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The life of a modern author is filled with decisions. What story do I write next? Do I stick with this genre I love or transition to something more profitable? Should I dive into direct sales?

More options and control over our careers can be freeing and exciting, but that level of freedom can also be overwhelming. How many times have you come away from a conference feeling energized and ready to tackle all the new things that will lift your career to the next level only to realize there are not enough hours in your day or energy in your tank? You not only feel overwhelmed but also as if you’re missing some important professional boats.

The increase in overwhelm
Many authors feel that the tendency to reach a state of overwhelm is on the rise because of the increase in access to information. There are so many things we can (or tell ourselves we should) do. That control comes with the responsibility of wearing a lot of different hats, especially if you can’t afford to hire out those additional tasks.

“A lot of the increasing overwhelm has to do with the sheer volume of information at our fingertips, the constant barrage of success stories posted in Facebook groups,” says Cindy Procter-King. “The missing piece of magic. I started in trad. Things seemed ‘simpler’ because there was just one road to Oz. Now, there are many roads. I wouldn’t trade many roads for one again, but I had two choices then. I could either continue to find my way down the road or I could quit. Now, there is so much opportunity, but also a lot more travelers on the road. A lot more choices.”

When Denise Agnew started writing for publication, “There wasn’t an internet presence to fuel the ‘hysteria’ that comes from too much information all at once. As time went on, the peer pressure to be and do things at a certain pace and a certain way pushed me toward overwhelm. It took me a very long time to realize I was in control of the ship and that I didn’t necessarily need to follow the crowd.”

FOMO and comparisonitis
It’s easy to allow the voices in our head to convince us that if we’re not taking advantage of every new option available to us, then we’re making critical errors in our careers.

Grace Burrowes points to social media as not only a means by which doom and gloom (“My sales are falling!” or “My account got closed for no reason!”) get shared at light speed but also “where we see most of the ads bombarding us about ‘can’t miss it’ classes, ‘game-changing’ productivity software, and ‘career-making editorial, advertising, or accountability services,’” she says.

But when all those courses and software are enticing and you’re tempted, how do you not end up with links to seminars that remain unwatched and software you don’t have time to learn how to use and implement?

For Lynn Cahoon, who admits to a love for the bright and shiny, it means deliberately limiting her focus and budgeting to one subject, class, or conference a year.

Cahoon also tries to keep all the potentially useful information she learns from books, conferences, or courses in one easily-accessible notebook.

Rhian Cahill admits that when some new promotional opportunity or business approach comes down the pike, she initially has a mini panic attack that there is yet something else to learn and incorporate.

“But then I remember that I have a plan, and while this ‘new thing’ might be helpful I don’t have to look at it right now,” she says.

She feels that fear of missing out (FOMO) and comparisonitis are among the top contributors to feeling overwhelmed as an author.

“Comparisonitis is a thief, a liar,” she says. “It lies to steal your confidence. And FOMO is its little brother.”

Allie Pleiter tries to remember that she’s looking at everyone else’s carefully managed image.

“We all think everyone else is more successful, happy, or well-off than we are,” she says. “It’s almost never true.”

Procter-King says there seems to be an entire industry that has developed to sell magic beans to authors and that she’s bought into some of it. But it’s not all bad. Plenty of careers have continuing education requirements, and courses on new ways to approach a writing career are similar. You just have to not overwhelm yourself with the number of courses or with a suffocating to-try list.

“As a book coach and consultant, this is a real pet peeve of mine,” Pleiter says of the hype machine that surrounds some courses and methods. “I firmly believe there are no silver bullets in this business. I pick one big new thing a year, and try to implement one new writing skill with each book. Slow but steady.”

Barbara Keiler, who writes as Judith Arnold, says we need to remember that not everything works for everybody.

“A strategy that brings huge success to some authors may wind up costing other authors time and money and doing nothing to improve their sales,” she says.

Picking and choosing
Because there are so many opportunities and choices for authors to make now, it becomes even more important to be selective about which ones to tackle and which to either leave for a later time or not incorporate at all.

“In an era of so much opportunity, some of which seems to change twice a week, it’s easy to feel you didn’t jump on an opportunity when you should have and now it’s too late,” Procter-King says. “But it’s never ‘too late.’ It’s just different.”

I recently faced this type of choice. My partially built Shopify site sat unlaunched, costing me money but generating none, for most of 2023. I was overwhelmed by all the moving parts that went with it. I finally admitted that, at least for now, direct sales aren’t for me. After cancelling everything, I built a new WordPress site in a week and all that stress I’d been living with for most of a year went away.

Pleiter has a hard and fast rule that if something will negatively impact her ability to get her daily word count in, she doesn’t do it.

Some level of organization can help keep overwhelm at bay. For Cahoon, that means keeping all her tasks written down on a sheet of paper under three headers: On My Desk, Soon, and Future.

“This allows me to see what’s upcoming at all times,” she says. “I used to forget about edits until they showed up and then I had to readjust for them.”

Wayne Stinnett, who has a very busy writing schedule because his writing supports two households, says he feels overwhelm at some point every day but that, “When the overwhelming workload is put on paper and organized, it becomes less of a challenge.”

Keiler managed to expunge overwhelm from her writing life a couple of years ago by actually going back to traditional publishing.

“I deliberately opted out of the indie-publishing must-do mania,” she says. “During the 10 or so years I was exclusively indie, I saw my income gradually drop, even as I pushed harder and harder to do all those things (marketing, promoting) that I didn’t have time to do. I contemplated retiring, but I still had more stories I wanted to write. I found a publisher who believed in and supported my books. I hired a team of agents to handle the subsidiary rights of some of my indie books. And I’m happier in my writing career—and saner in my life—than I’ve ever been before. Not feeling overwhelmed is wonderful.”

Finding the right balance
Authors could easily fill all their waking hours with tasks related to their careers, but that’s not healthy—physically or mentally. Trying to do everything leads to burnout and that crushing feeling of being overwhelmed. It leaves no time to live life, spend time with friends and family, or enjoy hobbies. We need balance to be healthy and happy.

When Procter-King lost someone close to her, that experience changed how she viewed her life.

“It made me determined to put my personal happiness first and also the happiness of the people I love,” she says. “If I didn’t meet a writing goal, it wasn’t like I was losing someone else I loved. It’s simplistic but it helped.”

Pleiter says she tries to not work on weekends unless she’s really under the gun or trying to free up time for a big personal event like her son’s wedding.

In a nutshell
“I think a lot of the time we’re after the thing that will make us a success, and we want it to be easy,” Cahill says. “When someone dangles the possibility of those things in front of us, we automatically reach out. It’s hard to know when and what is really what you need. Or want.”

Perhaps that’s the most important question we need to answer to keep overwhelm at bay.



Trish Milburn  came into 2024 with a new outlook on setting goals that can be summed up with the word she’s adopted as her guide for this year – manageable. This article is from the February 2024 edition of Nink.

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