The Author Burnout Coach
Episode 15: Be Willing to Have it All
Hello writers and welcome to The Author Burnout Coach. Together, we will dismantle the burnout culture in book publishing and reclaim our love of stories. I am your host, Isabel Sterling, and this is episode 15.
Hey writer loves! Today’s podcast was inspired by a bit of advice I received way back in 2015, before I even had my first agent. It’s something I’ve returned to over and over in the … wow … seven years since. I’ve been at this writing thing for a long time.
So, let’s go back for a moment to the spring of 2015. I was working on the first draft of what would become my debut, These Witches Don’t Burn, and I was actively getting full requests (and rejections) on the third novel I was querying.
During that time, I think it was maybe March or April, I had the amazing opportunity to attend a writing retreat in Wales with some friends and some author who I hadn’t met yet. One of those authors was Victoria Schwab, who was incredibly generous with her advice about the publishing industry.
During one of our evening meals, Victoria said something to the effect of “If you stay in publishing long enough, you’ll experience everything. Good and bad.” She gave some examples of the Not So Fun stuff, like having a series canceled or having an editor leave in the middle of a project. And on the more Fun side of things, experiences like hitting a best seller list or getting your book optioned for TV or film.
In the seven years since I heard that bit of advice, I’ve returned to it often. It allowed me to look at the speed bumps in my path to publication and see them as proof that I was on the right path. I was determined to stick around long enough that I’d get to experience the good parts, too.
When I think about that advice now, with the additional lens of my training as a life coach, it fits so beautifully into the concept of life being 50/50. In life, whether you’re stretching to achieve incredible dreams or settling into the life you currently have, you’re experience is always going to be a mix of positive and negative emotions, and it’s always going to shake out to be right around half and half positive to negative.
There’s good and bad in everything. Every life choice has bits that are fun and bits that are boring. Parts that are exciting and sections that are mundane. No matter what your external circumstances are, there will be joy and frustration, love and loss.
In writing, there are the external circumstances Victoria mentioned that we generally agree are either good or bad. Like having a book hit a best seller list vs having your series canceled mid-way through. We have to be willing to experience all of it if we want to be in this game for the long run.
Now, if you remember from the Model explanation in episode 11, you know that circumstances aren’t actually positive or negative. Getting your series canceled isn’t inherently bad. It doesn’t automatically make you feel shitty. Our emotions come from our thoughts about a situation, so let’s dig into that part.
Let’s say your goal is to get your first novel published. If you’re further along in your writing career, simply insert whatever number book you’re on or whatever goal you’re currently pursuing.
Right now, in the pursuit of that goal, you’re experiencing a blend of emotions. The nuances will be different for each person, but it might be something like this. You’re over the moon excited when you get a full request from an agent, and then you’re frustrated or maybe even devastated when a rejection comes in. While you’re writing your next project, sometimes you’re lit up inside by inspiration and other times you’re so bored by your ideas you don’t know why you ever wanted to be a writer in the first place.
The same will be true when you achieve that goal.
When you get your first book deal, or publish your first indie project online, you’re still going to have that 50/50 life. The first time you walk into a bookstore and see your novel on the shelf will be magical. I still remember walking into Barnes & Noble in 2019 and saw These Witches Don’t Burn on a stand right in the front of the store. It was surreal. I felt so much pride and love and awe in that moment. But I also worried about how sales would go. I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to write a sequel good enough to follow my debut.
I achieved the goal, but I was still ME. I had all the same worries and insecurities that I’d always had.
But that’s actually what I love about life being 50/50. There’s no escaping it. And if there’s no way out of that experience, there’s no reason to deny yourself what you want most.
If you decide to give up on your writing career and pick something more predictable, your life is STILL going to be 50/50.
Your life is going to be a blend of positive and negative emotions no matter what you do, so why NOT go after your dreams? Why not feel uncomfortable because you’re stretching and growing toward your goals if the alternative is simply to feel uncomfortable while you stay the same?
Now, I do want to give a couple caveats here, because our society is full of some really toxic ideas when it comes to goal setting and self-improvement. Thank you patriarchy, you asshole.
1 - I don’t want you setting goals in an effort to chase your worthiness. And 2 - I don’t want you setting goals because society tells you that you SHOULD want those things.
For #1 - You are 100% worthy as a human right now, exactly as you are. Nothing changes that. Not success. Not failure. Not more or less money. Not being trad pubbed or independently published. None of that alters your worth as a person. That shit can’t change. It’s 100% no matter what.
As for #2 - I am not about chasing goals unless it’s what YOU want.
There is something really special about being able to recognize your desires and then being brave enough to say “I want that. I’m going to make that happen for me.” Even if you don’t achieve it right away (or ever) the act of acknowledging your desires and trying to bring them into reality is so powerful.
I’ll give you a recent example where this happened for me.
While at the Life Coach School Mastermind a couple weeks ago, the school announced that applications were open for Master Coach Training. As they were talking about the training, there was this little feeling in my chest. This bit of longing. This feeling of “That’s for ME.”
And not in a FOMO, “I won’t be good enough without that” sort of way. Which can happen sometimes, so you’ll want to check in with yourself to make sure it’s a true desire to have vs a desire to simply not miss out.
But as I sat there listening to the stories of folks who had gone through Master Coach Training, there was this little voice in my head that said I belonged in that room. In that training. So decided to apply.
Of course, I have a messy human brain, just like you, so there was plenty of doubt that came after the decision. Lots of “I’ve been certified less than a year” and “I’m not ready” and “I bet there are so many people who are better than me who will get in instead” and “I don’t need it, so I shouldn’t try yet.” and my brain’s favorite “maybe next year will be better.”
Part of my work right now is saying yes to the things I want, so I applied. It was a pretty involved application. I had to submit recordings of me coaching and teaching and self-assessments and a bunch of personal statements about why I’m a good fit and where I see myself in 10 years and how this training will help me achieve that dream.
I won’t know for another month or so whether I’m accepted, but at this point, it kind of doesn’t matter. Getting accepted, while that would be great, matters way less than the fact that I was willing to try. That I was willing to put myself out there and say “this is what I want.”
The same is true for your writing goals.
Simply showing up and putting in the work, regardless of the outcome, can change your relationship to yourself, and to your goals, in life-changing ways. Imagine if you showed up for your goals for the next 10 years, if you were willing to feel the full range of emotions that comes with being human…who would you be?
Not anyone more worthy, but someone different. Someone closer to the truest version of you.
And how fucking cool would that be?
I am living a life right now that I couldn’t have even dreamed of 10 years ago. It’s incredible. It’s fun. It’s like magic.
And it’s also annoying and frustrating and boring and incredibly painful sometimes, too. If you’re a parent, you have a great example of this in your kids. I never felt the level of love and grief that I feel now as a foster parent. I’m willing to experience both.
So, this is my invitation to you. Take stock of where you are right now. Notice where it’s amazing and where it’s uncomfortable. Then, think about the dream you’re chasing. The next writing milestone that’s calling to your heart.
How is that going to be amazing? How will it be uncomfortable?
Are you willing to have it all–the good and the bad–in pursuit of the life you want?
I hope the answer is yes.
And if you want a guide on that journey, someone to help you get better at feeling both the positive and negative of life, I invite you to work with me. My Love Writing Again program begins May 1st, and it would be my honor to help you say yes to your dreams.
Until next time, writer loves, happy writing!