This weekend, I saw something that I needed to see… probably ten years ago. It was a confirmation of something I already knew, something that any reasonable person would automatically land on as the truth from an objective standpoint. It’s a blog post by Dave Walsh titled, “Be Whoever You’re Gonna Be,” and I wish I could craft it into a sword or a hammer or something, bust into every indie author group on Facebook, and just start swinging it. Go read that, then come back here.
Now, I needed to see that post about ten years ago because I have spent a decade in the indie author hell pit of self-doubt regarding my productivity and bemoaning my laziness and lack of “wanting it” as much as other authors. I never intended to be an indie author. I assumed that when I self-published The Boss and The Girlfriend, I would make like forty bucks and go back to the demoralizing grind of begging for scraps from traditional publishers. I didn’t realize it would become my entire career, and I didn’t realize how much the rhetoric of the indie author community would harm my self-worth and self-image. And I would never have imagined that it wasn’t a problem with me, but a problem with the grind mindset of indie publishing that wasn’t just making me hate writing, but hate myself to my core if I hadn’t seen Dave’s blog post.
This has not been the greatest couple of years for me. 2022 started with a bang, with my best friend dying suddenly in January. I got Covid at her funeral because fuck you, Jenny, that’s why. The following September, I lost another friend to cancer, and in October, I was involved in a car accident that damaged the tendon, muscle, and soft tissue in my shoulder. In the intervening time, another friend almost died from a ruptured appendix. Another had a critically needed aortic valve replacement. So, obviously, this entire block of time has been completely stress-free. And then, this past March, I had to do the thing I hate most: I had to take time off. Why? Because I could no longer “tough it out” with my destroyed shoulder.
When I say “take time off,” by the way? I had the surgery on a Friday, took pain medication for two days, then went off everything but ice packs and ibuprofen to get back to writing my Yonder and Radish serials. The companies, by the way, didn’t ask this of me. They’ve been very understanding as I’ve navigated deadline extensions. Because of who I am and my blue-collar upbringing, it felt unforgivably lazy to let myself heal, especially since I’d planned a month off from my Patreon. A month! Sure, the surgeon and physical therapists and everyone I knew who’d ever had the surgery had warned me that the recovery would be long and painful, anywhere from six months to one year total. But I had taken a month off from my Patreon and two whole days off from writing. Two days! And all that had happened to me was a traumatic surgery in which a nerve block accidentally paralyzed my throat and chest. I had to be intubated, tissue was removed, bones were drilled, screws were placed, and I experienced the most pain I have ever experienced in my life, with no support from the surgeon’s office because it was the weekend and their answering service felt that a screaming, sobbing patient begging for help wasn’t an “emergency.”
And I got back to work on Monday.
With my arm in a sling, propped up on pillows, I gritted my teeth and cried and forced myself to sit at my desk and get my word count. And it wasn’t just the physical pain that bothered me. It was the mental process running the whole time: You’re not in that much pain. You’re being dramatic. It’s been two whole days since you had surgery. What’s wrong with you? You’re lazy. You don’t deserve anything you have. Other people want this more. Do you think other indie authors are taking time off for this kind of thing? They’re not. And that’s why they’re more successful. That’s why they’re making five figures a month, and you’re making four. You’re worthless and lazy, and you don’t want this. You are letting everyone down, and frankly, if your dead grandfather could see you being such a whiny little worthless bitch, he’d hate you exactly the way everyone should hate you. Because you are worthless.
That’s not an exaggeration for dramatic effect. That goes through my mind every time I do anything job-related. Even writing this blog post, there’s a voice in the back of mind: You’re wasting time. No one wants to hear this. You’ll write a thousand words here that you could be writing on your manuscript. That’s why your numbers have dipped. That’s why your latest release netted you a hundred and twelve dollars in release month. Because you haven’t earned it. Because you don’t work hard enough, and all you ever do is complain. That’s why nobody likes you. Because you don’t work hard, and you’re a lazy, worthless, spoiled brat.
Logically, I’m aware that all careers have hills and valleys, and I’m incredibly lucky that I’m able to continue being the breadwinner for my family but… I still feel lazy. Lazy for taking two days off to heal from major surgery performed under general anesthetic, a surgery I had already been told might take a year to recover from fully.
I cannot reiterate enough: two. days.
Over the years, I’ve stopped reading my reviews. I stopped when someone criticized my use of alternate pronouns in one of my books. It felt so intensely personal, and my writing was getting increasingly queer-focused. I decided I needed to protect myself, and the only way I could do that was by not reading reviews. But my serials started coming out on Yonder and Radish, and people can leave comments. Those are more fun because you get to see people react to your stories chapter by chapter and know exactly where these reactions (both positive and negative) were coming from.
But then I started to see things that wore me down. Things like, “I have to pay for this? Deleting the app.” There were so many comments like that, where people were outraged that I greedily wanted compensation for my work. I started to wonder if my work was worth anything. If I was worth anything. If I was scamming people because a publisher asked people to pay for the book I wrote. I started to consider whether I should just make my future work and entire backlist free, get a job outside the home, and be grateful that people even deigned to read my work in the first place.
Then, a couple of months into my recovery from this surgery, a deeply needed surgery that I had delayed four months out of fear of not wanting my career enough, fear of not deserving time off, fear of laziness, someone left a comment on one of my serials that has broken me. They left it at the conclusion of what was the third full-length novel I had written in 2023. I can quote it verbatim. I won’t because it feels like that would be the same as outing a reviewer. But to paraphrase, they angrily demanded why the story was taking a month-long break when they, a paying customer, had spent money on the previous books. They shouldn’t have to wait thirty days for the next book.
I stared at that comment, completely defeated. It was the confirmation of that voice in my head. I’m lazy. I don’t produce content fast enough. I don’t give. I only take. And I don’t deserve a single thing that I have.
The reason they have to wait is that I am depleted. By July first, I will have written four full-length novels this year. That isn’t enough. I should have been able to write faster. Other writers write faster. They don’t bother spending time with their families. They don’t take time off for things like unbearable grief, traumatic accidents, or painful surgeries. I’m lazy. I’m not good enough. I’m not cut out for this business.
At the same time, I recognize the problem. And I’m angry about it. I see the comment for what it is: entitlement. This reader felt entitled. I should be pumping out words at super-human speeds. Fulfilling their demand for entertainment should be my only goal. Not my family, my mental or physical health, just their desire for the next installment of a story that wouldn’t even fucking exist if not for me. Their response was not “thank you,” which I don’t expect, but “fuck you, I want a Golden Ticket now!“
And what has caused this reader entitlement? Authors. Indie authors who are willing to resort to ghostwriters and AI because of this desperate need to “game the algorithm” over on Amazon, the never-ending quest to release as many books as possible in an impossible time frame, and the glorification of ignoring all human needs and obligations to serve up books, usually for free in the KDP program as the mark of being a Real Author™.
And this has caused a tendency to apologize profusely when serious, life-changing events cause even the smallest and most understandable of delays: First of all, I want to thank everybody who supported the release of BRIDE OF THE MINOTAUR last Tuesday. I know that the sequel is supposed to come out this Friday, but the sudden death of my husband of thirty years has really put a dent in my ability to finish the book on time. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to hit publish on Monday, but it will depend on how long the funeral takes. I’m hoping it won’t be more than a couple of hours. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your patience and I’m so, so sorry to be letting you down like this. It’s unforgivable, unprofessional, and inconvenient to my loyal readers. There will be supportive comments, telling the author to take the time she needs and that, of course, no one would expect her not to delay the release. But there will, guaranteed, be people in the comments saying, I’m sorry for your personal tragedy, but frankly, I’m sick of authors making promises and then not delivering. First, it was D. L. Rose delaying the next Legends of Alamora book by two whole weeks because she “needed” a new kidney, and now this. If you want to keep your readers, maybe think of how this type of disappointment will drive them away. I, for one, will not be reading you again.
And we’ve just gotten to the point where we accept this. We accept that we are failures for not being superhuman machines, spitting out hundreds of thousands of words per day. We make unreasonable sacrifices and, in some cases, beg for understanding about things where understanding should be automatic. We caused this problem. Some of us more than others—looking at you, rapid release squad—but we all contribute.
On top of the surgery and the three full-length novels, I received an amazing opportunity. I’m directing a production of The Music Man. This isn’t just any production: it’s the one Jill was most excited about. One that we talked about in our last text conversation after I found out my theater would be producing her all-time favorite musical. Plus, directing musical theater had been my dream in high school; I truly believed I would have a massive career as a performer on Broadway that would segue into becoming the most celebrated director of musical theater in history. Now, I’m not achieving that particular dream, but I am achieving a part of it. I’m being paid to put my vision for The Music Man on stage. And I’m doing it while honoring my best friend’s memory, healing a very small piece of a wound that I will feel for the rest of my life.
Now, every day when I leave for rehearsal, I think about the comment that person left on my serial. I think about the fact that they have to wait thirty days. Because I had the gall to accept my dream job. Because I selfishly had surgery and took two days off instead of properly resting and recovering. Because I’m lazy. Because I don’t want it enough.
I needed to see Dave’s blog post. It obviously doesn’t heal a decade of psychological damage or the grief and accute stress of the past two years. But it does make me feel like I have permission to be alive, to pay attention to life, to live my life for myself and not for people who will never see my output as “enough.” Will it banish the voice in my head that constantly tells me I’m not a writer, I’m a pretender? That as long as I lazily indulge in things like healing from major surgery, I’ll never be worthy? No. But for a couple of minutes, reading about someone else who’s feeling the same frustration as me, I felt a little better.
I hope that by sharing his post, and sharing this one, I might make someone feel a little bit better, too.