5 Things To Do When You Feel Like a Hack
hack /hak/ noun
a person, as an artist or writer, who exploits, for money, his or her creative ability or training in the production of dull, unimaginative, and trite work.
As I write this, I legit feel like I just crawled out of the Pit of Despair. (Bonus points if you recognize that reference.) As you're probably aware, I attended the RWA annual conference for the first time ever in Orlando, Florida at the end of July. Yes, I go to other conferences, but this was the first RWA one. Anyway... I contracted an irritating cold two days before I was set to depart and it all but kicked my butt. 😑
I'm not even exaggerating. I was at lunch with my Random House/Loveswept editor and suddenly, my throat was tickly. I was tired. It hit me like a truck! So when I was through with the lunch, I headed back to my hotel room (that I was sharing with my husband) and promptly laid down. That evening I had two events scheduled: a Loveswept dinner that I WOULD NOT MISS and a coveted invitation to the Harlequin Party which I WOULD NOT MISS. But, oh man, was I tired. I only had cough drops and Airborne, so that would have to do to get me through.
I went to both, and toughed it through the signing the next day, and toughed it through the 16-hour drive home the day after that. 😩 Oh, but the fun didn't end there! The cold dogged my every step (as I write this is still clinging to me) and after a week of having it, I headed to the doctor.
I have a point, I swear.
The day before my doctor's appointment, I was so unhappy. I'd returned from a kickass conference ready to dart out of the gate! I wanted to write books, edit books, and had three ideas for blog posts...
Instead I sat on the couch and watched:
To the Bone
Beauty and the Beast
Friends from College (the entire first season)
Plus lots of Food Network shows
I love relaxing in front of the tube after a hard day at the keyboard, but this was getting ridiculous. I did manage a few posts online with the help of my lifesaver assistant, Jill, but on that dark, dark day preceding my doctor's appointment I was feeling like a washed-up hack.
My head was chanting phrases like:
You're a hack.
You'll never be as good as ______.
Maybe you should consider another career.
You'll never win a RITA, earn a NYT bestseller, USA Today, or anything else. If you're only going to achieve mediocrity, why bother?
Yes, friends. It got ugly.
I pulled out of the deep, dark thoughts I'm sure most of us suffer from--those whispering voices from our past or our present or, honestly, who the hell knows where they come from?! The point is that they're there, ready to kick us when we're down. So, what's the solution?
Words of wisdom from years ago from my direct sales leader, Melody, crawled out of the back of my brain. I'm paraphrasing here, but she once said something to the effect of:
"If you're not doing it, it doesn't work. If you're doing it, it works."
Sidenote: Melody Dawson, you truly changed my life! Your wisdom and leadership were essential on my path through life and I'm eternally grateful that we spent that time together.
So... the advice. Sounds basic right? If you're not doing it, it doesn't work. What's that mean?
Well, it means what it says.
I wasn't writing. And it wasn't working.
Later that same evening, I gathered enough strength (thank you, coffee!) to get my laptop out and work. I did it from the recliner in the TV room, which had become part of my DNA over the last four days, but I was still working.
I wrote a few things in my planner, including placing three stickers in it that read "sick day" and got down to the business of making a few doable goals for the week.
I called my agent and discussed RWA and where to go from here. She pointed me in the direction, gave me a to-do list, and by the time I hung up with her I once again had a purpose.
I began working on a new series pitch (or, well, an old one that needed updating), and the reading, creating, editing task was enough to send a wave of confidence into my soul. Those voices? They quieted.
I was doing it. And it was working.
When those negative thoughts begin creeping in, the only way to get rid of them is to get to work. Writing--the very act of creating three-dimensional characters from nothing--fuels me with energy that I simply can't get from doing anything else.
This time around, the hiccup was a horrible head cold (affectionately referred to as "conference crud"), but it could be vacation, or playing on the internet. Social media can do a number on you if you browse too long. Everyone posts their best faces on Instagram and Twitter. What you see is the family vacation and feet buried in sand with a glorious sunset in the background. What you don't see is the daughter who came down with a travel bug and the food poisoning that sent everyone to the ER. Facebook has a way of making you feel less and sparking some serious FOMO. So... what do you do?! Quit social media? Become a monk? Ban electronics from your life? Nah, but I have a few tips.
Five Things to Do When You Feel Like a Hack
Set a social media limit. One of my goals for August is to set a timer for cruising through social media. I haven't decided how long yet, but I'm thinking 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening. You know how it is--checking "one thing real quick" ends up with you hunched over Pinterest looking at recipes. We've all been there! There's nothing wrong with doodling around online, but make sure it's a planned part of your schedule not a procrastination technique.
Do the thing. The thing that makes you you. The thing that makes your heart sing and connects with your soul. For me it's writing. I don't care if you only have 15 minutes between putting the kids to bed and your evening routine. Shut yourself in the closet and start a blog post, a book, an outline. Fill out one of these helpful plotting or character forms. (Click and scroll down a bit.)
Get the hell away from it. Sometimes those evil thoughts creep in while we're working. As your writing a scene, your brain whispers, "This sucks and so do you." You're behind on deadline or just suffered a blow (bad review? deleted two thousand words?) If this is the case, leave your computer immediately. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Straight to the out of doors for you, my friend. Take a walk around the block. Get in your car and drive to a park. Go to your kitchen and make dinner. Anything to disrupt your brain pattern.
Get back to it. On the flip side of getting away from it, is knowing when to get back to it. You can't let your bright idea or started plot or (groan) synopsis linger too long in the In Between. You have to get back to it. Sit your butt in the chair, write your favorite motivational quote on a Post-it and get to work. There's only one way to build confidence and that's by achieving your goals. You can't achieve goals if you don't try. It always comes back to the work.
Finish it. Among the most important of every writer's goal is two words: The End. Ask any successful writer and he/she will tell you to finish that gem you've been polishing. My good friend, Lauren Layne has an amazing article on Fast Drafting that you must read. Don't let the word "fast" scare you! The shitty first draft is a beautiful thing because it's freaking DONE. As Nora Roberts said, "You can't fix a blank page."
If you're struggling right now, or have struggled in the past, please know we all do it. From bestsellers to just-starting-out, most of us never truly go through each day feeling like we have it all together. The best defense is a great offense. Notice when you start feeling like a hack, recognize why, and then follow my advice above.
Just here for the books?
We're all in this together!