An inevitable part of the writing life has become learning how to stay focused in a world of a million distractions. This goes for all writers, both established and new, and when you are setting off to do a really focused project like NaNoWriMo, keeping your eyes on the prize can be especially important. But how can an author focus on their work in the days of endless apps and social media notifications? Author Lana Popović is here with some tips!
Once upon a time, writing was a renowned solitary profession. If anything, the inherent loneliness of the endeavor was relentlessly romanticized. It evoked images of remote seaside cabins, authors wandering the moors in search of the elusive muse, or despairing over writer’s block either on their lonesome or in the company of a sympathetic scotch.
Give or take a letter or two to your closest author friends about the agony of creation, it used to be that when you wrote, you wrote alone.
Today, debut authors have the wonderful advantage of a widespread, welcoming community of colleagues, usually reachable on every type of social media. Debut groups on Facebook, brimming with sympathy, warmth, and advice in the comment threads. #bookstagram and monthly hashtag challenges on Instagram. YA twitter chat. Something or other on Snapchat that I will never know about, because I’m too old and curmudgeonly to change my ways and download the app #sorrynotsorry.
The point is, we’re rarely alone anymore, for any part of the writing or publishing process.
Even when we’re actually writing rather than talking about it—because it is generally so, so much easier and more fun to chat about the process instead of doing it—there’s usually someone around for virtual “sprints,” in which a word-count goal is set for a certain period of time. Even if you can’t see them, you know someone else is writing away too, right along with you. The comfort factor is tremendous.
But the drawback—and it can be a severe one—is that with all this collegiality comes inevitable oversharing. Debut authors quickly learn more than they need to know about the size of other people’s advances, how much fellow authors are being supported by their publisher’s marketing and publicity departments, how many cons and festivals they’re being sent to, who’s already created their own website, blog, newsletter, Facebook page, book trailer, book marks, postcards, playlists, temporary tattoos, hand-painted nesting dolls, and sweet baby Jesus, I AM SO BEHIND/MISSING OUT/IT’S NOT FAIR. Given that most of us are also juggling writing with fulltime jobs, families, and other life concerns, the constant awareness of what everyone else is managing to do for themselves—or worse yet, the ways in which it seems their publishers are going above and beyond for them—can be overwhelming and deeply upsetting.
So much so that in the rat race of attempting to keep up with everyone else, the writing itself—the hardest, most important, and most rewarding part—is sometimes inevitably shunted to the side. Because who has time to write when they haven’t designed their own coloring book as part of a three-month multiplatform giveaway? PRIORITIES, Y’ALL. (100% guilty of this. Because designing custom perfumes for your characters in a witchy Salem shop is way more fun than revising your sequel, I’m not gonna lie.)
I’m not saying it’s not important to be proactive in marketing your book and your brand. It’s extremely important, especially now that Young Adult lit has become a mature, saturated market. There are thousands of other books out there, and only a very select few are chosen as the headliner titles—the golden children who get the biggest slice of the marketing and publicity pie.
Still, it’s worth noting that even the most time-consuming, author-driven marketing efforts will only move the needle so much. Your labor might bring you an extra few hundred copies sold, and that’s not nothing, for sure. But if it’s also hindering your ability to write, that’s something else entirely. I’ve seen friends go on complete social media blackouts when they’re on deadline, and I think this is a powerful and underused tool. Because the writing itself is what will ultimately get you ahead, every time.
That next project in the pipeline, or even the one after that in case that first one doesn’t sell—there are no guarantees in publishing, not even for authors with one or two or even three published books already under their belts—is the single best way to ensure that you’ll get to keep creating. So what if someone you know hit the NYT list with their very first book? It takes others ten years to reach those vaunted heights, and some never do. And that’s okay, because they’ve kept at it, dedicated themselves to their craft. Of course, it’s horribly difficult and often impossible not to play the comparisons game. And it sucks to see others reap rewards with seeming effortlessness, when you know you’ve worked for your butt off in every humanly possible way. You’re tired, damn it. You want a cookie, too, and you deserve one.
But the truth is that someone will always seem to have it better or easier than you, and envy isn’t a particularly useful motivational tool. It certainly hasn’t been for me, at least.
There’s probably a handy catch phrase here for when competing with your own friends gets you down. “When in doubt, write it out,” or something even cheesier, probably. “When you’re sad, close all the tabs.” But in all seriousness, it’s worth remembering that you came here to write. Being published is a privilege that most aspiring authors never attain. We’re all already the luckiest, even when it doesn’t remotely feel like it. So find the (wifi-less) cabin when you’re ready to write, settle in with the scotch or hot chocolate, and try to remember that you’ve already won.
Lana's debut YA contemporary fantasy, Wicked Like a Wildfire, was published by Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins in August 2017. The duology sequel, Fierce Like a Firestorm, is forthcoming in Summer 2018.
Lana studied psychology and literature at Yale University, and law at Boston University. She is a graduate of the Emerson College Publishing and Writing program and works as a literary agent with Chalberg & Sussman, specializing in YA.
Lana lives in Boston, subsisting largely on cake, eyeliner, and aerial yoga. She'd happily spend all her waking hours hanging out in silks, and may very well be upside down right now. Just ask her about it (depending on your tolerance for high enthusiasm and hand-waving). Lana is represented by Taylor Haggerty at Waxman-Leavell.
You can follow Lana on Goodreads, and on Twitter @lanapopoviclit!