Updated: May 2
It is with face-radiating chagrin that I reflect today on what I've come to call my "Failed Effort at Hustle Culture Era" (circa 2017–2019). What an absolute time. It was incredible to behold a full-blown psychosis take place in which a certain demographic (which I fall into) affirmed the delusion that through the sheer force of will, we could achieve the impossible.
What a delightful and beguiling concept. Want to be a billionaire? Easy! Simply #GirlBoss in the hours before, after, and sometimes during your regular nine-to-five job and all day on the weekends, and your dreams of financial freedom will unfold. Interestingly enough, I saw a lot of this mentality applied to creative pursuits, especially self-publishing. The concept of rapid-release, establishing a backlog, and essentially spamming readers with content felt doable in a way that running a marathon feels doable: Would it hurt? Yes. But with training, a crap-ton of effort, and unwavering determination, I might be able to pull it off.
Well, it turns out I'm pain-averse as heck and prefer comfort above all things in life. Thus, the idea that I could bully myself into a marathon-esque self-publishing experience is laughable, at best, and ludicrous at worst. Here's the reality of the situation: I am neither a sprinter, nor a marathoner, nor a chassé-through-a-thicket-of-daisies sort of traverser in life. Also, we're not actually talking about running. Let's distance ourselves from this analogy because it's edging too far away from my actual point, which I think is this: Throughout life, we're told some very important advice, but we rarely take it. That advice is to play to our strengths. Most of us are able to understand this advice, but we're unable to internalize it. Why? My theory is that very few of us know what our strengths are, and thus we can't play to them, let alone leverage our strengths strategically to give us a leg up in tricky situations.
This has led me to, once again, study my personal strengths: How have I succeeded, as far as writing is concerned, before? It definitely wasn't through churning out an enfilade of books with the reliability of a Pez dispenser, nor was it by blissfully taking my sweet-ass time. Was it the 5 AM writers club? Was it working an eight-to-five job at the time?
No, no, and no. After further self-analysis, I realized that the secret to my success had at least something to do with the desire for full-blown escapism. (Let's just say that 2014–2016 were a couple of very interesting years, each of which I was desperately eager to escape.) But if that is true, doesn't that mean I'll never finish another book unless my life is so grim that I've got no other way of escaping it outside of my own fiction?
That would be bad. Very bad.
Thankfully, however, that desire for escapism isn't what triggered the stars to align. I've since realized the secret was this: full-blown immersion in my fiction. And guess what's a direct and serious enemy to that endeavor?
Whenever I'd try to buckle down and focus on writing again, I'd inevitably return to the grind of trying to #GirlBoss my way into a larger following, and thus a larger readership. My flawed thinking was that of "Why self-publish if I don't have a large readership? If I'm going to write, then I've got to make sure I'm working on reaching readers, otherwise there's no point in my self-publishing at all."
This chicken-or-the-egg rational has haunted me for years. And it's a priority that is distinctly of the self-publishing variety. The reason this is so incredibly poisonous is for the very reason that all semi-truths are incredibly poisonous: it isn't wrong. The best self-published author is the author willing to grind on social media whilst simultaneously writing books at a relatively fast pace (or at least a one-book-a-year pace), and you know what? That strategy is mutually exclusive to the "personal strengths" that I should be working with, which is the ability to fall fully and completely into my own fictional world (and in doing so, write an immersive reading experience for my readers). But the more I committed myself to content creation and striving for a larger following online and my "author platform" as it were, the more I distanced myself from immersing myself in my own fiction. I couldn't live vicariously through my fiction, while also engaging with the stimuli of the real world where I'm an author trying to sell books.
What has led me to realize this in full measure? Well, over the last several weeks, I've been in a position where I've been completely off-grid. No WiFi. No cellular data. No access at all to the "scroll hole" or social media or online shopping or subreddits. Several days ago, for the first time in literally years, I realized I was fresh-out of my typical modes of entertainment and decided to pick up a book and enjoy some reading. The weather was perfect. The doors and windows wide open. The only audible stimuli that of birdsong and the occasional push of the breeze through a canopy of ponderosas.
It was so fucking peaceful. And I tumbled into reading in a way I haven't for a very, very long time as a result. Eventually, I put the book down—suddenly and voraciously inspired to write something of my own. I made myself a mug of tea and holed up in my office, where I slipped out of the book I was reading and into a world of my own creation. I stayed there for hours.
When I ran out of places to go, writing-wise, I took a walk in the forest. Without a podcast or YouTube videos or any source of digital, in-your-pocket entertainment at my disposal, I found myself left with one thing to accompany my walk . . . Music. Music that I loved so much, I had it downloaded. Music that just so happens to be atmospheric and inspirational. Music that is more than a constellation of well-paced noise, and more of a bellows intended to fan flames we've always got smoldering inside of us.
While I walked alone in the forest, listening to this music, it was as though the channel acting as a conduit between myself and the fictional world of my creation opened wide: a maw that swallowed me whole, its gut an altogether different dimension of existence. No longer was I huddled over a craft book in my office, forcing an already contrived plot into a formula that's said to be "right" when everything else is wrong. The heart of my fiction—the story, the cast, the lore, the magic—all fell into place perfectly and effortlessly. I felt like an omniscient god, peering at my protagonist as her life unfolded, all-knowing and objective and comfortable in my space of casual observation. There was nothing for me to contrive, to force, to cobble, to create, to think through—it was all just there, as though it'd existed independently all along, and my only job was to pause long enough to tap into it.
I realized quickly that I needed to run—not walk—back home and write. And I did. I kept that connection, that channel, alive. And rather than writing something that was meant to be read someday by as many people as possible, I was living vicariously through the story itself. I was wasn't writing at all, in fact. I was only living.
And that's when it dawned on me that this is my personal superpower. Perhaps it's a strength that every creative has—a strength crippled by living chronically online, forever outshone by the chaos of being alive in a day and age where everyone and everything is fighting viciously for our attention, our data points. There are some people who are good at blocking out that noise in favor of focusing on their own creative pursuits, but I am not one of them. Perhaps it isn't a personal "strength" I'm working with at all, but rather acknowledging and accepting a personal "weakness" or "handicap" instead—but either way, I've come away with a deeper, more honest understanding of how I operate naturally, and how I can leverage that nature to create something that is FELT more than it is actively MADE.
Maybe this is reinforcement to those of you looking to take a hard and reinforced break from all-things-online. Maybe it's not. Maybe nobody relates to this at all, and I'm just shouting at a void disguised as community the way everybody else is on the internet. But either way, this felt important enough to share. This felt pivotal and epiphanic, to the point where I wonder if the next step I'm meant to take is deleting Instagram and Facebook and YouTube altogether until I've finished drafting this series. All of the time, energy, and mental bandwidth that I've been wasting on my author platform will now be delegated entirely to my writing. It's time to play to my strengths, and stop doing things everybody else's way.