Last month was the one year anniversary since the publication of my very first book, Find Your Stride, and what a year it’s been. I’ve learned so much about myself throughout the entire writing process, but equally as important, I learned a lot about myself post-publication too.
For years, I used to fantasize about what it would be like to publish my own book. I envied published authors, admiring their ability to not only persevere but also revel in the oftentimes painfully boring process of writing. To take idea seedling and make it evolve over the course of months and years into a finished, tangible product seemed like a lofty goal to me. Developing a major work of art from ideation to completion takes tremendous amounts of grit and determination.
When I finished the first draft of my manuscript, I felt a small semblance of accomplishment, but at the same time, I knew there was much more work to be done. I wasn’t sure at first if I wanted to self-publish the book or try my hand at going the traditional route, but after talking to my cousin (who was also knee-deep in the book-writing process), I learned of a third option: hybrid publishing. Hybrid publishing is exactly what it sounds like: a hybrid between self-publishing and the traditional route. Greenleaf Book Group is a highly reputable publisher in the space, so after conducting some due diligence, I decided to submit a book proposal. After a few weeks, I got an email from a consultant at Greenleaf and was notified shortly thereafter that my proposal was accepted. It was equal parts anxiety-inducing and thrilling. Looking back, I can honestly say it was one of the most exciting moments of my life.
The whole editorial process was a lot of fun—having the opportunity to collaborate with an expert editorial team, working with the cover designer, picking the title, and choosing the interior design of the book, were all some of the very rewarding and exciting bits of the process.
After months of heavy edits, I submitted my last round of approvals for the manuscript in December 2022. The book was finally finished and now I had to let it go; allowing Greenleaf to finalize all the details and get the book ready for print. However, despite this big milestone, something felt amiss. This should have been an exciting time for a first time author, but instead of feeling euphoric, I was inundated with unanticipated emotions: anxiety, and a slight sense of grief. I felt a bit empty inside. As the days leading up to my publication date approached quickly, I began to develop performance expectations of my work—arbitrary metrics of success that I felt compelled to achieve early on. Otherwise, I told myself, my book would flop.
I felt this self-inflicted pressure to do everything in my power to make the book a success: grind and hustle to get reviews, podcast interviews, and gain Amazon bestseller status. Instead of feeling proud of myself for bringing a creative project to life and actually moving through the process from ideation, to the first draft, to the polishing and publishing, I felt performance anxiety—a familiar feeling that has plagued me for nearly a decade in other areas of my life.
I have high expectations of myself not just in my writing, but in my work in digital marketing, running, and any endeavour or challenge I take on. My goal is to be a consistent high performer. It’s a motivator, but can also be a bit crippling. If the results don’t match expectations, I turn the blame inwards on myself. I fester in feelings of inadequacy and failure; I begin to incessantly compare myself to others. This inevitably becomes a downward and self-deprecating spiral. Learning to detach myself from the results of my efforts has been an ongoing struggle, and still is. Whenever I undertake any goal, it’s to achieve an outcome; that was my motivation to show up and persist.
When I was writing, all I could think about was holding a physical book in my hand—the finished product—something that I created. When my books arrived, I set the box down on the floor and just stared for a second. I took a deep breath, grabbed a box cutter, and slowly opened it. Seeing the cover with my name printed on it was a surreal moment. When I grabbed the copy out of the book and felt the weight of it, I felt proud. It was a strong, but fast fleeting feeling. My mind then shifted back to performance again; plaguing the enjoyment of the moment. I began to obsess over quickly completing a task list: making content and mailing books out to endorsers and influencers. I didn’t savor the moment at all. I quickly switched into performance and outcome, which stripped the joy out of this truly amazing moment.
While I’m trying not to sound negative or ungrateful, I want to be candid and real with you in this post. The goal here is to share the very real mix of emotions I’ve felt over the last year—the pressure I put on myself, the self-deprecating thoughts, and the many fears I experienced.
The first week of publication I felt a sense of grief. I enjoyed the process so much. Waking up everyday and chipping away at a big goal brought me a sense of purpose and fulfillment in my life. Challenge and tangible progress are conduits in making me feel alive. The times in my life when I’ve felt the happiest and most driven are when I set big, audacious goals for myself and are working towards them every day. Whether that be the #RUN70 half marathon challenge, developing an innovative new product for hockey players, training for a big endurance event, or chipping away at this book project. When the work was done, I kept writing and honing my craft via my blog and social media, but I felt kind of numb and empty inside. I wondered what would come next. How much time should I take before starting my next creative project? I wanted that feeling of purpose again.
When I started writing the first draft, I told myself that this was my first book and to go easy on myself; my goal was to improve my writing and research skills, and share fitness insights and advice I found most helpful for my own journey, with the primary aim to help others. I wanted to share a mindset and method on how to absorb and apply fitness information in an industry that’s filled to the brim with misinformation and quite frankly, dangerous advice. My focus on developing competency and contributing to the world on a larger scale helped me relax a little. I focused on process vs. outcome; personal development vs. external metrics.
As I’m sure many writers and artists can relate, the marketing and selling of one’s art is the least fun part. Ironically, I’m a digital marketer—running paid campaigns for a wide range of brands, but when it came to marketing myself and my book, I procrastinated like crazy. I felt egotistical and annoying by constantly posting about it. I tried to be creative in how I shared the book and it’s contents, but I kind of felt like a broken record. It came to a point where pushing my book started to become a should and a chore. I began to resent the book and the added time commitment it demanded. I never in a million years would have thought that this is how it would feel post-publication. I thought it would give me this long-lasting feeling of accomplishment, yet it was starting to cause me more harm than good. The external performance pressure once again poisoned my experience.
It wasn’t until recently, after chatting with my mom, that I made a definitive decision to rid myself of performance pressure and to let go of this book. The truth is that the book didn’t perform as well as I had hoped. I didn’t sell as many copies as I would have liked, gained a ton of publicity or new opportunities. But success in the book world is mostly out of our control, and with that truth in mind, I needed to free myself from obsessing over external circumstances outside of my control.
Rick Rubin in his book, The Creative Act posits the question: how we should measure success with art? He writes:
Success occurs in the privacy of the soul. It comes in the moment you decide to release the work, before exposure to a single opinion. When you’ve done all you can to bring out the work’s greatest potential. When you’re pleased and ready to let go.
Success has nothing to do with variables outside yourself.
Whatever comes after that feeling of accomplishment is subject to market conditions. Conditions beyond us.
Being content and proud of the art we create—doing the best job we could have done and releasing our work into the world is the success. Everything that comes after is just an added bonus. With my writing, I need to continually remind myself that the work is the reward. Having the ability and time in my day to write and be creative is a gift. Sharing the work with an audience is also highly rewarding, but how it’s received is ultimately not within our control and a burden we need to take off our shoulders. Art can be interpreted in so many ways and is highly subjective. All we can do is create and release, create and release; repeat infitium.
I’ve been working on the first draft of my second book since September of last year and it’s a totally different style than how I normally write. I’m trying to remind myself to slow down and enjoy the process and let creativity work its magic. I’m trying not to let the disappointment of my first book and all the performance pressure get to my head and taint my creativity. I’m trying to take my time with this one and let the ideas develop on their own. I’m giving it the runway it deserves.
Publishing my first book did bring so many rewards. I had the opportunity to be a keynote speaker at the World Domination Summit alongside many other inspiring people, and many people reached out to me sharing how the book impacted them in some positive way. But the biggest reward for me was this sense of quiet accomplishment. I took an idea and brought it through to completion. I saw how creativity took hold of the project and took on a direction completely different than when I started it. I saw how writing a book is very much a team effort and that I absolutely could not have done it alone. Lastly, I have the knowledge that it really is the writing itself that was the most fulfilling stage of the process for me. The accomplishment felt good, but it was fast fleeting. This is good news for artists as we spend most of our time immersed in our work. The release is quick, then we’re back to it again. The creative life in my opinion, is the best, more rewarding life. I gift that never stops giving.
Whether you’re writing your first book or have already published one, know that you can always return to the work. It will be there whether your book achieves commercial success or not, if it is well received or not, if the reviews are favorable or not. All you can control is the work itself—it’s the only constant to art.