Wednesday, August 28, 2013

that I've got to get out of that river


OK, this blog post may appear long, but I'm sure you'll get through it in a flash. It's like a stream of consciousness, which is funny, considering the subject matter.

I've just returned home from visiting Cairns with my daughter and younger son. It was so great and relaxing up there. Even though we were physically doing lots of active stuff every day, I had plenty of time to reflect on the direction my life seems to be heading. The quietness and idyllic rainforest surroundings were perfect for that, especially when I was sitting on the fourth floor balcony of my sister's apartment in the mornings and evenings. I realised there's a deep current of sadness and frustration associated with my life back home that has me trapped in its tendrils like some deep river plant, sucking the life blood out of me, making me loath to return. I had to examine it to figure out where it was coming from, since many aspects of my life are good. It didn't take me long to work it out.

All writers, especially of fiction, are told repetitively that unlike the old-timer authors of the classics we admire, our job in the twenty-first century is far more complex. We can't sit back and expect our publishers to do it all for us. Nor can we expect publicists and promoters to help, unless we pay them a hefty fee. We have to tackle the business of P.R., promotion and business skills, all in the name of making our names prominent and getting sales for our books.

Yes, it's this that makes me feel as if I'm sitting in a canoe, using all of my strength to paddle against the current, lucky if I stay in one spot let alone make any progress. I know that if I stop to catch my breath, I'll be swept toward a steep precipice with a great waterfall, like Barron Falls, the one Emma, Blake and I just saw in Queensland from the Sky Rail and Kuranda train. Then I'll be swept over to disappear from sight and be wrecked at the bottom.

God knows I've been facing that current all my life. I'm not as good at paddling these particular rapids as other rowers are, but I've been trying with all my might. I've been taking the advice of books I've read, trying to set up book signings, talks, appearances with many people who aren't really all that interested in what fiction authors are doing. "We'll call you if we're interested," they say, and many never do. I've set up stalls at various events, trying to catch people's eyes with a broad smile and sell them on my books, which they had no idea existed five minutes earlier. I've contacted media to organise fleeting little newspaper articles. I've painstakingly tried to work out the best words for catchy press releases, titles, blurbs and announcements. I've made frequent little announcements on social media, just trying to remind people that my books are good, which involves being careful to work out whether I'm coming on too strong. I've tried to do all this with the intention to make buyers want to purchase my books for their sakes rather than to help me out, which involves salesmanship. I've been vigilant to search for other avenues such as guest blog posts and free giveaways. I've examined other promotional websites which have been drawn to my attention. With the help of my husband, I've tried to set up an interesting website of my own. All these things are my way of taking large strokes with my oars.

I've had to listen to plenty of well-meaning advice from spectators, lots of it edged with reproach. "You're not staying in the race properly. Look at all those authors who are far out ahead of you." Yeah, well, there are more quality athletes at this game. Some of them even thrive on all this. It doesn't mean I'm not still doing my very best. "You don't have the right sort of equipment to be rowing on this river. Your personality is that of an introvert." I know that, but if I stop paddling, who's going to do it for me? "You're losing ground. Back in 2000, Christian bookstores helped you sell 2000 copies of Picking up the Pieces. Now you'll be lucky if Koorong are willing to take 10 copies of your books. The falls used to be way further back and now they're just behind you." I know, I know, but with the emergence of eBooks, you never know what might happen. I have to keep paddling. "You're staying in the same spot. Your number of reviews on Amazon haven't changed for months now." That's why I have to keep paddling hard to keep ground. But boy, my muscles are getting tired.

Over the years, the scenery along the river bank has changed a bit, but the main topography is pretty much the same. Instead of the massive cliff of Christian bookstores to row past, there is now the challenge of getting Amazon sales among millions of other eBooks. That involves figuring out the perfect key words in categories and keeping track of sales. Equally daunting terrain and treacherous mountains.

So that's the sort of course I've been rowing. It took twelve days of lying on the bank for a short rest to make it obvious that it's really getting me down. During that time, whenever I logged on Face Book, I noticed my friends all still doing the rowing game as hard as they can. I feel very loath to get back in my canoe and pick up my paddles. My fingers cramp up and my hands have got blisters of RSI and strain. My bottom is sore from the narrow little seat. My spirit is broken, crying out, "Please don't make me climb in there again."

I have to consider its pleas as I step back into my old life at home. I have files of pictures and words urging me to never, never, never give up, and that rewards come to those who press on. I've kept my focus firmly fixed on them for all these years, but my holiday forced me to wonder if setting my face to get back on with it all is really the right thing to do on all occasions. Is it worth climbing back on board the canoe, at the expense of my happiness?

Say this life ends when we're somewhere between the ages of 80 and 100. I'm already approaching the middle, having devoted the best of 40+ years to this dream and this rowing course. Way back in school I declared that a writer was all I wanted to be. Can I really go on though, when it means keeping this deep sadness and anxiety rooted? I have nowhere to go when I do scramble up on the bank, but pull myself out I must. I can't stay in that water any longer. I'm weary. I don't have the Olympic quality which I see in others. At least it won't be much of financial setback to take a break, when all I've ever earned has been virtually nothing.

I'll still be sticking my feet in to paddle, of course. I love writing too much not to. If you want to, you can still keep track of me. I love maintaining this blog. I'll still dabble with promotional opportunities without getting all intense and burned-out about it. For example, we want to get my Quenarden fantasy series ready for Amazon kindle.

The thought of settling to be a spectator instead of wanting to shoot for the moon terrifies me. I'm well aware that a funny paradox has happened. In a way, continuing to paddle against that strong current in my canoe feels more like 'going with the flow' than climbing out will be. I really need a fresh change in my life. If something is wrong, you have to fix it. Is it a cop-out to want to climb out of that canoe? It feels more like a brave, blind step of faith than a wimpy move at this stage. But I don't know what will be on the bank.

13 comments:

  1. Hi Paula,
    I think that you show a great amount of insight in this blog, and I hope that taking a break refreshes you and is a positive change for you. But just for the record, in my book, you are an amazing author. You will always be one of my favourite writers & 'Picking Up The Pieces' will always be on my list of my Top 10 favourite books of all time. (& I really mean that, I'm not just saying that - it's an incredible story, I've read thousands of books and yet it stands out in my mind as one of my all time favourites)God has definitely used that story, so I hope you think of your writing endeavours as a success and not a failure. Remember it's not all about the numbers, (despite what publishers say)it's about impact and you've definitely made an impact with your writing. I pray that God blesses you richly as you follow where He leads you.

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  2. Thanks for sharing that Paula,
    I think you are very brave and courageous and possibly by getting out of the boat you have been paddling upstream so hard on you will actually be moving away from the strong current of life that is sucking us all along.
    you need to listen to what you have learned and rest in Gods plan. he has equipped you in a very special way to bring his light into a dark world and he will provide what you need in the areas that pull you down. Wait patiently and continue writing and leave the rest up to God. he will prompt you when it is time to pick that oar up again and he will paddle and steer it when you can't.In the mean time rest, heal, pray and listen. take care gorgeous lady xx

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  3. Thanks for your kind words, Brooke. It's wonderful to hear you say that. I was full of enthusiasm when I was writing "Picking up the Pieces" in particular, and also "Risky Way Home" and "Best Forgotten" almost as much. Part of what I realised is that although I have a few new ideas, I don't have that same drive. But as I have almost ten other books already out there, there'll still be plenty to do when I decide to get back on board.

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  4. Hi Louise, I think you are very right about that prompting. It took taking a bit of time out to realise that I need to do just as you say here. Meanwhile, it's sort of freeing to think of taking a rest.

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  5. Paula, do I ever know the feeling of being in that canoe. I also know that there is a time for everything. Now may just be your time to sit back and stop paddling. Good on you for recognizing it, and being brave enough to embrace it.

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  6. Hi Paula
    I love reading your books because they are engaging, hard to put down and always thought provoking. It says something about how hard the "market" has become that someone of your caliber, insight and track record (10 published books, winning awards etc) should feel so pressured just to keep your head above the water. I'm barely at the starting line of this marathon, hoping to launch my canoe into the water. It's hard not to feel daunted at times.
    To change metaphors, there is a time and season for everything. Perhaps this is a fallow season for you - it may not appear there is much happening above the ground but below the ground, the soil is being enriched and replenished. We all need those times and to push ahead regardless can lead to burn out (or eroded and depleted soils perhaps).
    Whatever the future holds, I know God will bless you with fruit. Am I perhaps a little selfish to hope that that includes some more wonderful books from Paula Vince when the time is ripe?

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  7. Paula, I really felt for you when reading that post. Good on you for not just going with the flow (or the waterfall) and recognising that you need the time out. Sometimes, we just really need those times to replenish. Like Jenny said, it may seem as if nothing is happening during those times, but you've planted a lot of seeds. Maybe it's time to let God do the watering for awhile. Take care and look after yourself, and know that you're a blessing to so many people.

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  8. Hi Rose,
    It took a bit of a rest to show me that it is a good idea to take a season to relax sometimes. 13 years of paddling is a long time :)

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  9. Hi Jenny,
    Thanks for your encouragement. It is daunting, as you say, which proves we're in it for the love of it, for it's not easy. You're right, as farmers need to give their fields rest because of soil depletion, we need to stop and consider that it may be the same for us.

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  10. Hi Nola,
    Yes, I must remember what you say here. After all, those classics authors we all love to talk about so often are still having seeds sown, years after the deaths. It's the same for us during our lifetimes. And I guess as they say about having children, 'I've done my bit for society' with a fair few books already :)

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  11. I read your whole post Paula and I want to applaud you for not being afraid to even think of assessing what we 'must' do as authors.
    I ,too, was deeply impacted by 'Picking up the Pieces' and having read my manuscript you know that it was the encouragement I needed to continue the long editing process. Your input in my writing has been huge - so thank you.
    I will be praying for you. x

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  12. Paula, you do deserve a break! I admire the amount of work you've put into the marketing end of books. It's an area where I have always felt weak and could never really handle it. Some of us are artists. Some are salesmen. It's hard to be both, and for creative people, I believe it drains our inner resources.

    Sometimes we need to recognize change for what it is, a way to renew our spirit. You speak of stepping out of the canoe as if it will sink to the bottom of the river without you to paddle. Consider that you have only left it to drift along. Eventually you will find it again along the shore farther downstream and then you can decide whether you want to climb back in or let it drift again. I know what I'm talking about. I left art for a long time after burning out in high school and had to cover my ears from the noise of many who thought I could be great if I only promoted myself. There is plenty of time. Love what you do, every moment. Recognize the successes. If they have value to you, they are successes. :o)

    Peace and Laughter!

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  13. Hi Cristina,
    I'm think we're similar in many ways, this being one of them. It really is very draining to try to promote as well as doing the work itself.
    Yeah, I applaud your last statement. If our creative pursuits have meaning to us, they are successes.

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Thanks for your comments.

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