I’ve never been especially good at balance. There was a stretch in jr. high where I grew 13 inches in 12 months. It was ridiculous. Pants busted at the seams as if I’d been exposed to large doses of gamma radiation. My arms seemed longer by the minute, so I was constantly sweeping breakable things off tables and smacking people in the face. And I tripped over my enormous feet at every opportunity. “Clumsy” doesn’t begin to describe the freak show that was Jeff Salyards. It took me years of organized sports to learn how to adjust to my body, to develop some dexterity, to actually be sort of, dare I say, athletic. But to this day, if I’m spacing out instead of concentrating on spatial awareness, I still revert back to that clumsy kid—banging my head, tripping over my pigeon-toed feet (up or down stairs, thank you very much), knocking things over.
“Jeff,” the astute reader might say, “you do realize the topic this week is balancing writing, promotion, and a personal life, not your slightly amusing but off-topic anecdote about—”
Yes, yes I do. But my physical balance pretty much mirrors the balance in the rest of my life as well. I’ve never been good at prioritizing, procrastinate like there are awards at stake, get caught daydreaming and drifting far too much, neglect to use any kind of reliable system for tracking things, and have perfected a smoke and mirrors show to distract people from the fact that I’m generally improvising as I go. Shoot, I can barely keep a checking account balance.
Now, when you become a parent you have to get better at managing all these things, or you go flipping crazy, and this is exponentially more true with three kids. But it’s still an uphill battle for me, runs against decades of built-in bad habits, and takes a real conscious effort. My wife is better organized, but most days it’s still a mad scramble with our children, and something of a mini miracle when we all make it out the door with our pants on and without leaving someone behind.
So, I’m super underqualified to discuss how to successfully manage writing, promotion, and a personal life. One, because, as I think I’ve established, I’m something of a knucklehead; two, three kids throws the personal life out of whack already, even before you introduce the writing stuff into the mix—seriously, anyone want to baby sit?; and three, because I just published my debut, I’m Kermit the Frog green right now. I have almost no idea what works, what doesn’t, how to gauge how well I’m doing, and frequently feel out of my depth, no matter how many insightful blogs I read on the subject. I constantly worry that I’m not doing enough, or doing too much of one thing and not enough of another. I feel like that fumbling, stumbling, grotesquely clumsy 12-year old all over again. Except my testicles have dropped. And I have those mouths to feed now.
Which reminds me: while I generally try to squash regrets, there are days I think back on my misspent youth. And young adulthood. And regular adulthood. Decades of horrendous procrastination before I actually sired my little circus midgets/princesses/Tasmanian devils and committed myself to being a writer. And I sort of wish I could travel back in time, take my younger me out for a drink and a serious heart to heart talk about really buckling down on the writing while there were still so many free hours in the day. But the younger me would have nodded politely, half listening while silently wondering how I had let I/him/us go, and he would have only had lint in his wallet since no version of me has ever been good with money but younger me was the worst, so I would have had to pay the tab for our mostly unsuccessful chat, but I probably would have left my wallet in the present or had to travel naked back in time, and the whole thing would likely wreak unspeakable havoc anyway, time travel being the painfully paradoxical thing it is. I digress.
As Brad and others have mentioned, it’s really difficult to quantify what exact impact having a blog or doing an interview or hosting a giveaway has on sales, to determine how attending a Con or contributing to forums affects your exposure and presence. So, given that so much of it is a nebulous mystery, I think the best advice is to simply do those things you enjoy and let the pieces fall where they may. Be open to try new things, of course, stretch yourself, challenge yourself, but once you figure out which promotional pursuits you like, do that. Never been on a panel before? Give it a shot, see if you dig it. And if you loathe it, move on. Hate trying to come up with blog posts? Skip the blog then. While most writers, agents, and editors agree that you can’t go all Salinger—you need to have an online presence—you don’t have to maintain a blog if it gives you hives. Put your energy into something else. Don’t want to spend money to commission and print bookmarks? Spend the money on beer instead, or chocolate, or Xanex. Whatever works.
It’s challenging enough to try to juggle writing, promotion, and a personal life without making things harder on yourself than they have to be. Play to your strengths, whether that’s readings, panels, blogs, interviews, whatever. Readers and peers will sense it if you’re forcing yourself to do something you hate. It reads loud and clear.
So, besides focusing on the stuff that makes you happy and avoiding the crap that doesn’t, the only other piece of advice I can dispense is, try not to get ulcers over any of this. Some days, even if you’re doing the promotional stuff that you enjoy and have talent for, it’s easy to get completely and compulsively absorbed. . . neurotically checking your sales figures or Google Alerts, obsessing over the interview you did after it goes live (“Did I sound like an asshat right there? I did, didn’t I? Damn it! Retract! Recant”), reading a lukewarm review on loop until it seems like the most damning indictment imaginable. You’ve been waiting to see your books on shelves your whole life, and now that they’re out there, you want to do everything in your power to give them the best chance of success. But at the end of the day, you can only control a few things: how much effort you put in, where you direct it, and your attitude over the results. The rest might as well be reading Tarot or forecasting the weather. And while it’s important to treat this enterprise seriously, and it is work, it shouldn’t eat away at you or bring on panic attacks.
In my day job, things can get pretty hairy sometimes, with unforgiving deadlines, increasingly difficult benchmarks to hit, personality and culture conflicts, unrealistic expectations, but when I’m having the worst day possible and starting to stress eat Nutter Butters, I try to remind myself: yes, it’s important, and I should do my best, but it’s not like I’m putting out raging forest fires, and no one is going to die on an operating table or a runway if I make a mistake or don’t absolutely nail it.
When it comes to all this professional writerly stuff, give it your all, grow, accept and learn from your mistakes, and don’t freak about all those things that you can’t control in the slightest.