Book Review: Dear Writer, You Need to Quit
Before I dive into the review of this helpful book for writers, I want to highlight a core concept Becca Syme mentions throughout its entirety: question the premise. This year has been a funky one for me in the sense that I feel like I’m going through a pretty big transition. Transition to what? Not sure yet. All I know is that I’ve been reevaluating everything I’m doing with a critical eye to try to figure out the why. Let me explain.
Have you ever just felt sick of everything? Sick of dieting. Sick of boring conversations. Sick of tedious tasks and chores. Sick of friends who don’t seem to fit in your life anymore. Sick of binge-watching TV.
Sick. Sick. Sick.
I was at that point at the beginning of the year. Calorie counting exhausted me. Keeping up with people on social media wasted my time. Doing operational tasks at work that didn’t add much value sucked away my energy. Scheduling time with friends who left me drained after hanging out killed me.
But that was life, and I’m a hardcore Type-A to-do list conqueror. In my never-ending quest to get shit done, I didn’t stop to think why I was continuously adding stuff to my to-do list in the first place. Because I had done it in the past? Things change. Because I felt guilty? Why should I be? In a world that moves fast—where we’re constantly bombarded by ads to have more and curated social media feeds telling us to be more—it’s impossible to feel like I can keep up. I’d had enough.
Why Do We Do This to Ourselves?
You’d think the fact that I work in marketing would have helped me see through all the bullshit, but we're constantly overwhelmed with messages day in and day out, it’s sometimes hard to see it for what it is. People and companies are dictating our lives, telling us we have problems that might not actually be a problem.
Case in point: dieting. This January, I decided to go to a dietitian because I was tired of worrying about counting macros and calories. Scheduling my “cheat days.” Feeling horrible if I overate. Struggling when my eating schedule was off. After doing this for nearly twenty years, I didn’t know any other way. My dietitian asked me why I felt the need to try to shrink my body. I gave some lame answer like, “Well, I gained a bunch of weight from my early twenties.”
In hindsight, I’m surprised the woman didn’t slap me right then and there. Of course, I’m not the same weight as I was in my teens and early twenties. I’m a freaking adult now. Bodies change. It’s the stupid diet culture that makes us believe a changing body is bad, and people who don't naturally have thin, trim bodies need to change.
Newsflash: that’s a lot of us.
My dietitian made me read a book about Intuitive Eating which opened my mind and caused me to start questioning everything, and thus began my journey towards body positivity (which will take a long time to undo the damage from diet culture) and the resolve to stop having people tell me who I should be.
How this Mentality Applies to Other Areas of My Life
I promise I’ll get to the book in a sec. First, I want to talk about how this idea started to flood into other areas in my life.
As some of you may know, I really picked up my writing game late last year. Sure, I’ve been writing for a while now and had completed a novel-length paranormal romance in 2013, but it wasn’t until recently that I started to take my writing career more seriously. Writing makes me happy, so why wouldn’t I continue to create stories, worlds, and characters I love?
It was time to get rid of all the self-doubt and put myself out there. That meant launching social media, studying my craft, joining writing groups and associations, taking courses, and building out a cadence that ensured I’d write consistently and not go months or years without writing again.
When I do something, I do it hard. I blame it on my impatience, which doesn’t work well with the long to-do list I had created myself. I was eager to get started, wishing I had started sooner, which only made me push harder. And, as many of my writer friends may know, the writing community is full of helpful information. So many people are willing to share insights, anecdotes, resources, and so on.
Which means my already long to-do list had grown exponentially, spiraling out of control because everyone had a different approach to writing, marketing, publishing, and so on.
Hello, Burn Out. We meet again.
The Hard Part of Being a Writer
Burn out is a real issue in the writing community. With the quick shifts in publishing, reader expectations, and the desire to follow in the footsteps of successful authors, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves. The world demands so much so quickly. And as any writer can tell you, that's just not feasible. Writing a book takes time. Not only the actual writing itself, but all the crap you have to do before and after you actually write said book.
A lot of us don't have the means to be a full-time writer or to hire assistants to help us. Many squeeze in writing time during the wee morning hours, on lunch breaks at our day job, while on a flight, or while sitting in the bleachers during our kid's practice. Even if we aren't plugging away on our computer or notebooks, we’re still doing things for writing: social media, marketing, newsletters, ads, research, book tours, hiring/working with editors. The list goes on and on.
The expectations are high. But do they really need to be?
I think many of us get sucked into this vortex of activity without stopping to think about why. What are our goals? Is it to build a big backlist? To make it on a national bestseller list? To quit our dreaded jobs and write full-time? To pay off our mortgage quicker?
I believe a lot of us end up diving into it without realizing there are tons of ways to be a successful writer, yet many of us working our asses off as if there’s only one way: to get on J.K. Rowling or Stephen King’s status.
Or at least to make a living from writing.
I’m not going to go into how hard that is or how long that could take to get to—if you ever could get to it. Yet, we’re working at breakneck speed, following all the advice given to us, juggling everything because that’s what we think we need to do.
Apparently, not so.
About Becca Syme’s Book
Okay. We’re here. Sorry for that little journey to get to the main point of this article: questioning the premise.
I picked up a copy of Dear Writer, You Need to Quit earlier this year and felt a sense of relief once I read it. It’s a different kind of book for writers, and one I highly suggest you read if you are an aspiring author or have a few books out and are trying to make it to the next step in your writing career. If you feel like your strategy is a muddled mess and don’t know your head from your ass while you try to do all the things, then this book is for you.
It firmed up the ideas I had started to build from the whole dietitian thing: why the hell is everyone telling me what to do and why do I feel lesser if I’m not doing it?
Becca’s book pretty much covers that. Chapter by chapter, she goes through each type of things writers are told to do to be successful, such as to writing to market, be on social media, rapid releases, so on. Becca questions it all and mainly asks her readers to think about what success means to them. The advice you receive might not align with what success means to you, so why are you killing yourself doing something that doesn’t matter?
For example, if your goal is just to get your books out there, then why are you spending the grueling process of submitting to publishers and wasting all that precious time when you could have self-published? Better yet, do you even need to publish it? If your goal is to just share your work, plop it on BookFunnel or Wattpad and move on with your life.
If success means writing stories you love, then why are you writing to market? Or if your goal is to only share with a small group of people, why are you spending all your time on social media or on ads? Just reach out to those people directly or get their email addresses and be done with it.
If you’re in a weird spot where you feel overwhelmed and a bit paralyzed, then consider reading this book. It will give you permission to breathe.
To drive this point home, I was glad to hear it straight from other authors too—and ones I admire! After I went to the RWA conference in July, I heard time and time again that there really are no right or wrong ways to write a book. All you can do is write the best story you can. The rest is out of your hands. What might have worked for one of your books or someone else might not work again. Trends change. Technology changes. Readers change. You change.
So maybe it’s time to be a little kinder to ourselves and take a beat to breathe and focus on what we love: writing great stories. The rest will work itself out.
If you’re interested in Becca Syme’s courses, you can check them out here.
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