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  • Why This Writer Went A-WOL: A Cautionary Tale
Why This Writer Went A-WOL: A Cautionary Tale
Contributor
Written by
T.O. Weller
May 2015
Contributor
Written by
T.O. Weller
May 2015

See if this sounds familiar ...

Your blog is young and full of promise.

You've had some response. Nothing viral, but positive nonetheless.

You have an email list. Again, nothing big, but it's a beginning.

Then something huge happens. Life-changing huge. And one of the first casualties is your blog.

The one thing you felt sure you would never give up.

Yup. I was happy to walk away

It surprised me. I mean, more than any other blogging attempt I've made, I really thought this one would stick.

I'd connected with fellow writers, taken courses, joined groups. I had a free e-book on offer and the beginnings of an email list.

So why would I quit?

You might recognize some of the reasons for yourself.

Personal life

Things come up. It's like John Lennon said, "life is what happens while you're busy making other plans".

My husband and I are embarking on the next phase of our lives, leaving city life behind and moving to our dream destination in Ontario's cottage country.

We have bought an acre of land on a small lake.

It comes with an unfinished house that will have to be finished before the snow flies, and we have plans to create our own little piece of paradise, complete with a music studio for hubby and a writing cottage for me. I will have a view of my very own. (See picture of view above!)

Truly, it's the stuff of memoir ... a 21st-century, "roughing it in the bush" kind of story. (Stay tuned!)

It's also the greatest upheaval either one of us have had since we married two years ago.

Just to be clear, this is not retirement! It's our reinvention, with a new community and new jobs. Not only are we too young to retire, but we don't want to ... and probably won't for quite some time.

Needless to say, the renovation and sale of our current house, along with the purchase and planning for our new home, has eaten up more time, attention and energy than I ever thought it would.

But, I wasn't just distracted from writing.

In the process of getting up from the computer screen and moving again, I discovered I had let myself slide, in a big way.

Physical health

As anyone who has tried starting up a successful blog will tell you, there are more balls to juggle than you can even begin to imagine. If you're not designing the blog, you're writing. If you're not writing, you're promoting. If you're not promoting, you're doing research. I could go on, but you get the point.

Writing is only one small part of it.

In the process of trying to do it all in my usual "be perfect or go home" way of doing things, I stopped taking care of myself.

Winter didn't help matters, but it's no excuse. I wasn't moving. I was "in the chair" eight, nine, sometimes ten hours a day.

Non-stop.

The only time I took a break was when I tutored my writing students. I'd get in my car and, upon arrival, we'd sit ... again.

The less I moved, the worse I ate. I didn't eat junk, but I still forgot to eat a balanced diet. Often, it was because I didn't want to take the time away from my work, so I grabbed what ever was easy.

By the beginning of April, I was in sorry shape.

Don't even let me get started on the aches and pains, and all the places in which I felt them.

In our twenties, we could go extreme and bounce back nice and quick.

Now? Not so much.

It's been a month since I started moving properly, and I'm just beginning to feel myself again.

Nothing is worth doing what I did to my body. I still can't believe I did it.

At this stage in life, many of us can look forward to at least another 20 or 30 years in which to pursue our dreams and our joy.

But not if we neglect the body that will get us there.

Writing life

If you read my About page, you'll see what my plan was for this blog when I first started it up.

As I embarked on my new writing life, it would be a record of my journey and what I'm learning along the way.

My intention was that it would:

  • make me accountable,
  • give me the chance to help and encourage others who are trying to do the same thing,
  • provide a way for me to connect with fellow writers and find community, and
  • help me start building my author platform.

Trouble is, I let the blog engulf my new writing life.

The first draft of my novel still sits, untouched since I started going full-throttle here back in December.

My ideas for short stories and nonfiction articles and books have all remained just that: ideas on a list.

If you're a writer and you're online, you've probably heard/asked a variation of this question:

What's the point in building a platform if you have no time to do the writing that you need the platform for in the first place?

That's a good segue to a big issue ...

The Black Hole that is Online Marketing

Social media and online marketing.

Writers either love it or they hate it.

Yes, you heard me right. I know my free e-book is all about making friends online using social media. Did I really just call it a "black hole"?!?

Well, everything in balance, my friends. Everything in balance.

I will still say that social media, if approached with balance, is the best way to meet fellow writers and join a community of talented and supportive people.

But, as my friend Marcy McKay (we met on social media) recently wrote in her post, Is Social Media Sucking the Life from Your Writing?:

"It takes time to hone your voice and to share your best work. It takes time to grow an audience. It takes time to dream and ponder for both your art as well as your career. ... it’s okay to scale back and refocus your attention on your writing instead. In fact, it may be necessary for your sanity’s sake."

I'm going to say it a third time: we have to strike a balance. I didn't.

I so badly wanted people to find my blog and read my posts. I'd worked hard on them and I didn't want to work in obscurity.

Thanks to all of the networking I've done, I've made some amazing connections and found some fantastic blogs that I continue to follow.

But, for every post, I was averaging 2.5 days of work.

Add in time for research, technical maintenance and professional development, and very little time was left for my other writing projects, never mind the reading that I believe we all must do as writers.

I wasn't reading at all.

My creative well was drying up.

Self Doubt

If you're worn out and out of balance, it's like putting out the welcome mat for all sorts of doubt.

When our real estate adventure started and I couldn't find the time to write, I initially thought it was good for me to take a short break.

It felt good to get my body moving and, I have to admit, it was nice to work side-by-side with my husband rather than sitting in front of the computer screen.

Then that break grew long ... and I was feeling like myself again.

I didn't miss it.

I started to wonder if maybe I wasn't cut out to be a writer.

Writers make time for their work, don't they? They miss it if they don't do it, right?

Then we listed the house and the strangers started coming.

I had to clean and stage it at a moment's notice, and then get me and my little dog, George, out and over to my mother-in-law's.

I've never been a fast writer ... or a writer that can work in the midst of chaos and continuous interruption.

I tried to heed the words of my friends who told me the writing would be there when I could get back to it.

Lovely words to ponder ... alongside the doubt that I would ever return.

I looked at my husband one morning and lamented, "Maybe I'm not cut out to be a writer".

The Crazy Leap

Blogging had become a heavy weight. A ball and chain. A drain on my creative spirit.

So I leaped to that crazy conclusion.

The inner narrative went something like this: How could I feel so much better away from the keyboard and still call myself a writer?

Silly of me, I know, but isn't that what we do when we're insecure, afraid, tired or frustrated? We make these dramatic leaps in logic that really aren't logical at all.

(I hope, at this point, you're nodding your head. I can't be the only one?!?)

Time to Share & Regroup

But, of course, I'm a writer!

So, I started to journal and reflect. Again, something I had stopped doing.

It's been an easy decision: I'm making some changes. I have to, and I'm sharing this with you because I know I can't be the only writer out there struggling to find balance in this online world of ours.

All of us need to find our own unique balance. What works for us as writers.

Here's my bottom line:

  1. A healthy body. It may appear that writing is primarily a "head game", but our body plays a central role in our creative process. Diet, exercise, sleep. We can't be happy writers without them.
  2. The books and stories swirling around in my imagination must be given their time on center stage. It can't be just about the blog.
  3. Despite my insistence that I write slow, I am going to work on ways to get a little faster. I have so much I want to write!
  4. Do I want to be a "pro blogger"? No, so I'm going to stop trying to be one and be the writer I want to be. The aggressive pursuit of ever greater traffic numbers does nothing for my creative flow. Many writers that I respect write on their blog when they can, but it's clearly not their primary pursuit. I'm taking a page from their book.
  5. Stop comparing myself. Just because Mr. Super-Writer got 100,000 followers in 6 months doesn't mean I'm a failure because it didn't happen for me. I will learn from the success of others. I will reflect on what I've learned from them. And then I will follow my own path.
  6. When we doubt whether we are writers, Natalie Goldberg suggests that we just "shut up and write". She proposes we do that for at least three more months ... and then ask the question again. I've just started my three months, and I've already answered my own question.

One Final Thought ...

While writing the first draft for this post, I came across an article that confirmed what I was thinking about blogging, social media and my publishing aspirations.

In 10 Things I Learned from Having a Self Promo Go Viral, Delilah Dawson shares her experience of writing a viral post: 50,000 people poured in and left hundreds of comments.

She had just released a new novel. Imagine the spike in sales!

But it didn't really happen.

In the end, she concludes that the mystery of book discovery is exactly that, a mystery. There is no magic formula.

All of the online promotion that we do: the platform building, the tweeting, the blogging, the podcasting ... it can all help, but it's not a guarantee.

Like Dawson says, when asked for advice about selling more books:

"My answer remains the same: time + hard work + great books + luck. There is no secret."

It's time to get back to that hard work writing those great books!

As a writer, have you struggled with striking a balance between your online and offline writing lives? What works, or doesn't work, for you?

As always, I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.

[This post was originally published on my blog, NeverTooLateToWrite.com, on May 5th, 2015.]

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