A bit of an unusual post, but one I think, well worth considering.

In the midst of all the announcements about yet another writer crushing it in Kindle sales, there are a million others wondering if they’ve made a mistake with ‘this writing thing’, who hide their pain behind a small smile, or hide in the toilet when people ask them how their book is doing, when they haven’t even started writing the book yet…

This is the stuff about writing that no one likes or dares to talk about. But I’m going to write about it, because I think it is important. For some reason, there’s a lot of shame around this topic, and I think it needs to stop.

You see, there is no greater hope killer and ‘life-force’ killer than disappointment, which when left unchecked, can actually do far greater damage to your health and mental wellbeing than the source of the initial disappointment itself. It seems rather far-fetched but it’s true. Just read this anonymous letter by a ‘failed’ novelist to the Guardian.

The person may have gathered much opprobrium for that article (Oh, grow up. This is the way the publishing industry works. Rejection is part and parcel of being an author!), but I think the person tapped into something millions of aspiring and relatively established writers experience, but dare not vocalise, because they fear judgement from others (Yeah, like writing is a real job anyway. Did you really think you would be like J K Rowling? Who are you to write a book or start a writing business in the first place? Yada yada).

If the results of your writing is proving to be a big disappointment – take your pick – here are some steps to help you overcome.

Why are you disappointed, really?

I’ve been in this business for a while, and I can tell you that the root of your disappointment, in all likelihood, come from the expectations you had for your writing.

Why are you disappointed, really? (Be honest with yourself and do not self-judge).

If you wrote a book, did you write it because:

  • You thought it would be an easy path to fame and fortune?
  • You had some life experiences that you learned from and really, really wanted to share with the world?
  • You thought it would be a great way to promote your business?
  • And when you did publish the book, nothing happened?

Your situation is not unique. In fact, I would go as far as to say that it is par for the course.

You might have read all the information about managing your expectations as an author, but secretly, you believed that you were the exception. Except, now, your book is published, and it turns out that you are not the exception after all, but the very average norm.

Even worse, it hurts like mad. Not that you would ever admit it to yourself, much less others…

Own your disappointment and move on

I’ve counselled and mentored quite a few writers in my time, and I can tell you that this feeling is natural. If you do not want it to overwhelm and colour your life (in the worst way possible), you must acknowledge and face up to your disappointment. In doing so, you will nullify its power and hold over you, and free yourself to move on to other writing adventures (assuming you have the will to keep on writing after this. But you must write, because that’s what writers do).

Writing is one of the top three dream jobs in the world. Millions of people start each day intending to write a book, but they hardly ever get beyond the first chapter. So, the fact that you started, finished and published a book should be an accomplishment in itself.

Why don’t you focus on that achievement instead?

Are you disappointed with your sales?

Fine, this particular book may have sucked, but you will apply the lessons you learned from this experience to your next book.

The best way to think about book writing is to think of it as a long-term career. Whatever your reasons for wanting to be an author, and however you choose to publish (independently or traditional), you’ll get the best traction by writing several books. That’s the best way to build longevity, not to mention your author platform, in your career.

Oh, and learn some book marketing skills while you’re at it. Because you need to, to shift those books. And if marketing is not your thing, pay people to do it for you. Either way, just freaking do it.

What can you do about it?

I was on the phone to a friend. After pouring out my heart regarding a particular disappointment, she asked me a simple question: ‘What are you going to do?’

To be honest, I was flummoxed. It sounds really stupid, but that simple question made me realise that I had the power to change what wasn’t working in my life. Needless to say, it was a turning point for me.

After the phone call, I picked up and pen and paper, and wrote down the facts of my problem. In one column, I wrote down why I was disappointed, and in another what I could do (and what was in my power to counteract and resolve that disappointment).

After that exercise, I felt so much better, because seeing things in black and white helped me think logically and objectively.

If your freelance writing business is not doing as well as you hoped, what can you do more or less of, to turn your disappointment round?

It may be that a completely new approach to running your business is necessary.

You may need to ditch some clients (remember, if they’re not adding value to your business, they’re taking away from it, and I’m talking specifically about those clients that demand an Armani service on a Target price).

You may need to raise your rates (this is always a good thing).

When was the last time you took a break from working on projects to building your business, by for example, marketing? Remember the adage: always be selling.

When was the last time you went on a course or did anything to improve your skills?

The last question is particularly important, because if you’re not learning, you’re not growing, and at some point, it will start reflecting on your writing skills, and ultimately, business, because sooner or later, your clients will gravitate towards your competitor. Yes, the upstart with the skills that you lack.

So, be honest: What should you be doing more or less of?

Who are you comparing yourself to?

You’ve heard it a thousand times; everybody’s journey is different. You may be a newbie comparing yourself to those who’ve been in the industry for a while.

You may even have been a writer for a while, without the kind of success you yearn for. If so, you may need to redefine your interpretation of success.

You see, it all comes down to your values. If money is your litmus test for success, then it will colour everything that you do. And even if you do strike it rich, it will never be enough, and that niggling sense of disappointment will never really go away, because however much you make or have will never be enough.

It’s okay to step back and reflect

Sometimes, disappointment is just another way of life asking us to step back and reflect. If you are disappointed with your writing life, then, pause.

It may be that you’re approaching it all wrong and just need a different perspective. So, relax, take a break from the writing. After your break, you may decide that, historical, as opposed to contemporary fiction, is more your thing. Or, that your freelance writing business needs to specialise in another niche, rather than the one you’re currently focused on.

Whatever your decision, take your time in making the actual decision, knowing that it’s not set in stone – give yourself/your writing the flexibility to respond and adapt to life’s challenges. That’s the best way to thrive as a writer.

If you’ve got an idea for a book and would require some help getting it from your head to the world, try Ready Rockets writing courses. These are short, impactful online creative courses designed for the passion-filled and time-poor. Most importantly, you get the support and accountability you need to write your book and get it out to the world. Find out more...

Abidemi Sanusi

About the author

Abidemi Sanusi is a writer and founder of the Ready Writer website. A former human rights worker, she is also the author of 10 books, including Looking for Bono, and Eyo, which was nominated for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize. Abidemi has been featured in Forbes, the BBC and the Guardian.

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