Writing and illustrating can be very solitary occupations, often involving hours spent alone working intensely on a project. While you often hear authors talk about the joy of being able to spend all day writing and the satisfaction that comes when completing a project, something that is spoken about less is the myriad of everyday challenges that many writers face: from the difficulties of balancing writing with a job or childcare, to the frustration of experiencing writers block, managing rejection and difficult feedback, and overcoming feelings of self-doubt. There's also the physical challenge of writing - it involves very little movement and can be a strain on the body if done for hours on end, several days a week.
We've pulled together top tips from some of our authors and editors on how to look after yourself when immersed in a project, and where to go to connect with writers who might be going through similar experiences.
The most important thing to remember when embarking on a career in writing or illustration is that you are not alone. There are dedicated organisations and charities which are focused on offering advice, support and guidance to creatives. We list some of them at the bottom of this piece.
Connecting with other writers
Writers’ groups are a good way to connect with other people who share your interests and ambitions. As well as being a place where you can get advice and feedback on your work, they also provide a space where you can connect with other people and counter the loneliness of being a writer. They now span across the globe, with many people opting to join writing sprints with other authors – all writing at the same time in different countries, via Zoom.
The internet is also a great way to connect with people; many authors and illustrators, as well as publishers and bookshops, have a presence online. Social media in particular can be a quick and easy way to keep in touch with people, including authors and illustrators whose work you admire. Author Rashmi Sirdeshpande has found using social media makes her feel connected with other writers: "It's a great way to learn more about who else is out there, and it's nice to have people to share your publishing journey with."
If you're struggling to know where to start, why not have a look through the #amwriting and #WriteNow hashtags. People contribute to them daily, and if you're having a day of feeling unmotivated or frustrated, there will probably be lots of other people feeling exactly the same way.
Another way to meet other writers is to take a look for events happening locally to you – this might be via your local bookshop or library. There may be a regular writers' group there, or talks, book launches and other events that will help you connect with your local book community.
Category Is Books is an LGBT+ bookshop in Glasgow run by married couple Charlotte and Fionn. The shop is open pretty much around the clock and acts as much more than just a bookshop, "At 6 we close as a bookshop and after that it's very much open to people in the community who run the events and use the space," says Fionn, "some are quite bookish and literary-based like writing and reading groups, but we also have other things like a barber's shop, clothes swaps and open mics and film screenings.
"There are different types of writers groups here too, so there's workshops that are more specific, and others that just meet up to chat through things they're working on." Making a space that was welcoming was important too, "When we were thinking about how to lay out the shop, we said it should feel like someone's living room. People do just sit and read, we have a library section where people can pick they want and sit – we did some reading parties where we invited people for a couple of hours to just come and read together which was so nice."
How to deal with feedback and rejection
Although rejection is a very real part of being a writer, that doesn't make it any easier when it happens. Remember that it's a brilliant triumph in itself to finish a book – you've achieved so much by getting to this stage. Publishing moves in trends just like film or fashion, so maybe your book isn't quite right for audiences at the moment, but that doesn't mean it's always going to be a no.
Keep an eye out for trends and movements in and outside of the publishing industry. There will hopefully be a golden moment when you book is just what an agent and editor are looking for. In the meantime, ask fellow writers to read your work, and get feedback from the people you've identified as your audience. Keep drafting and see if that changes things when you approach agencies.
Something else to bear in mind is to not look at your book as a completely polished product – if it were to go to an editor, there's usually always still work to be done. If you do secure a book deal, you might find the editing process difficult. After spending so much time writing a book, it's natural that you'll feel protective over that manuscript; but it's also important to remember that your editor is doing what they know is best for your book, and is very much on your side.
Just because your editor has sent you lots of notes, it doesn't mean they're not happy with your work – it could actually be the contrary. "It may mean the book is terrific – but could be even better still!" says Simon Prosser, publisher at Hamish Hamilton.
"Perhaps the plot is complex and needs fine-tuning; perhaps there is a compelling character who could be given more space; perhaps there are unconscious repetitions of phrase or idea which need cutting or replacing; perhaps there is a tendency to say too much, when condensing would give the writing more strength. Even a novel composed of individually perfect sentences may be imperfect – but, with luck, perfectible."
Your editor's job is to lead on publishing the best book possible, but it's very much a collaborative process. "You can push back and argue the toss," says Andrea Henry, editorial director at Transworld, "Arrive at a compromise, or reject suggestions that you feel really strongly about. But you’ll need to be able to justify your decision. The key thing is always to take your editor’s thoughts seriously. Keep in mind that, despite finding flaws, they loved your book enough to want to publish it. It’s their baby too now, and they’re there to help make your book the best it can be."
Worrying about having time to write is completely understandable – even the best writers will have days where they struggle, and as a publisher we also have to take into account that you may be supporting yourself through another job. If you have a book deal and are worried about your deadlines, be honest with your editor – they're there to help you. "You absolutely don’t need to carry this worry alone," says Ruth Knowles, publisher at Puffin, "It’s always better to over-communicate rather than just stay silent, and it’s extremely likely that there’s some more time in any deadline to be found.
"Talking to your editor can help you unpick what’s causing the writing to feel hard or not right to you as well. We’re so proud to be publishing you and working with you we’ll be delighted to be involved in even the most tricky bit of the process, I promise."
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it may help to write your own Wellness Action Plan. Created by Mind, the template prompts you to think about what contributes to you being happy, productive and calm. Writing this might help you identify any triggers which you can learn to work on, share with people you work with regularly or avoid if possible.
A lot of authors are self-employed, and the regularity of work and income can present a lot of worries. If you are going into a book deal, make sure you have all the information you need on advances and royalties so you can forecast your income, and don't be afraid to ask questions. Outside of writing, ensure you're charging what you're worth when it comes to events like school visits and festivals – the Society of Authors has great advice that can help you benchmark your rate. And lastly, there are many funding schemes and grants that you may be eligable for, so do take a look through organisations and charities both nationally and local to you.
If you're looking for more information your income as an author, read about that here.
Going outside and taking breaks
Working inside all day writing, particularly during the winter months can be difficult for many, especially if you deal with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Creating a reliable and manageable routine may help: including a simple 30 minute walk in the morning when it's lighter can motivate you as you go into your day of writing and ground you, and eating regular meals at a sensible time will help with energy levels.
Even when you're in a writing streak, remember to take breaks, as they're good for your body to keep moving, and also for your eyes, which aren't made to be looking at harsh light for hours at a time. If you prefer to work in the evenings, take advantage of 'night shift' screen settings which alter the colours of your screen to warmer shades, ensuring you have a better sleep. You might find it helpful to make use of free yoga videos; Yoga with Adrienne has videos for neck and shoulder relief – great after a day hunched over a laptop, and one for a quick break – with no yoga mat or sportswear involved.
Organisations that can help if you're struggling
There are a number of charities that are geared towards helping people in the creative industries, from ArtsMinds, which supports performers and creative practitioners in need, to the Writers as Carers Support Network run by the Society of Authors for its members.
This year, the Society of Authors, Association of Illustrators and Association of Photographers worked together to create Working Well, a guide for creative freelancers. In this they cover advice for worries over income, imposter syndrome, work/life balance and more. We highly recommend having a read.
Furthermore, if you'd like to speak to someone, Samaritans (116 123) and NHS 111 have 24-hour free helplines 365 days of the year, or visit Mind's website for further helplines and listening services.