Friday, May 3, 2013

Is the stress getting to you? A post by Nicole

Yes, we love our work. And yes, we are lucky to be doing something we are so passionate about. But there is no avoiding the fact that this whole business of writing and getting books published can be a very stressful endeavor. 

As a writer, you carefully hone your craft, you pour your heart and soul into your work, you start down the path of seeking representation and getting your book out there…and then inevitably…you wait. You wait for trusted readers to get back to you with comments, you wait for agents to respond to your queries, you wait for editors to respond to your submissions with (hopefully!) an offer, you wait for your book to be published, you wait for reviews and sales figures…and all this waiting can really get to you.

In my years working in the publishing business, I have seen writers, agents, and editors alike who simply cannot take the pressure. Sometimes they give up and do something else with their lives, and sometimes the anxiety gets to them and they end up doing something hasty that they live to regret. Please don’t let this happen to you!

Here are some tips and ideas for these anxious times:

Seek out support
If you are not a member of a writer’s group, find one. Writing is such a solitary business. Sometimes the best way to deal with anxiety and fear of rejection is to seek out other people who know first-hand what you’re going through. Writer buddies can listen empathically and help to calm you down before you unintentionally lose your cool. You can get advice from people who have gone before you, and even better, you can get valuable feedback on your work along the way.

Keep your goals realistic
It’s hard to survive in this business without ambition. Ambition will help you recover from rejection along the way and allow you to bravely put yourself out there again and again. However, there are times when it’s appropriate to rein it in a bit. If you expect nothing less from yourself than an instant New York Times bestseller or critical recognition that you have just written the next great American novel, you may find yourself feeling frustrated.  Keeping your goals realistic will take some of the pressure off the process and allow you to enjoy the small victories along the way.

Don’t hit send on that email!
We’ve all seen the disaster that can result when a person caves to anxiety and sends off an emotional email without thinking it through. I’ve seen many talented writers fall into this trap, destroying potentially valuable relationships with people who really are there to help. Writers seem to be particularly vulnerable to this—maybe it’s because for so many of us the written word has become an important—sometimes our only—emotional outlet. I’m not saying those feelings you have aren’t completely valid or that you don’t have every right to be upset about whatever the issue may be… But it’s better practice to keep electronic communication with people in this business straightforward, brief, polite, and professional. If there’s a delicate situation that needs to be handled, please don’t hit send without speaking with your agent or a trusted friend about it and considering possible repercussions. This brings me to another important point…

Mind your manners
Publishing is a small business, and relationships are important. Don’t forget to be kind, polite, and thoughtful to everyone you interact with along the way. That lowly editorial assistant may not seem to have much clout, but in fact, she may be the one quietly advocating for your book behind the scenes. Also, since publishing tends to use an apprenticeship model, consider this: she may turn out to be one of those big shot people making the decisions one day. Take the time to learn her name, and don’t forget to thank her for the little things she does on your behalf, even if it’s just taking a message or responding to your email.  

Throw yourself into the next project
When you’re stuck waiting, don’t just sit there biting your nails. Instead, why not indulge in an all-consuming hobby that takes you to new worlds and eats up all your anxious thought processes? In other words, write another book! It will be a good distraction, and chances are as soon as you throw yourself into a new project with new characters, your old project will sell. 

Remember it’s not just you
As a writer, you are not the only one sitting on pins and needles, hoping that people will fall in love with your work. Although we may try very hard to project calm and confidence, the truth is nearly every agent and editor I know shares these feelings of anxious uncertainty from time to time. When we agents fall in love with a manuscript and put ourselves out there with an offer of representation…we want you to like us. We may spend the day anxiously checking our email and voice messages, hoping you’ll decide to let us represent you. When we send out your manuscript, we hope editors will fall in love with your work too—and we read into every little communication with them. When editors do fall in love with your work, those editors may anxiously wonder if their offer is attractive enough to make you choose them over some other publishing house. They want you to like them too. Then, of course, we all wait around together, biting our nails, hoping the readers out there will love your work as much as we do and validate all our efforts.

Hang in there! You’re not alone.


  1. Thank you so much for this. It was exactly what I needed to hear right now.

  2. Worth remembering also that all new words are equally discoverable and reside in the future waiting for writers to stumble upon them. Forgetting to stumble about is one of the biggest sins committed by blighted writers. We either skulk forlornly or dash around like possessed Greek Gods drunk on affirmations. Idle, easy stumbling just "feels wrong", which is why we forget to do it, and when we forget to do "what works" we end up with what doesn't work — and start either putting on weight or losing it, all in a wordless vacuum.

  3. Jeez Nicole, I happened on your post and the opening, as related to waiting, about knocked me over. I just posted the same frustration. I have learned to not knee-jerk-click and send; I am hoping the results of said former behavior have indeed gone the way of forgotten memory. Thanks, very helpful.

  4. Excellent advice, Nicole. Support and realistic goals definitely help me.

  5. Dear Nicole,

    You are so right about so many aspects of this crazy business of writing. I especially take to heart your comments on being realistic. I was not realistic when I started and treated my aspirations and writing like a lottery ticket, chanting over and over, "the next one will be the winner."

    A few years, a few eye-opening workshops and now I see: the writer must be in it for the long-haul, and not abandon ship at first sign of disaster or wait for your ship to come in. Nope, you're in a dingy and you better start rowing if you want to make it at all. Lot of work I know, but you'll great arms when you reach your destination.


  6. Perfect timing. Waiting to hear back from several agents on fulls. Have been baking like a mad woman to "combat" the stress. Jumping into the next book is a much better idea!

  7. Really good advice. Thanks very much.

  8. What a great post - thank you! This waiting is HARD. Your advice about joining a writing group is golden, too - I don't know what I'd do without my writing buddies. Many have been in the same shoes (or are there now too) and can offer a lot of perspective.

    I also found that I need a physical outlet for the stress. Thank God for summer and gardening, or else I'd have consumed many more pounds of M&M's than I already have. (It's a shame writing doesn't burn off more calories).