Saturday, September 7, 2013

Eleanor Vincent's lessons on finding balance

Eleanor Vincent joined me here on Choices last March 16 for a long interview about writing, grief, and healing. Today she gives us great advice about finding balance between writing and doing the necessary hard work writers need to do to market our books.  I hope all my writing friends will benefit from Eleanor's wise words. She is a great example for all of us.

Author vs. Writer: Finding your Balance
by Eleanor Vincent

"Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony."
Thomas Merton

In our hyper-connected, ping-me-now world, an author’s work is never done. You could spend 24/7 promoting your book and never check off every task.

So how do you keep your writing vital and alive while also promoting a book

Since Dream of Things reissued my memoir, Swimming with Maya, it’s been a whirlwind. And yet, somehow I’ve completed the last chapter of my new book, written several long essays, and a few shorter ones, as well as a raft of blog posts.

While I haven’t found an answer to the balance question, I have stumbled upon a few strategies.

Compartmentalize. I have days when I only write, even if it’s just for an hour, and do no promotional activity. To really write, I need to focus. Facebook posting and composing email blasts create the opposite for me – a state of hyper-alert multitasking that is the polar opposite of deep concentration. If writing makes me happy (or at least content), I prioritize it over marketing and platform building. It helps that my writing group meets monthly, so I have people expecting me to show up with new writing.

Set goals and deadlines. I write my goals for the month in my day planner at the beginning of each month. I now set a daily target of 300 words, a strategy I learned from members of my writing group. I don’t make my target every day, but even if I hit it several times a week, that’s good output. I make dates with myself to write, and do my best to keep them.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. I’ve learned I can’t do or be it all, so my new motto is “good enough.” Today, I’m a good enough author if I do one Facebook post or update my author page on Amazon, or respond to one reader review or email.  I’m juggling so many balls, I’m always in danger of dropping one, so I’ve learned to aim for less than perfection. This makes me a happier person.

Take frequent breaks.  Sometimes, I just have to get out of Dodge. Whether it’s a walk in the Redwoods, a cup of tea at a favorite cafĂ©, or a weekend away in a beautiful place, I take breaks from my day-to-day routine. Promoting a book takes a tremendous amount of energy, and writing at the same time burns a prodigious number of brain cells, so down time is vital.

Have fun! My dream was always to be a writer. When I was younger, I thought that only men who lived in Manhattan got to do that. Now I know differently. I enjoy saying, “Yes” to my dreams. Being an author – a published writer who does the necessary marketing and platform building – is a great honor. Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I remind myself of that.

Balance is elusive. Finding it while promoting your book and writing your next one is a delicate dance. Do it with happy feet!

Thank you, Eleanor. Such good lessons for all writers to follow.

Eleanor's bio
Eleanor Vincent’s memoir, Swimming with Maya: A Mother’s Story, traces the life and death of her 19-year-old daughter and the subsequent donation of Maya’s organs and tissues. Published by Dream of Things, Swimming with Maya portrays a mother’s struggle to recover after a devastating loss and shows how the bonds between donors and recipients can have a positive impact on grief recovery. It was a finalist for the Independent Publisher of the Year Award.

Eleanor’s essays currently appear in At The End of Life: True Stories About How we Die, edited by Lee Gutkind; This I Believe: On Motherhood; and Impact: An Anthology of Short Memoirs. Other work has appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle, The San Jose Mercury News, Five Fingers Review, The Sacramento Bee and other newspapers and magazines. Her essays, poetry and short fiction have appeared in a variety of anthologies, including The Santa Barbara Review, Across the Generations, and The Napa Review.

She is the recipient of a Community Service Award from the California Transplant Donor Network for her outreach work with organ donors and recipients. Eleanor has also been recognized for writing excellence by a Woman of Promise Award from the Feminist Writers’ Guild and a Mary Merrit Henry Award from Mills College, where she received her MFA in Creative Writing in 1995. Eleanor lives in Oakland, California.

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