One of my recent goals is to take a step back and do some recalibrating on my writing career, my goals, where I am, and where I want to be.

Professional life is a living entity, and one has to constantly change the expectations and reassess the realities. I’d hoped working part-time at what I thought was a dream job would support my writing; I was wrong. It drained me. My writing suffered, and my output suffered. The shock of the position’s elimination, the few weeks at another “part-time” job and then trying to meet all the demands on me for the following months took their toll, both personally and professionally.

I’d been miserable on the treadmill of pressure from demands for quantity and speed over quality — not that much was offered in return. I was (am) miserable about the lack of reciprocity in this region, as opposed to other places in which I’ve lived. There’s a lot of yapping; little doing.

I was miserable in the demands that I dumb down some of my work, to appeal to a so-called “reader” I have no interest in courting. I write intelligent people who get things done. Stupid people wind up dead or worse, in my books. I have a low tolerance for stupid people in real life; just because they’re in power right now doesn’t mean I have to pander to them.

I’m also sick and tired of all the information out there stating that THIS is what you HAVE to do. I don’t like being forced into doing things I don’t agree with and am uncomfortable with. No, I don’t HAVE to do it. No, I am NOT going to dumb down my work. I am NOT going to do or write things I’m not passionate about.

Nor am I willing to stop writing.

Instead, I took some time to recalibrate. Meet with trusted advisors, and decide how I want to reshape my writing career on MY terms. The first session was a day-long meeting in mid-May. We didn’t get through everything, but we got a lot of discussion done, and I’m taking actionable steps on my lists to make changes. Some of them are even already paying off, although many of the goals on my list are longer to implement and longer on return. But once the returns start coming in, they should be pretty steady.

Two books that are helpful in this recalibration are NEVER TOO LATE by Claire Book and BOOKLIFE by Jeff Vandermeer.

I met Claire when she was the keynote speaker at the Cape Cod Writers Center. I was either still on the board and just about to rotate off at the end of my term, or I was recently off the board. I’d read her WILDWATER WALKING CLUB book and loved it, then rushed to read the rest of her books –which include MUST LOVE DOGS, the book for which she’s best known. I was one of the people in charge of making sure everything was taken care of for her at the conference, and running interference if necessary. Along the way, we had a chance to have a couple of fun, high-energy conversations (usually in transit from one location to another).

She had her newest (at the time) release with her, and that was her primary topic: NEVER TOO LATE: YOUR ROADMAP TO REINVENTION. I was in a negative job situation that was draining the life out of me, and knew I had to change, but didn’t know how; I also knew my writing was suffering, and that was one reason I was at the conference — because the CCWC is for DOING not just attending panels and being talked at, I knew I’d get some work done (I started a fantasy novel that was then further developed in Vermont). Conversations with her also inspired a novel I started (and am still working on) called TIE-CUTTER, which, once it’s ready to go out, will be dedicated to Claire, since without her, I would never have had the inspiration to write it.

Anyway, Claire signed my copy, I read it, I liked it, I got caught up in things again.

Until I re-read it these past few weeks. When I sat down and re-read it.

The voice was fresher and livelier than ever, and she felt like my own personal cheerleader. It’s the same quality that makes her fiction so appealing — reading Claire’s work feels like spending time with a friend. Someone who will tell you the truth, but support you no matter what. I worked my way through the book, pulling out ideas I was confident would work, and also a few things that I wasn’t sure about, but thought I would try anyway. I’ll let you know how they work out! We’re similar in that we write consistently, we carry notebooks everywhere, we GET IT DONE. She’s now moved from the traditional publishing world to a more hybrid version, which gives her the freedom; she’s built her readership, and they’ll follow her from place to place.

I’m still in the process of building mine.

But the freedom factor appeals to me.

I’ve never met Jeff Vandermeer, but I’m familiar with both his fiction and his nonfiction. I’d read this book several years ago, when I was feeling exhausted and needed emotional fuel.

BOOKLIFE is split into the public booklife and the private booklife. I re=read the public section before my recalibration meeting, and found it helpful. His ideas gave me a foundation for honestly assessing what I do and don’t want to do as far as putting myself out there for my work. Just because “that’s what everyone does” doesn’t mean I want to — or will — do it.

In fact, when people put elements I don’t want to do in contracts, I either negotiate them out, or I walk away from the contract. Just because someone offers you a contract, you don’t HAVE to sign in. I also don’t sign boilerplates. The contract offered is where negotiations START. If the other side says, “we don’t change anything in our contracts”, my response is, “I’m not signing that. Too bad we can’t work together.”

AND I WALK AWAY.

Vandermeer’s book helps sort out what one is comfortable with and what one isn’t, and also the consequences of saying no. Frankly, saying no and continuing the search for the right partner, in either life or work, is a much better choice than saying “yes” to something that will make you miserable. He also helps formulate the right questions, so you can find the resources you need to build what you want.

What he calls the “private booklife” is something I’m pretty happy with, for the most part; it’s the public elements I need to work on. But he points out something important to remember and easy to forget: that there’s a difference between “process” and “habit.”

Both books help you trust your gut in decision-making. It’s easy to over-think and over-complicate. But when you trust you gut, it works out for the best. That doesn’t mean the road will be easy, or that there won’t be consequences. But when you’re true to yourself, that makes it worth it in the long run.

That’s really the message from both books: Build the career you want by being true to yourself. Then, you’ll get both satisfaction and joy from it. Neither book promises “get rich quick” stuff; both are realistic, enthusiastic, supportive, and, above all, practical.

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