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Opinion: When Being An Indie Author Gets All Too Much…

Opinion: When Being an Indie Author Gets All Too Much…

Debbie Young making notes

Debbie Young pretending to work when actually having coffee in a cafe with a photographer friend

ALLi's blog editor Debbie Young starts the writing week with a light-hearted list of antidotes to the classic indie author's problem of feeling overwhelmed.

Indie authors often mention to me that they're feeling overwhelmed by all the tasks required to self-publish and market their books successfully. No matter how much they do, how hard they work, how many hours they labour each day, they still feel they haven't done enough.

The downside of being a one-man band is that there are always more instruments you could take up. Resist the temptation.

So if you're starting this week feeling under pressure, despairing of whether you'll get everything done that you'd planned by Friday, take a moment to read my quick top tips to stay happy and sane while not dropping the self-publishing ball.

1) Have a rest. Remind yourself how many hours you've been spending at your desk each day, and allow yourself some holiday, as a formal employer would. You've earned it.

shower gel tube with caption "Live a life worth writing down"

For inspiration in the shower

2) Go out and enjoy life. Get out into the real world. That's where you'll find your inspiration, not sat at your desk staring at a blank screen or fretting about the number of unanswered emails, unacknowledged retweets or Facebook friend requests. As a natural workaholic, I try to keep myself grounded in reality by keeping next to my computer screen a tube of shower gel bearing the inspirational slogan: “Live a Life Worth Writing Down”. It also reminds me that I usually get my best ideas in the shower, when I've switched my conscious, working brain off and let my imagination take flight.

3) Drink coffee. Or tea. Or spring water, or whatever else takes your fancy. Even better, go out to grab a coffee with an author friend. No matter how much fun you have on social media, you can't beat real life.

4) Tidy your desk – ideally at the end of every day, so that you feel calm when you come back to it the next day. A clear, clean, well-organised desk will give you the feeling of being in control, even though it may not reduce the length of your action list. And speaking of action lists…

Photo of a nearly empty desk

Tidy desk = calm mind

5) Lose the long action list habit. There's a theory that the longer your action list, the less you get done. So don't fill a sheet of printer paper with your to-do list today – just put it on a post-it note, the smaller the better.

6) Choose one thing. Each day, identify the single most important thing that you have to do, and focus only on that. If you finish it, do the next thing. But aiming just for the one thing should make your burden feel lighter.

7) Celebrate every achievement. At the end of the day, make an “I did it!” list of what you have achieved. My little niece, nearly two, is a master at self-congratulation, announcing “I did it!” at just about everything she does, including scribbling something unintelligible on a piece of paper. I think we authors would feel much better about ourselves if we adopted her attitude.

8) Restore yourself with a soothing and restful activity that uses a different part of your brain (or none at all). Physically repetitive tasks such as knitting, weeding or colouring are good. Apparently tasks using both hands are especially good for the brain. (Thanks to ALLi author and medical doctor Carol Cooper for that information!) Anything is good that makes you lose track of time, forget where you are, and ease the flurry in your brain. (I've occasionally reached this state while driving, but wouldn't recommend that route!)

9) Don't compare yourself with other authors who you perceive to be more successful. Ignore their sales rankings, awards, boasts, etc. You're not them. You're you, and you're special. Only you can write the books that you can write. They're apples, you're an orange. Embrace your orangeness.

10) Smile! Next time you've got a smile on your face, work out what caused it – and do it again next time you need to find your smile. My husband told me last week when I got back from my new yoga class that I ought to make a habit of it, as I came back calm and happy. I'm tempted to send him to it next week.

Cat on windowsill by desk

Bonus tip: keep a contented cat by your desk at all times

Now I'm off to make a cup of tea and tidy my desk…

OVER TO YOU What's your favourite antidote to feeling overwhelmed by the indie author lifestyle? Do tell!

#Authors - feeling #overwhelmed? Here's @DebbieYoungBN's top antidotes to #selfpub stress Share on X




This Post Has 39 Comments
  1. This was a perfectly-timed piece for me, Debbie. I’m guilty of the long ‘to-do’ lists so will stop that right away! I shall also remember to note my daily achievements. I’ve recently taken up Zumba with a friend in order to have some ‘me’ time, as well as exercise. I must also agree that showers are the best place for new ideas! Thank you 🙂

  2. Superb advice, Debbie. The tip I need to follow most is the tidy desk one. I am appalling at that.
    I now tell myself not to get anxious about the vast number of things to do because they always get done in the end – and I’ve given up on to do lists.
    I find quilting and painting really help with relaxing.

  3. Great post, Debbie – I use the ‘notes’ list on iMac for my to-do lists and when you complete a task it adds it to a separate completed list which is very satisfying. And I fully agree about setting a goal or goals for the day — I’ve been back in the coalface world of ebook formatting recently (books with graphics – a new learning curve!) and it’s very time consuming but telling myself that my goal is to format XYZ version today etc has kept me going when there are times I could so easily have given up!

    For me exercise is vital every other day — 1.5 hours at the gym in my case. And I do get out to a mix of theatre and cinema etc to keep me away from my desk, which otherwise is like a magnet!

    Out of interest — how do you manage to keep your cat on that cushion. Mine always heads straight for the keyboard 🙂 (And indeed is eyeying it up right now!)

  4. It’s social media, promotions, guest blogging, designing covers, more social media, thanking Twitter followers, responding to posts, thinking about changing cover designs and all that that can overwhelm me. Never the writing itself. So whenever I’m overwhelmed, I put that social media train on a station for a break and simply write. A weekend of writing (perhaps enhanced with a walk in the woods or through a sculpture garden) does more to rebalance than anything else I can think of. Possibly because the actual writing is a hundred percent autonomous, while all that other stuff is related to other people, other peoples performance and success, my own targets and so forth. Then again, I don’t write novels full time, so it will be a while before the writing itself threatens to overwhelm me…

  5. Thanks, Debbie. I’m a list-maker and they’re often very long and just the sight of all the things I should be doing can make me feel inadequate. Using a post-it instead sounds great!

  6. Oh brilliant Debbie! Jack pot post for me, & most of us judging by all the comments. Two-handed brain-rest-work? I do the ironing! I enjoy the patterns and colours on the clothes. Gardening is another good one. Painting is also always more restful than writing.

  7. This is a BRILLIANT post Debbie – thanks! I was feeling super-overwhelmed last week, but today I decided to forget about everything else and just write. So I spent some time working on my novella (great to have a day off to do it). Tomorrow I’ll start thinking about marketing some of my other books, but today was for writing. Such a joy!

    As for my favourite antidote to feeling overwhelmed – definitely relaxing in the spa helps. And trying to concentrate on one thing at a time. I try to save most of my social media interactions for two or three specific days a week, and spend the other days on other things – reviewing, editing, writing…
    I tried writing a success diary for a while – that was a good discipline. Aiming for five things a day – it helped me to realise how much I’d achieved. I wrote that on facebook for a while as a sort of diary, but lately I just think of them in my head while I relax in the spa each night. There is usually something to celebrate.
    Making sure you have a short ‘to-do’ list is also critical. I read somewhere that you should never have more than 6 things on your list of priorities for the day. And if you only manage two of them, just start again the next day. Breaking the work up into chewable chunks is also important. (Eat an elephant one bite at a time). I usually set myself a particular scene or chapter to finish – that sort of goal. Don’t make the tasks too big and indigestible.
    Oh – and a really important one – chocolate. Reward yourself, release some endorphins and enjoy 😉

  8. A good antidote to all the posts I so often read, both on this site and others, about all the remarkable successes other authors have had with their marketing, how we really mustn’t complain about all the hard work we have to put in to sell our books, and that if we aren’t prepared to put in the hard work, then don’t expect to be an author – all very well, but it’s difficult at times not to feel overwhelmed, and it’s hard when one first begins to realise just how much work selling books requires! Personally, most social media drives me nuts, and I’d rather face-to-face contact with others any day – there simply aren’t the hours in the day, at least for me, to keep up with it all. I had hoped to do author talks and suchlike to promote my books, but sadly, ill health has prevented me, so the only comfort I can find is that at least I wrote my books, published them in as good a condition as I possibly could, and have taken advantage of the various online outlets available, as well as a local bookshop and phone calls to libraries and library suppliers. Small successes do need to be celebrated, I suppose…

  9. Thanks for this inspiring article Debbie! This was just the inspiration I needed to read. I’m learning more and more the importance of celebrating small achievements. I like to think of it this way: it was only by completing those smaller steps that I’ve been able to lay the foundation for achieving my larger goals.

    1. Glad to hear that, Zed. You’ll like the inspirational mousemat I have on my desk, which I forgot to mention. Its slogan: “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step” – Lao Tzu, Chinese Philosopher, 604BC-531BC. 🙂

  10. I have a medium to-do list (if I include my other tasks as well as writing) and I”m terrible at the clean desk one. But I do pretty well on #6, choosing one thing. I’ll have several big things, but usually only one is a major writing goal, and that’s my focus for the day. Everything else falls into place around it.

    I occasionally have a problem when my to-do list gets overwhelming and I don’t have time for exercise or even a walk. Then I remind myself that it’s “me time” and the mental shift from have-to-do to get-to-do makes a huge difference.

    1. Excellent warning signal, Jennifer – it takes determination and courage to walk away from a really long to-do list, but it’s the best way to cope with it! I once worked with a boss who operated on the “drop off the desk principle” – if a task remained in her in tray or on her action list for long enough, it would eventually drop off the desk/list and no longer need to be done!

  11. Walking, walking and more walking! And hula hooping. Thanks for the tip about the ‘to-do’ – I’m a serial ‘to-do’ lister and sometimes stuff just falls off the list because it has gone past the use by date and I wonder why I even put it there in the first place.

  12. Yes, like Dave, music is wonderfully therapeutic. I have a daily walk too and yoga. Thanks for this post, Debbie because in spite of my down time activities I’ve been feeling stressed by the whole marketing thing. And like Dave I need to remind myself I’m retired and writing for pleasure – my pleasure. Cheers 🙂

    1. Gosh, thanks for the reminder, Anne – I really ought to do a daily walk. It’s a habit I keep starting and breaking. Must get back to it! And yes, we too often lose sight of the fact that at the heart of all this hubbub should be the sheer pleasure of writing – that’s what it’s really all about.

    1. Ooh, now that’s a good policy, Bonnie – I’m guilty of doing the opposite. But what a great way to feel virtuous, I will try it next time I’m dithering about which one thing to choose!

  13. Many great tips to remember.

    I suggest listening to classical music without doing anything else. Become part of the music.

    When I get stressed out, I tell myself, “You’re retired. Do the part of writing you enjoy.”

    Marketing is the hard part, frustrating and demoralizing. The writing is liberating. Editing is a joy.

    1. Thanks, Dave, great tips, and I especially like the classical music one. I play the piano (very badly) and find playing a classical piece a good way to escape too, especially something twiddly and structured like Bach. I really ought to play the piano more often. Fortunately for the neighbours my house has thick walls and not much sound escapes!

    2. Great post. I agree re music – but not necessarily classical music. My personal tastes in music are wide-ranging, and I have plenty of favourites which fall into the category “classical” – but there are also days when anything other than heavy rock or salsa or folk music or jazz wouldn’t fit the bill, and vaguely classical would drive me up the wall! I’m sure I can’t be the ONLY one in the world who’s very moody in terms of mood music? 😉

  14. This is a wonderful, timely post. I’ve known for a while that I needed to do something so I didn’t constantly feel like I had something else I needed to do. And I also find driving frees up my mind 🙂

    1. It’s great for me too, Shannon, to know that I’m not the only person who feels this way – I think it’s a bit of an “Emperor’s New Clothes” situation, and I’m always happy to be the kid in the crowd who says the Emperor’s got no clothes! 😉

    1. JJ, that’s a great point – thanks for adding it. I’ve recently bought a FitBit fitness monitor, that you wear on your wrist like a watch, which records the number of active minutes I’ve had each day, as well as the number of steps. I often don’t get enough active minutes, and need to do more – the FitBit can’t force me to do them, but it does make me more aware of my omission!

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