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A Literary & Poetry Column
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

The Reading or Writing of Books at Any Age

How to Keep Joy in the Hard Work of Writing

I am not sure if there is an author appreciation day, but there should be. An article in The New York Times made me think of that. It was about a new class taught by Laurie Santos, Ph.D., that teaches “Happiness” of all things! Reportedly, it is Yale’s most popular class and is so in-demand that it has decreased enrollment in other Yale classes. (Don’t despair! It will be available on the Web so keep reading!)

Ms. Santos, a psychology professor, said it is so (too!) successful because Yale students had to depriortize happiness to do what is necessary to gain admission to Yale and so they adopted “harmful habits that lead to the mental health crisis we’re seeing at places like Yale” where more than half the undergraduates have accessed the mental health facilities that school offers.

That made me think of authors who find themselves in a similar situation. Many of those I have taught or who are my clients have started writing a book for all the wrong reasons. They believe It will be easy. They believe that anyone can do it without spending years learning the trade. That they will make a fortune. That they will become famous.

I have had only one client or student who has cited joy or the pleasure of writing as the reason they got into writing, though most of them are also surprised that they are finding no joy in the process.

That doesn’t mean these same people can’t be successful authors. Many of them have achieved success or can, but only if they can stay motivated to learn the craft (and, frankly, play the game!) necessary to do it. At least necessary to do what they define as success.

Even those who are successful by most anyone’s standards often don’t feel that way and get no pleasure in it. One of Santos’ students suggests that students have “numbed their emotions—both positive and negative—so they can focus on their work, the next step, the next accomplishment.”

Authors do the same thing.

That is why in one of the early chapters of my The Frugal Book Promoter, I talk about the fears that keep authors (and many others) from feeling good about their work and how to combat them. Santos suggests students develop more good habits like “showing more gratitude, procrastinating less, increasing social connections” which she believes are “seeding change in the school’s culture.”

I am sure she also gives concrete ways to achieve these new habits. I do that in my book, too, but my suggestions are author-specific. One of my favorites is to make a list of goals and log them into a page of the author’s media kit as they happen. That forces them to recognize their own achievements and because they are in a permanent document, it keeps them from forgetting them—which is another way of saying as “using them to continue to be proud of achievements” even as they look forward to new goals. It allows them to celebrate their successes, from small ones to giant ones. It also nudges them to be grateful for whoever or whatever came along to help them with those achievements.

We’ve all heard the saying, “No man is an island.” Judging from a list of what Santos tells her student do not make them happy, I believe the things that most authors think will make them happy are wrong, too. An example would be “getting published by their choice of big publishers.” Most don’t find this achievement all that satisfying because most have such high expectations for the publisher—so high they cannot be met by most publishers at least in part because profit margins in publishing are not what they once were—and because the author hasn’t been around long enough yet to understand the publishing industry as a whole. An author’s own story may never match that of Stephen King or John Grisham. Even those stars have occasionally strayed from the path of the publishing happiness they set for themselves.

Readers—yep! those who love books—can help, too. When you—whether you are a reader or an author who also reads—write a lovely note to an author or review her book, you have given her another reason to be grateful and to find her way to even greater goals. For an author to make the most of these efforts, she should copy and paste praise into a file folder titled “Unsolicited Praise.” These get kept for future marketing needs but will also keep her appreciation for the generosity of those readers high. The idea is to use tools like these to keep joy levels soaring as she writes her first or twelfth book. To use the happiness tools at hand to focus on the fun of the process. To remain motivated. To keep happiness undiminished and growing!

Tips and Tidbits

(Each month in this box, Carolyn lists a Tidbit that will help authors write or promote better. She will also include a Tip to help readers find a treasure among long-neglected books or a sapphire among the newly-published.)

Gift for Writers:

Everyone is a writer these days. Maybe my multi award-winning The Frugal Editor will remind them of the skills they already have, help polish them to give them more confidence, and give them some new ones that will help them enter an industry without fear. They will probably love knowing that lots of rules that stifle our creativity aren’t rules at all, that we get to make style choices. Emphasis on the word choices.

Gift for Readers:

My newest book is a full book of poetry. Jim Cox, Editor-in-Chief of Wisconsin Bookwatch says, “[Carolyn Howard-Johnson is] an exceptionally skilled wordsmith, her poetry will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf. Very highly recommended for community and academic library Contemporary American Poetry collections . . .” Find Imperfect Echoes at Amazon & B&N. And, yes, I’ll admit that it may have poems in it that you don’t agree with it. And maybe it will have some you do! Cover art by Richard Conway Jackson who is serving twenty-five years to life in a California State prison for receiving stolen property.

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