#AuthorToolbox Needing a Win

This post was inspired by Why You Shouldn’t ‘Go All In’ When Starting a New Project (https://megdowell.com/2018/08/14/why-you-shouldnt-go-all-in-when-starting-a-new-writing-project/)

Recently I had a conversation with someone, and in the midst of that conversation, I realized how in recent times I’ve frequently said the phrase “I need a win,” and how true that is for me.

The more effort I put into something, the more invested I become, the more I want to receive a return, some form of validation, proving that I was right to invest. Granted, not everything works out, but there is a way in which, just as we need a certain amount of resources to sustain ourselves physically, we need a certain amount of mental/emotional support in the form of success.

This past summer I attended a talk where someone discussed how many recreational activities (notably video games), are built around guiding audiences towards a success, while simultaneously convincing the audience that failure was a very real possibility (when the reality is the experience was designed to end with a successful outcome).

At the time the speaker was extolling the virtue of experiences that actually allow audiences to fail (i.e. escape puzzle rooms), and while I agree with what he said, I think it’s also important to recognize that we need a certain amount of success in our lives, and writing can be a very long road, with many setbacks, before we can achieve that long sought-after outcome.

needing a win-climb

Granted, my natural reaction to a negative outcome is to double down, to invest more time and energy, so that I can validate that setback by succeeding at a later time, but much like gambling, the act of doubling down also compounds the investment, and the frustration if another setback is encountered.

Writers often talk about the importance of breaks, the need to “live”, and I agree, but I also think there’s a strong need to engage in activities that grant us that feeling of success. For some it may be some form of crafting or creativity that we choose to engage as a hobby, for others it may be a game of some sort (video, card, board, dice, etc.).

Part of the challenge is the all too common guilt that writers feel when we opt to spend time not writing, particularly if we feel that our writing goals are very far away, but the truth is we need that time away. It’s part of the process to get to where we need to be (mentally and emotionally) in order to write. Similar to how an athlete must rest after a strenuous workout, not as a reward, but as an essential step, giving the body time to recover, so that they can put forth their best effort once again.

But time alone is not always enough. Sometimes I need to feel the tension of doubt, the “fear of failure”, and the release that comes with success, the mental trophy of “I did it.”

needing a win-success

Hopefully, someday, writing can be that for me. Sometimes it gives me those feelings now, but writing a fickle thing, and sometimes, when writing needs “more”, I need to take a step back, and engage something simpler, and once again become the version of me that can write.

Writing is a long journey, and even as we push ourselves, we also have to pace ourselves. Mental and emotional health are easily dismissed, but every bit as critical as physical health.

Do I love to write? Yes, but that doesn’t make it any easier, and it doesn’t mean I always like it. I want to keep writing. I want to spend more time writing. I want to earn money through writing so that I can spend less time “only earning”, but as part of my writing process, I have to keep looking for other activities that can also grant me that feeling of “success”, so that I can use to tide me over, to “refill my cup”, so that I can pour it back into writing.

This post was written for the Author Toolbox Blog Hop where we share our new discoveries on the craft of writing, editing, querying, marketing, publishing, and blogging tips. Posted every third Wednesday of the month. For rules and sign-up click here.


33 thoughts on “#AuthorToolbox Needing a Win

  1. Why I’ve spent the last month learning how to quilt… 🙂 I just finished and published a book early this summer. I spent the months before really pushing myself hard, immediately followed by some difficult real-life events. It was time for a mental/emotional break. Writing is rewarding, and I love it, but the intensity of it can be draining. Sometimes it really is important to allow yourself time off without falling into the guilt trap (which never leads to the best quality writing anyway). Thanks for this post, I needed to hear it!

    • Congratulations.
      And thank you. It’s always nice to know that you helped someone. And who knows, quilting may become the doorway for another story, or a character in an existing one.
      But yeah, balance can be an elusive thing. Fortunately we do have others who are happy to help us remember.

      • Thanks! Actually, one of my main characters is a seamstress. Sewing is something I’ve always wanted to learn how to do, so I’ve been living vicariously through my characters already. 🙂 Though I may try my hand at clothing in the future, for now I’m content to learn how to make quilts like my Great Aunt (though she stitched all of hers by hand.)

      • It is interesting, sampling the crafts of our characters. For a long time I’ve been into boffer (swords made with foam and tape), but a couple years ago I got into heating and bending the pvc pipe that serves as the bone, so in an odd way it was a bit like forging, with carefully controlled heat, a certain amount of work, and then heat it again to continue the work. There was something wonderfully absurd about how this “game” came to resemble the real thing in some ways, while still remaining utterly soft, squishy, and silly in others.

      • Not specifically. The one person I know who is a part of a branch of them has given me the impression that (at least this particular group) are going for thorough immersion, and are not particularly open to someone coming in street clothes to observe, though it is very interesting to talk with him about the events. One of the most interesting things I learned early on was how, in contrast with every other LARP or simulated combat experience I’ve tried or observed, their style actually encourages head shots (with armor on), as those are the most expedient method of stunning an opponent.

      • I’ve participated in SCA events before (yes, they do want you to dress in garb, but it’s not hard or expensive to get–and really it’s a blast.) I’ve watched the “sword” fights, and they get really into it. It’s amazing how foam and tape can still leave some pretty big bruises by the time they’re done. 🙂 They do go for a certain amount of historical accuracy, which makes it way more interesting than Ren Faires.

      • That’s interesting. The branch my friend participates in uses an inch thick rod of some kind of hard wood, and period appropriate armor suits. I have participated in some foam LARPs, one that favors a certain caution in the strike, and one that permits grappling and “forcing your way through an opponent’s guard”. Both offer some very enjoyable experiences. It’s definitely on my radar, but at the moment I’m a bit maxed out with my existing interests. But yeah, at some point I’ll definitely give it a go.

      • I totally understand that! I’m pretty maxed out myself. 🙂 Too many interests, and never enough time (or money). I never understand people who are easily bored. I’m always doing or creating something, whether literally, or in my head. 🙂

      • Mmm. If anything there is a need to sometimes “do less”, so that we don’t experience another form of burnout.

  2. Good post, Adam. I realize I’ve never said those words–“I need a win”–and not because I didn’t but because I just never put voice to that thought. When I published my first book, success-failure entered my mind. Now, it’s more about completing a project, as well as possible.

    • It’s very interesting to me how often that happens, this way in which the words used really do change the meaning, even though most would agree that “we’re talking about the same thing”. Also congratulations. I envy you (if I may). And, if I may ask, did you find, prior to getting a book published, that there was a greater “desperation” to the experience for you, a more intense need to cross that threshold, and that successfully getting one published “eased the tension”, if you will?

    • Agreed. Sometimes I feel like, among other things (a common phrase for me) it’s important to recognize that just continuing to try is its own victory. In some ways it’s more praise worthy than success because there’s far less praise or rewards for “trying”, and it’s often in those times where continuing to try becomes the most difficult, and the most praiseworthy. I think that’s one of the biggest advantages of the digital age. Few in my local/geographic circle practice writing, and I don’t think any regard it the way I do. They do support me, but it’s extra helpful to engage and talk with others who understand because they are going through similar experiences, and that’s a big part of what blogging and the online community are about, finding kindred spirits, regardless of distance.

  3. I agree with Jacqui. I’ve never thought “I need a win,” but it’s defintiely solid validation when something is selected to publish. Especially the first time you do publish. I take very short breaks. I don’t like to be too far out before I am reading in the genre I write or dreaming up a new idea. Happy hop day 🙂

    • And a happy hop day to you as well.
      I think part of the challenge for me is that my writing process tends to be a bit slow, mixed with the fact that I try to have a few projects going simultaneously, so that if one stalls I can re-engage another and still use my time wisely, but it does mean it can be a few months before even the smallest of projects are ready to be sent off, or shared.
      I also try to take breaks, but I’m often tended to let them run a little long…😅

  4. Really interesting perspective here. I think it depends a lot on what else the author has going on in their life as well. Some authors will have more energy to commit at any given time than others. Great post!

    • Thank you!
      I agree that balance can definitely be a key factor, though I think there can also be an element of “what else has an undeniable claim on one’s time?” If writing has to work around a day job and household chores/upkeep, it may be that, to satisfy one’s own writing ambitions, things may get a bit strained.
      I know, for my part, there’s a strong desire to achieve a level of skill, and the proper set of circumstances/connections, to earn some income through writing, and thus reduce the amount of time I need to spend doing other forms of work.
      I think there are times where I push myself a little too hard, but there’s also that way in which growth is often preceded by an extra hard push that strains the self, and it’s only with time that we adjust to that new level of difficulty, hopefully.
      In any case, thank you again. The response to this post has definitely felt like a warm and welcome success.

  5. I agree completely. I never put my finger on specifically why I burned out a couple of months ago, but I think you’re right: I wasn’t getting a ‘win’ from my writing, but I was putting pretty much all my focus on it! As soon as I started to focus on other hobbies where I can win (gaming mostly!) my writing began to feel less like a chore again.

    • Mmm. I don’t recall where I heard it, but I remember one artist talking about how they began creating because they loved the craft, and somewhere along the way other things attached to it, and “purpose” and “intent” made their craft into a duty that must be fulfilled. There are definitely times where even writing can be freeing again, if we let go and let it “be”, similar to how someone might play with clay or draw on a paper, no purpose, no question, just “embracing the activity” and letting it be. I think that’s one thing we can relearn from children, particularly young children. There are times where we must “adult”, but there are also times where we need to “let go” and “do” without purpose. Side note, very interesting to consider the difference between “doing” without purpose and “doing without” purpose. I do love words, and playing with them, exploring how the same words can have radically different meanings. It’s funny how we (humans) created this thing, we use it every day, and yet, even though, by definition, we have to “know the words” to understand what someone is saying, we can still be surprised and enlightened by what someone says with the words we already know.
      But I digress. Thanks for sharing your thoughts :-). It is always encouraging to collaborate with others in this ongoing journey of exploration and understanding.

      • It’s interesting you mention children letting go and doing without purpose. This is what we’ve focused on a little in the first week of my MA, and it’s great to slowly learn how to get in touch with that inner child whilst writing again 🙂

      • Mmm. I think it’s a recurring pattern that in the midst of all we remember, we often forget at least one thing, and have to be reminded.

  6. Great post … it’s got me thinking and that’s always a good sign. This might be why I default to writing blog posts rather than working on the novel – because a blog post gives me a quick win. Hmm …

    • Mmm. Though some say there are things you learn by completing any piece, independent of its length, and therefore suggest writing shorter pieces before or simultaneous with a novel project.
      In many ways it’s very personal and subjective, what a person thinks their path is.

  7. Excellent insight, Adam. I especially agree with the idea that working at something we can be successful at helps us continue in our writing when it seems like the writing successes are so far away. Pouring back in to our creative well, especially in a way where there are no high-risk consequences, is so crucial for maintaining inspiration and avoiding burn-out.

    • Agreed. I think part of the challenge is finding something that does indeed refill it. Some things, because I’ve done them many times, or because there’s too much certainty, can “fail to refill” as it were. In some ways it becomes like writing itself, a situation where I sortof “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks.”

  8. Thanks so much for sharing this post, and I’m sorry that I didn’t get to it last month. Your post intersects a lot with the (very messy, somewhat incoherent) post I made on a similar topic, that sometimes we need success in other areas, or just variety in our experiences in general, to fuel our energy for writing. I hope you get a win soon, but know that this blog, and the ideas you’ve been sharing in this blog hop, have been extremely valuable. I don’t know about you, but I call that a win.

    • Thank you. I hope you also feel a sense of accomplishment in your writing. I think it’s easy to feel like there’s an obligation, “we must continue,” but I prefer to think that every day we get to choose, and the fact that we keep choosing to continue is its own little victory. Of course that isn’t to say I don’t dream of “more”, and hope to some day make “that” a reality. There’s a wonderful quote, “Only my ambition keeps me sane.”
      Hope your week is going well, and thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

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