Avoiding Literary Insanity

Status, worry, and comparison are ways to madness, not victory.

So, have you googled yourself? In the early years of our marriage, I googled my husband and discovered he was on death row in Zambia, lived in South Africa, and he had died of AIDS in Malawi. Believe it or not, he has a common name…in Africa. I can’t imagine my curiosity when I publish my first book. I don’t know if I could resist. Couldn’t there be some value in seeing how the world responds to your book? Couldn’t we just keep our egos in check? Or not.

Whether we’re beginning our journey to publication, in the middle of it or beyond, I’m sure we have wondered how our writing measures up to what’s already out there. I’m sure we’ve all read books and wondered, how did that get publish? Then we read some books  that leave us stunned. We climb back into our trees and contemplate giving up, but then we see the light again. Amy Rose Davis, author of Ravenmarked and Silver Thaw, sums it up great in a recent blog post,

“Reading really good fiction has a strange dual effect on me. Even as I’m thinking, “why bother to write?… my thoughts are also churning with new ideas, new plots, new characters, new themes. I came up with a great idea for a story this week, right in the midst of reading this book. Did the book have anything to do with my idea? I dunno. I just know I was inspired, and the Muse visited.”

In some fiction book proposals, we are asked to do market research. We need to know our “competition” or “comparable books” How are we similar? Different?  Rachelle Gardner says in How to Write a Book Proposal, “It helps the editor develop a big-picture understanding of your book…how yours is similar and would appeal to the same audience.” But this is never done in a negative way, that is just poor etiquette.  I haven’t figured out how to draw appropriate comparisons yet, but I’m sure it has something to do with balance and maturity. 🙂

Still, we find that when we compare or worry about what the next writer is doing, we will hinder our creativity. According to Bell, we’ll go mad…maybe we already are for taking on such a Hindenburg of a task.  Tess Gerritsen, whom Bell quotes, gives us five pointers on how to remain sane in our writer’s journey.

  1. Stop checking your Amazon index
  2. Stop googling yourself
  3. Learn to say no
  4. Exercise
  5. Chase other interests

So, what say you? Do you agree or disagree with Bell’s assessment? Will you check Amazon and read reviews of your books? What do you do when you’re not staring at the computer screen? What other interests do you chase?

For me: I’ve got kids. I think they provide plenty of exercise as I’m always chasing them. My son’s favorite: the Tickle Monster.


11 thoughts on “Avoiding Literary Insanity

  1. Great post! I have been devouring J.S. Bell’s “The Art of War for Writers.” It leaves much to ponder and examine, in my work and in the work of others.

    I would probably read some reviews, but only after I grow a thicker skin. As for other interests, I agree with you, my children, my husband and my home keep me from focusing too long on my writing at this point.

    I look forward to your next post!!

  2. Thanks for the mention! Your post speaks to where I’ve been the last several months. After I launched Ravenmarked a year ago, I struggled with how to market it. I read reviews obsessively, even though there aren’t many. I pushed it on Twitter and Facebook. I googled myself. All I did was burn myself out and get overly stressed, and I doubt I really impacted my sales at all.

    Now, I don’t read reviews. I hardly ever go to Goodreads. I rarely mention my work on Twitter or Facebook. I’m working on finding some balance by forcing myself away from the computer to do other things. And you know what? The Muse is coming back. 🙂

    Great article!

    • J. L. Mbewe says:

      Thanks Amy! You captured exactly what I’ve felt when I’ve read great books. I would go through this time of…I don’t know what you would call it…self-pity? But then after I’ve crawled through that, I’d get ideas how to deepen my story or ideas for other books. Emotions! I do want to mention there might be a time and place for checking the Amazon index. The book we are studying, Art of War for Fiction Writers, James Scott Bell/Tess Gerritsen says that it might be beneficial to view the Amazon index to see the “effectiveness of a particular promotional tool” but that’s about it. I’m so curious that I’d probably have to go through a time of looking at the reviews, getting burned and moving on. 🙂

      Anyways, good to see you here and thanks for joining the discussion!

  3. Hi! I enjoyed reading your post. You are a very talented writer!

  4. J. L. Mbewe says:

    oh, thank you Heidi! It is great to see you here! I just picked up your letter and read it. Then I checked my email and poof, you had made a comment. How weird is that? 🙂

  5. Very good points here. There’s nothing like watching an Amazon ranking to make a new author feel like they are not doing working hard enough. It’s insanity, and I admit, I am a victim of that particular brand. For example, I am selling books to my personal circle of contacts right now. My profit margin per book is better when I make sales this way, but it doesn’t help my Amazon ranking, so in my neurosis, I find myself wondering if I should be directing these buyers to the web so I look more popular. Yet at the same time, I know that’s an idiotic notion.

    We people that live in our heads are very capable of making ourselves looney, huh? Thanks for the reality check.

    • J. L. Mbewe says:

      Hey Rebecca! It is great to see you here! Thanks for your input and joining in on our discussions. I hadn’t thought about the sales authors make outside of Amazon, so that just goes to show we can’t base everything on Amazon 🙂 I just read a post at The Kill Zone by James Scott Bell talking about Amazon and the Big 6. Funny, the coincidence. If you check it out, I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.

      And loony indeed, I’d have to agree.

  6. C.L. Dyck says:

    This sparked about 600 words of ramble, Jennette, so I’m posting in the morning and linking. 🙂

    I saw the Amazon antitrust update as well. It concerns me, but I don’t know what to think–it’ll be a matter of watching how things shake out, for me. It feels totally crazy watching this kind of all-out business war.

    • J. L. Mbewe says:

      I look forward to reading your post then. 🙂

      About Amazon & other business related items, I’m not sure what to think either or how the changing dynamics within the publishing industry will affect us all.

  7. […] wrote about the obsessive, comparative potential involved placing one’s work out for public […]

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