting so hard that things open up and flow. I should at least try to test that theory. The first step is going back to a reasonable word count and chilling the fuck out.

This is a reprint from The Weblog of Zoe Winters.