I’ve been in indie publishing now since 2011 and have some solid experience under my belt. But I’ve not been able to clearly capture what my journey has taken to dream up and publish 10 books. I’ve written about the numbers and the challenges, but not about the whole journey. But now I think I can.
I recently watched episode 7, season 2 (“Look, She Made a Hat”) of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon and knew that I had found two kindred spirits in show creators Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino. I’ve been a big fan of Sherman-Palladino since I first saw Gilmore Girls back in 2000. I love the family dynamic portrayed on screen, the witty dialogue and that precious made up world of Sleep Hollow where the freaks and geeks all go about their way.
But in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Sherman-Palladino went and explored a new path in season 2. There’s a scene in “Look, She Made a Hat” in which the main character, Midge, is at Declan Howell’s (a famous painter) apartment. He’s brought her to his masterpiece—a work of art that’s been described as perfect, but that he won’t let anyone see and won’t sell it.
Declan explains to her that he’s put everything into his masterpiece. It’s a perfect work, but his creation has cost him: He’s had to sacrifice friends, family and success. He put everything he had into his work and now he’s spent. He’s on a different path now and realizes that he can’t ever do better than “perfect.” He’s also walled himself off from the world and knows that he can’t have a family as he won’t let his defenses down.
It’s a poignant moment in the show as Midge stares at the painting (viewers never get to see what it looks like) and says, “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” She’s on her own journey to become a famous standup comedian. She’s just starting to have some success and is on the cusp of breaking out.
But she will have to make some sacrifices as well. She has two young children (her youngest is under a year old) and my wife and I joke that you hardly ever see the children on the show. In fact, Sherman-Palladino plays around with this by having the entire family forget the children in the car when they’re at the Catskills. It’s a dark moment because there’s a nod to viewers about how often the children are not in the show, but it also shows Midge’s callous and darker side. She has her eye on the prize: Her future, her success and her role as mother is often extremely low on her radar.
What has this to do with being an author? Pretty much everything.
This Is No Secret Sauce
When people ask me what it takes to write books, I could simply say: “I sit down and write,” but it’s much, much more than that. There’s no special magic to writing a book and there surely isn’t any secret to being successful. Being an author in the 21st century is extremely difficult work—not because of the writing, but you also need to be (or learn how to be) a good marketer.
I tell friends and family that the writing part is the easiest. It’s easy to dream up fantastic worlds, put them down in electronic form, create the book and release them on the various publishing platforms.
Yes, you need to be disciplined. You need to write whether you feel like it or not. I’ve always thought that having writer’s block was a made up thing. I’ve never experienced it. And I don’t say that in a snarky way. I’ve experienced not wanting to write, but I’ve learned to sit down and just write something. Even if it’s bad, I still sit down and write.
Just like Midge in The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, you need to get up on stage, perform and do your thing. Some days you suck, some you’re good, and every once in a while, you shine. The trick is to see the long path in front of you. Writing is not a one and done thing. I used to think that I would write one novel and it would be my masterpiece. That book would be my Declan Howell perfect painting, but life doesn’t work like that. And thankfully, I’m glad it doesn’t. Who would want to burn themselves out and create something perfect with no room to grow? No room to imagine and become better at your craft? Certainly, not me. I look back at my first book and my tenth and they’re miles apart. I expect the same will happen with my 20th book and my 10th.
Writing is a craft. To sit down, create and continually stick to it, takes effort over a prolonged length of time. I like to think of my writing career as a marathon. I can’t just get up today and say: “I’m going to run 26.2 miles.” First, I need to train and each time I have run a marathon, the training has taken me close to three months. There really is no magic or secret sauce to being an author.
Can You Have Your Cake and Eat It Too?
How many books have been written about having it all? A great family, kids, job, hobbies—the whole American Dream with the white-picket fence. A few years back I decided to write a novel in 30 days. I had missed out on NaNoWriMo, but figured I’d just do it in January. Thousands of authors take part in NaNoWriMo each year and I wanted to give it a try. I kept reading articles about how many of my fellow indie authors were writing 12 books a year (or more) whereas I was doing 2. I work full-time at a job I love, have two kids, am a runner and figured that I would strap in, get to work and knock out a book in 30 days.
Did I do it? Yes.
Did I nearly lose my marriage? Yes.
I documented my journey to help fellow authors in the hopes of sharing them the pain I experienced. I wanted to capture what worked, what didn’t and everything in between. It’s extremely hard to have one’s cake and eat it too. The reality is pretty simple: There are only 24 hours in the day. When you take away sleep, the full-time day job, eating, chores and the like, that doesn’t leave a lot of time left to spend with your loved ones. My kids were only young for so many years. Those days are now past and I’m happy to have spent time with them. Changing diapers, bathing them, putting them to bed, taking them to the doctors (yes, even that time that my son was showing off and split his lip IN the doctor’s office and then needed stitches)—parenthood is a great training ground for being an author because you need to be a jack-of-all-trades.
After I finished the book I wrote in a month (Betrayals), I then had to re-write it, work with a cover designer, a proofreader and then market the book—all while juggling all the other responsibilities in my life.
I quickly learned that I was so focused on “being an author” that I was shutting everyone else out. I wasn’t getting the sleep I needed and I surely wasn’t getting downtime to relax and unwind. Everything was work, work, work and I expected everyone else to keep up with me.
Coming to terms that I can’t do everything was hard, but also freeing. I let it all go and realized that I had forgotten that I was on a lifelong marathon and not a “I need to publish 12 books in a year.”
The pressure to produce and succeed was too great and I started losing what mattered most to me: Family.
Maybe There Is a Bit of a Secret to Being an Author
In The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Midge leaves Declan’s apartment and promises not to tell anyone about his artwork and how beautiful it is. She doesn’t fully see her connection to him on her own journey. Soon she’s going to need to make a decision as well: How badly does she want to be the best comedian? What will she sacrifice? A relationship? Time with her kids? Love?
Time will tell as the show unfolds in the next season.
But for me, I think the best advice I can share is really no advice at all: Just be yourself.
Be honest and true with your readers. Get to know them rather than emailing them again and again with “Buy my crap now!” newsletters. Listen to your readers, allow yourself to be free to create and enjoy. I recently told my mom that I love to write. I love making up new worlds, going on journeys in my imagination and writing that all down. For me, writing is often like seeing a movie inside my head. The film is going faster than I can type, and I do my very damn best to keep up.
What will you need to sacrifice to be an author? How will you juggle work-life balance when it comes to the multiple responsibilities on your plate? And when you hit that bump in the road on your author career, what will you do?
Thanks for taking the time to read this. Leave your comments below and share your experience.