I'm stubborn.During my most ambitious season, I could crank out a full-length novel in thirty days or less. It required sacrifice. Dedication. Determination. And, of course, consistency. I would write every single day. I approached each writing session with a goal, and my success for the week was measured by word count. When I fell short one day, I made sure to work extra hard to make up for it on another day. When I was tired, I pushed through it. And writer's block? That was a state of mind that I refused to succumb to.
Some might call it drive - my will to press toward the mark I had set for myself. Some might call it passion- my desire to tell the story that was constantly churning in my head and my heart. But I think, for me, in my most ambitious season - drive and passion were just pretty cloaks thrown over what really kept me going.
I'm stubborn.It wasn't necessarily about keeping up with my peers. At least, not entirely. In the indie romance book community, it always felt like every "successful" author was churning out book after book. Staying relevant was arguably part of their "success." If you were too slow and your audience was too small, the time lapse between book releases could make you hardly more than a forgotten name in an overpopulated community of emerging writers; you could get lost and mistaken for a debut author over and over again. Except, I wasn't afraid of that.
I was also never naive enough to publish in hopes of making a ton of money. Yeah, that's the dream. Even if money isn't the term used, wanting to cultivate a large following of readers inevitably translates into an income - unless, of course, you're publishing all your books for free; but I wasn't really thinking about money my first year of being published. However, self-publishing comes with a lot of out of pocket costs, and I was hoping to break even. The idea that the more books I had out would translate to more money coming in made sense - except, by the grace of God, I was managing to get by without being completely money motivated. So, my goal of busting out anywhere from 20K to 30K words a week wasn't about some business plan. Although - I am a planner.
I won't lie and say I'm not a competitive person. Over the course of the last three years, I've competed with people who didn't even know I was in competition with them. I competed with people who don't even know I exist. But it wasn't merely about me besting them - it was about me setting a goal. It was about me beating myself, besting my own expectations. You see, the problem is, I'm stubborn. But I'm also a planner and a goal setter who likes the high that comes with the accomplishment of finishing a thing.
If you ask me what the secret to being a writer is, I will always answer the same way. It's simple. Finish what you start. Finish your project. Finish your manuscript. That's it. That's the secret. Do you know how many people start but don't finish? Everything that comes after the first draft is tedious and time consuming; sometimes it makes you want to rip your hair out and cry, or throw your computer, or even give up - but until you finish the first draft, you're not much more than a person with potentially brilliant ideas and the desire to write. Fortunately, I was blessed with this stubborn will to start a project and follow through with it. I don't work on more than one book at a time; and once I start, I work on it until it's done. And I love that feeling of being done. The problem is, it always feels short lived - and then the itch to start that chase all over again begins to flare up.
It didn't take more than a year and change after publishing my first novel before I was planning ahead, making sure that I always had another project lined up. I had a rule - don't publish one book unless you've finished writing the next one. I'd seen one too many authors promise their readers novels before they had to back track and apologize for not being finished or ready or whatever. Now, I get it; life happens - but I didn't want it to look like life was happening to me, so I remained as prepared as possible. Everything was planned months in advance. At any given moment, I was probably hanging on to a completely finished project, waiting for the perfect time (in my schedule) to release it. And that preparation? That was a high I chased, too.
After a while, it wasn't just each project itself that excited me, but the fact that I had a gorgeous, ambitious, well-thought-out schedule mapped out for months. Goal after goal after goal was plotted in elaborate fashion in various google docs I managed meticulously. Each new story idea meant I had to rearrange my schedule, and it was like my favorite jigsaw puzzle. Even more, it was like fuel to the flame that was my stubborn desire to be organized and on top of my writing - my business. My ability to think up dozens of stories gave me the excuse to perpetuate this idea that I needed a schedule to keep my ideas straight. And in order to ensure that I'd be able to tell all of these stories before I died, I had to plot out when I would write them and how fast I had to get them out. Pretty soon, that flame inside of me was a raging inferno. I had over fifty book ideas - which translates to well over one hundred names penned down (because a story isn't a story unless I know who my hero and heroine are, and I can't know who they are if they don't have names) - and I knew when I was going to write them, I knew how much time I was going to allot for each project, and I had it all written down. I could tell you what/who I would be writing for the next seven years.
Seven years. As if I knew what my life would look like in seven months, let alone years.
Does that sound as crazy to you as it does to me?
I'm...stubborn.Yeah, I'm passionate and I love to write. I'm also driven, and I understand that if I want to set some sort of consistent standard for my business, for my readers, I have to work hard; I have to work smart; and I have to be committed. But that's not what pushed me beyond my limits. My stubbornness is what pushed me beyond my limits; it's what encouraged the lie that I had to write fast and often. I couldn't go to sleep until I'd reached my word count. I couldn't count myself successful unless I could keep up with my goals. Forget life's setbacks, I had a schedule to keep.
At this point, stubborn might be synonymous with incredibly controlling.During my most ambitious season, I could crank out a full-length novel in thirty days or less. I was working forty hours a week, with twenty hours of commuting on top of that, but that had no bearing on my goals. At least, not until I got so tired that I felt crazy.
Now, I'm not feeling so stubborn.Looking back, I can see that I was living my life with my writing held in my fists - my hands closed so tight that nobody could pry my fingers open. I didn't want anyone to touch it. It's my gift. God gave it to me, and I took it and I ran with it. Except, nobody was chasing me. Furthermore, nobody was trying to take it away from me. Nobody. In retrospect, it seems silly how much of a control freak I was about the whole thing.
Now, I'm trying to live life with my hands palms up. The amazing part about that is, when I pried my fingers open, I was set free from this burden of "success" I had created for myself. I'm a work in progress, but when I surrendered, I started to let go of things I didn't anticipate letting go of. Stories. Characters. Deadlines. I haven't looked at my old schedule in weeks. That's huge. (I used to look at it just to look at it. Not kidding. My use of the word "gorgeous" when previously referring to said schedule was not a typo. The thing was color coded and everything.)
I don't know what I'm going to write for the next seven years. I've got an idea for this year, and maybe next year, too - which might still seem a bit overly ambitious, but nothing is set in stone. And while it's an adjustment, my days aren't measured by word count. Though, I'm a bit of a recovering addict. Truth be told, I'm still trying to figure out what balance looks like and what my healthy boundaries are. I'm still trying to figure out what is a successful writing day and how long should it take me to write a single novel? I lost my footing, my legs got swept from underneath me, and it's like I'm learning to walk again.
It's sort of beautiful and amazingly humbling. And even though it's also sometimes incredibly frustrating - I wouldn't trade my journey for all the readers in all the world.