How to Feel More in Control as an Author
While the average day-job worker doesn’t have a lot of say over how they spend their time, many feel in control of their life due to the reliability of their working day; the routine, familiar responsibilities, the steady paycheque and ability to “switch off” come home time. Admittedly, this control is an illusion, but that doesn’t matter to the human mind. Often, if you believe you’re in control, you are in control – at least of your mental state.
The lives of authors, however, lack such comforting fallacies. To survive in this procession, we must master lots of ever-changing skills, from writing to marketing to public speaking. There are no set responsibilities, nor an exact routine. Working an isolating job, we tend to join communities and blend business with friendship, so struggle to split work from play. Add to that the financial rollercoaster of self-employment and the public nature of our mishaps and it’s understandable why some of us feel manic. The ground shifts constantly under our feet. Working hard can help, but there’s always more work to do and no guarantee that any project will succeed.
On the surface, the author career seems impossible to control. Fortunately, there are things you can do to steady yourself and get back on track when you feel your world unravelling. Clambering on top takes time, and staying there requires maintenance, but it’s totally achievable. Keep reading for five actionable steps you can take to help you regain your sense of control or find a tranquillity within you that you never knew existed.
Tidy Your World
We all yearn for a simpler life in moments of stress. Yes, modern civilisation gives us abundance but having to manage all the stuff that comes with it can get on top of us. The same goes for being connected 24/7 to everyone we’ve ever met; it’s convenient but makes it difficult to escape an avalanche of distracting notifications when we want peace to focus. We will never return to a time before modern technology and its endless gadgets now that someone’s opened Pandora’s inbox, but it is possible to restore your sense of calm.
How? Minimalism: the act of decluttering and keeping only meaningful possessions.
Removing the physical clutter from your life enables you to feel more organised. It makes everything easier to find and leaves you with less to clean – a shorter to-do list. Similarly, digital minimalism – removing attention-draining apps from your phone and decluttering your virtual folders – can also help. As productivity expert Cal Newport says in his book Digital Minimalism:
“Much like decluttering your house, this lifestyle experiment provides a reset for your digital life by clearing away distracting tools and compulsive habits that may have accumulated haphazardly over time and replacing them with a much more intentional set of behaviors, optimized, in proper minimalist fashion, to support your values instead of subverting them.”
Tidying your digital and physical world removes harmful stimuli from your life, simplifying it so you can re-establish your sense of control.
Capture Open Loops
Your brain is a remarkable machine. It’s creative yet logical, robust yet adaptable. But it does have limits. For example, it’s good at creating ideas, but not great at storing them. That’s why you experience anxiety when you have a long mental to-do list. David Allen, author of the seminal productivity guide Getting Things Done, calls stored, unresolved ideas “open loops” and claims that the only way to feel less overwhelmed by them is to write them down so your brain can relax, knowing it’s no longer accountable for holding that information.
A 2020 article in The Guardian claims on the topic that, “resuming the practice brings an instant dose of relief.” It explains that, “Life’s demands aren’t going to stop feeling overwhelming; but you can start using better tools to keep track of it all.” Hence, if you’re storing too many tasks in your head at once, consider capturing your open loops by writing down everything on your mental to-do list. To help you prioritise, consider separating short-term, medium-term and long-term tasks. Only after you’ve written your list can you focus on priorities and intentionally regain control of your author business.
Practice Extreme Ownership
How we talk has a huge impact on the way we think. Indeed, multiple scientific studies, including ones published in Oxford Research Encyclopedias and ResearchGate, claim that:
- Negative self-talkers tend to be more likely to declare physical and academic challenges impossible
- Individuals who blame outside forces for their woes are more likely to abandon their dreams
- Positive self-talkers are more likely to stick with challenges and overcome them
- Individuals who take responsibility for their fate are more likely to take agency and achieve
The main takeaway here is that you need to believe in your own ability to gain control. Yes, this also means admitting that you might be responsible for dropping the ball in the first place, but owning that slipup also enables you to own the solution. In essence, if you made the mess, you can clean it. Once you think that way, you stop focusing on what you can’t control and start planning your path back to a calm, organised state of mind.
Collect Your Data
We writers are often labelled “creative types” and with that label come negative connotations. Major ones include being bad with finances, disorganised, and sporadic workers. There’s the popular notion, too, that authors “break out” purely because of luck. And while there are plenty of individuals in the publishing world who match these descriptions, many authors who succeed often do so by working to a schedule, making good business choices and running savvy marketing campaigns. They’re highly organised, disciplined, data-driven, and use their business acumen to get ahead of the masses.
To join their rank, it’s important not to internalise author stereotypes as if you need them to be creative. What type of covers sell well in your chosen sub-genre? Can you put a figure on how many words you write in an average hour? Which marketing platform gives you the best return on investment? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, it’s because you don’t collect enough of your business data.
Gathering it allows you to make informed decisions rather than guesses, lessening any feelings of doubt you carry on a daily basis. For best results, record as much as you can, from how much you write per hour at different times to how many books your newsletters sell on different days. This methodical collection process will calm your mind and improve your results.
Choose Your Influencers
Historically, “influencer” meant anyone or anything that could change people’s beliefs or a course of events. You could consider your parents, neighbours, partner or friends influencers if their input changed your outlook or behaviour. When the late motivational speaker Jim Rohn said, “You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with,” these people are what he had in mind. Your exposure to them could skew your mentality until you matched the average thought processes of the group. It’s human nature; we do this to bond as a survival technique.
Nowadays, though, “influencer” is a job title. Your friends, family and colleagues still have an impact but so do youtubers, instagrammers and journalists. Our exposure to these people has grown over time as we’ve become more reliant on the internet and, as such, we must consider their impact on our psyches just as much as our friends.
According to a BBC article entitled Psychology: Why Bad News Dominates the Headlines, we’ve evolved to focus more on negative news because it contains potential threats which once would have been critical to know about for survival. Researchers have discovered that headlines including the words “cancer”, “bomb” and “war,” for example, convert more clicks than those that contain “baby”, “smile” and “fun”. We’re attracted to negativity but internalise that negativity when it comes from influencers. Therefore, if you want to feel less stressed and more in control, choose your influencers with care. Negative ones can create underlying unease but, conversely, good ones can also help you cultivate a resilient mindset and feel more in control of your author career.
It’s impossible to control everything when writing and publishing books. But using these tactics will at least help you stop worrying about everything you can’t control and keep you focused on the parts of your business that are in your power to organise. Things will still go wrong from time to time, but remember that control is a state of mind. Life is 10% what happens to your and 90% how you react to it.
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