Sometimes when a holiday weekend rolls around, I get a strange kind of anxiety.
That's because holidays can be both a blessing and a curse. When you're constantly swamped with work, just one extra day can feel like a welcome break...or a guilt trip waiting to happen. Sure you could relax, take a trip, do a movie marathon...but wouldn't it be smarter to tackle all of those emails crowding your inbox or to work on your book?
Which was precisely my dilemma this past weekend. May was probably the craziest month of my year; weekends were spent flying to North Carolina for my brother's graduation and driving to Montreal with friends, and weekdays were consumed with the usual editorial work plus prepping for speaking at the American Society of Journalists and Authors conference (pictured below).
So when Memorial Day weekend rolled around with absolutely no plans, I had a choice; spend the weekend catching up on work, or turn off my brain for the first time all month?
And while catching up on work would certainly make me feel more on top of things when the week rolled around, it could also backfire. Which is how I eventually made the best plan for my weekend; instead of burning myself out even further by forcing myself to work, or spending even more energy dragging myself on yet another trip or activity, I restricted myself to a day in the park and one night of drinks with friends. Beyond that, I was home. And what I discovered I was lacking was something I bet you're lacking too.
Listen to your body, not your brain
When you spend so much time living in your thoughts, it's easy to get mired in the intellectual and forget the physical. At a certain point, our bodies become impediments to our minds; when our energy is lacking, it's easier to chug a coffee than it is to stop working and listen to our bodies. But that's an easy recipe for burnout and writer's block. I'll tell you something; just before the long weekend, I hated work. I was playing with different ideas on how to change what I did for a living...and I created my own job! It was completely absurd, but I couldn't see the forest for the trees because I wasso burnt out.
What I wasn't doing was listening to my body. I felt like I "should" be working on weekends, so I worked on weekends. I felt like I "should" be taking advantage of every fun event, so I did that too. I was listening to my brain and ignoring my body. And I very quickly started to hate my life.
Once I gave myself some space to breathe this past weekend, the strangest thing happened. I did what my body wanted me to do, and it was completely the opposite of what I thought I wanted. I slept for hours on end. I drank as much water as I could. When my body wanted to move, I went to the gym, but not before that. I started craving healthier food. It was like every goal I had for myself came to me naturally, but only because I was listening to my body.
This is probably all advice we've heard before, but let me ask you this; when was the last time you actually lived it? How many times have you pushed yourself to make this deadline, that event, to write just five more pages? And how many times has that pushing bled into other parts of your life?
And wouldn't you believe it? When Tuesday morning rolled around, I couldn't wait to check my email and get back to work. I no longer needed long breaks during the day, I didn't need as much caffeine, I was excited to do what I dreaded just a week before. And it didn't take an expensive vacation. All it took was listening to my body.
Is it just me, or does this time of year get busier for you guys, too?
On top of all my editorial work, this upcoming Friday I'm speaking on a panel at the American Society of Journalists and Authors' 2018 Annual Writers Conference, on a topic I absolutely love to talk about: How to Turn a Nugget of an Idea into a Book Proposal.
If you happen to be attending ASJA this year, you'd better come say hi! But if you're not able to come up to New York this time around, don't fret. I can give you a few things right now that will help you if you're considering going from an idea to a book.
Why do you want to write this book?
You’re clearly drawn to this topic for a reason. What’s your reason? Are you an expert in this field? Are you simply passionate about this topic, and you’re excellent at research? Do you already have an audience that you know would love to read a book written by you? These are elements of this that will clearly change as you develop your platform, but for now, thinking about what you bring to the table is a good place to start.
Is there a hole in the market for a book like yours?
This one’s a biggie: you want to know that your book has a place in the world before you create it. Take a trip to your local independent bookstore, the library, or Barnes and Noble. Browse around your topic’s section and write down the books that catch your eye. Which ones are you compelled to read? Why do you like them? Is it because of the author’s expertise, the cover design, the blurb on the front from a celebrity endorsing it? Is it the way that the information is organized? Is it the way the author approaches the topic? What don’t you like about what you see? Take home some of those books and read them, and take notes on how those authors created their books. Not only will this give you ideas for how to write your book, you’ll also learn what kind of books already exist in the world and how you might fill a hole in the market. Find out what others are doing already and how you can either do it better or differently.
While researching books will be the primary research you do at this point, you should also take note of online resources on the topic you’ve chosen. Ask yourself the same questions as above and take note of who runs the website, writes the blog, etc.
How might you share your book?
Let’s talk about what your goals are in terms of getting your book out into the world. Are you wanting to build brand recognition and perhaps create a bit of additional revenue? You might consider self publishing. Do you want your content to reach the widest audience possible and perhaps lead to more speaking engagements? Is it also relevant to a wide audience? You’ll probably want to go for traditional publishing. You don’t have to make a definitive decision just yet, but it’s good to know where you might want to take this project before you get started. Plus, it’ll change what you do now; if you want to self publish, you’ll want to write the whole book, but if you want to traditionally publish, you don’t have to write the whole thing yet, as you’ll be writing a proposal instead.
I wish all of you luck in your writing journeys, and if you feel like your idea could be something more, don't hesitate to get in touch via the contact form on my website! I want to hear your ideas and help you build them into something bigger.
Happy belated Independent Bookstore Day!
So, I come from two places — I'm an indie book editor, but I used to work with the "Big Five" too,. Thinking about indie bookstores through both of those lenses, I can unwaveringly tell you how important they are.
It's not that I have an agenda against Amazon or big-box bookstores, but ultimately their goals are to feed the cash cow. When John Oliver's book came out and it was Amazon-only, it was to make the most money as quickly as possible. When Barnes & Noble sends out coupons and lists every new book at 20% off, it's because, as a corporation, it can afford to.
Investing in an indie bookstore is investing in a kinship. Staff members of indie bookstores put their heart and soul into booking author signings, organizing events, and decorating displays out of passion and love, rather than for a paycheck. And I totally understand that you can order from Amazon while wearing pajamas and eating Chinese food, but if you want to support your local literary community, I urge you to take the extra ten minutes to head over to an independent bookstore, even if it means putting some pants on. And if pants aren't on your agenda, the majority of them do online sales too.
Personally, whenever I travel, indie bookstores are the first thing I check out in a new town. And now that it's spring (aka road trip season) I intend to visit some new ones. So much so that I'm working on a comprehensive road trip map of the best independent book stores in the United States. From big names like The Strand to tiny ones nestled inside nursing homes, this map will be your all-inclusive guide to literary bliss — so make sure you watch your inboxes in the next few days.