There’s never a ‘perfect’ time to write a book (is there a perfect time to do anything?!), but some things to be mindful of with any big undertaking even more so apply to selling such a personal work as a memoir. You might be beating yourself up right now because you just can’t stay motivated or focused on your huge book project – I say let’s look for some other creative ways to keep your writing flowing, and be kind to yourself.
Writing memoir is a deeply therapeutic act, and you can always be writing. But attacking a book-length work, getting it ready to submit to a publisher? That’s a whole different kettle of fish… Let me explain:
Maslow’s Hierarchy and authors
Have you heard of Abraham Maslow? The American psychologist famously constructed Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the triangle that we need to fill if we’re hoping to ‘ascend’ to self-actualisation.
What is self-actualisation and why does it matter to authors?
Self-actualisation / ascension is what we’re all aspiring to, right? Living our best life, achieving our grandest visions, making the biggest impact that we can with the specific cluster of talents that we’ve been uniquely blessed with. Making our version of the pyramids, if you will. For me, that’s the books and courses that I’ve created from my heart, each started as an idea… but I needed to get some other things sorted, first.
Maslow’s hierarchy is really useful as a benchmark for when you shouldn’t be working on your book. The argument is that if we haven’t ticked off the bottom rung of needs: food, shelter, safety – the bigger picture concepts such as creativity, achievement and community contribution are nigh impossible.
Case Study: New York
When I was 30, I’d achieved something I’d been working towards for years: I finally had enough regular freelance writing work that I didn’t need to waitress anymore.
Since writing isn’t bound to any location, I flew to New York, hoping to perhaps stay for a year, maybe study screenwriting, I had all sorts of plans…. I finally had a regular income – it wasn’t huge, but the stability of my life in Melbourne had led me to aspire for something bigger.
But – flying to New York threw all sorts of basics of survival out of whack.
The income I was making from writing shrunk substantially when you converted AUD to USD. Throw a couple of unpaid invoices into the mix, the cost of accomodation in New York City, and I was basically living below the poverty line. I spent so much energy trying to sleep in a packed hostel (that cost most of my earnings) in a room with thirteen loud snorers (oh the glamour of accomodation in New York City!), that I took to spending my days at the New York Public Library, simply because it was warm, free and quiet.
Understandably, because I was always tired, was probably undernourished (don’t ask my why i took up smoking in New York?!), quite stressed about money and never had any time alone, I found it harder and harder to accomplish big writing spurts.
It was at this time a friend introduced me via email to a publisher back in Australia, who asked me if I had sample chapters to send her – she’d read some of my columns and was interested in a book!
How’s that for timing, huh? But I needed to sort out the basics of my survival – because ascending to the level where I could devote myself to a project like writing my first book, depended on it.
So two months later I returned to Australia, went back to my apartment (which I didn’t have to share with 20 snorers who turned the light on all throughout the night!), got myself a day job, cooked myself some vegetables, threw those cheap US cigarettes away, and set up a really healthy writing routine when all of the above was sorted out: finances, housing and health.
One thing though: In New York, I always kept a journal. And I believe this was key to my realisation that I needed to come back.
Why routine, stability, survival matters with big creative projects like writing a book
There’s times in your life you can’t move to the next level, until you sort the basics: food, shelter, safety, health. So if you’re currently going through any of the following, I advise you to focus on sorting out these basics so that you CAN then devote the focus, energy, time and head space to writing your book.
Writing your first book – and getting it to publication standard -is a 10/10 goal that demands focus, discipline, and much more time and energy than you can really comprehend when you set out on the journey.
Survival threats that need to be dealt with before you start pitching your book:
- Housing crisis
- Financial crisis
- Health crisis
- Death of loved ones, loss, divorce
- Trauma or any kind of personal security crisis
What can you do instead?
- Journalling has been proven to help in so many ways with stressful events. Keep a daily journal and record how you’re feeling, what’s changing, or even what is stressing you out. You can’t deal with a problem until you see it on the page.
- Search out memoirs written by people who have undergone something similar. That feeling of ‘me too’ is incredibly therapeutic. Bibliotherapy at it’s best! Hit the library and dose up on some inspiring rags to riches or sickness to health tales to inspire you.
Getting a book deal is a big deal. You’ll go through lots of feelings of vulnerability, spend a lot of time on something that may not have a financial pay-off in the near future, and you need a strong sense of safety and security to be able to write the book that you need to write, in the best way you can. There’s a reason I focus so much on Memoir Mindset in my online memoir courses. It all starts with the basics.
So if you’re going through any of these issues, focus on bringing yourself back into balance before you try to aim for something big, like publishing a book. You need to focus hard to achieve anything great, and if you’re struggling with the basics, you just don’t have capacity.
Keep up your journalling practise as part of your self-care and record the incredible experience that you’re undergoing, for sure. But don’t set yourself a big and stressful goal like writing and selling a book if you’ve just lost your house to a bushfire or your lover left you or the doctor just diagnosed you with cancer. You can’t see the storm while you’re in the middle of it, anyway. But keep writing, and later you will have better perspective and be able to turn these threads of pain into something golden.