September 24, 2019

Writing Projects: Are We Ever Really Done?

Man with arms upraised in front of waterfall with text: Creating a Sense of Accomplishment

A few months ago, I shared how I’m trying an experimental solution to fix a recurring infection that’s been disintegrating my jawbone. As I mentioned last month, the super-rare metal my surgeon used to trick my bone into regrowing doesn’t play well with x-rays, which made it impossible to confirm whether the bone had healed or not.

But during surgery last week, my surgeon was able to confirm that the experiment passed all his tests. Yay!

However, I now have a significant recovery ahead of me, as my surgeon did All. The. Things. in hopes that this was the last surgery of the rebuilding process. After 3 1/2 years, I might finally be getting close to being done (assuming the infection doesn’t come back *fingers crossed*).

All that made me think of how we often struggle to ever call many projects done. Especially if we self-publish, many of our writing projects are never-ending, and that can lead to problems.

Traditional Publishing: Then vs. Now…

In the old days of traditional publishing, writers used to finish a draft, get editorial feedback, and complete edits—and then be done with a story. Unless the publisher sent the author on a book-release tour or set up interviews or appearances—all of which are of limited duration—the writer could move on to the next thing without worrying too much about their past work.

Now, even if we’re traditionally published, we need to pay more attention than ever before to stories that we’re supposedly “finished” with. More of the marketing falls on our shoulders, so we might need to think about advertising or work with our publisher to set up BookBub deals for “done” stories.

Self-Publishing: The Work Never Ends

If we’re self-published, we might never really be able to call a project done the same way traditionally published authors can. While traditionally published authors can’t do much in the face of poor sales other than try to make their next story better, when self-published authors notice weak sales, we can do something with our so-called “completed” stories.

For example, we could…

  • change a book’s description at online retailers
  • add references to our other books (especially in a series) in our books’ descriptions at online retailers
  • tweak the categories or keywords at online retailers
  • create and offer a different format, such as paperback or audiobook
  • change retailer setup, such as going wide vs. limiting to Kindle Unlimited

None of that even counts the many marketing-style changes we can try, such as…

  • changing pricing
  • looking for co-op promotion opportunities, such as other author’s newsletters or submitting to an anthology
  • offering free versions for a newsletter-signup funnel
  • adding or updating advertising campaigns
  • setting up book sales and deals

Self-Publishing: Is a Story Ever Really Done?

In addition, the freedom of self-publishing creates the freedom to update “finished” stories. In other words, even our book files themselves might not ever be set in stone.

For example, we might tweak the book files in our backlist to…

  • update our book’s cover
  • add our latest release to the Also By lists in the front or backmatter of older stories
  • add an excerpt or promo to the backmatter to encourage more sell through from one story to another
  • add links to new features we’ve set up, such as a newsletter signup
  • edit a story to fix issues if we’ve improved our skills

The Problem with Ongoing Projects

Most of us probably like the sense of accomplishment that comes when we get to call something done. So we have to ask ourselves how the opposite situation affects us: What happens when the sense of accomplishment doesn’t exist or is far too temporary?

How can we create a sense of accomplishment when many of our projects are ongoing? Click To TweetPersonally, when I complete a project, my brain gets a chance to rest. It’s like the ability to close a bunch of tabs in my mind’s browser that was taking up memory and processing. Suddenly, my brain isn’t quite as overwhelmed.

The problem of ongoing projects is that the opposite occurs. Not only do I not get the boost from the sense of accomplishment, but my brain also has to keep juggling more and more thoughts and to-do lists, never able to completely delete any of them.

In other words, if our to-do lists are filled with ongoing projects, that situation can lead to—or feel a lot like—burnout.

How Do We Overcome the Problem?

In the modern world, between smart phones and demanding jobs and social media, many people struggle with the never-ending need to be “on.” Not surprisingly, many of those same people suffer from burnout.

I’ve written about burnout several times before, sharing:

But the usual advice might not apply when we’re talking about ongoing projects or the lack of a sense of accomplishment. Instead, the biggest help might come from changing our perspective:

  • Look at the Smaller Picture:
    Think of ongoing projects in smaller chunks, where each effort is an accomplishment. Each day might require us to do xyz, but rather than looking at the never-ending big picture, each day’s effort can be a job well done.
  • Schedule On and Off Times:
    When a daily effort isn’t required, our brain might appreciate the break if we schedule projects in alternating chunks. Rather than trying to keep up with everything at once, we might decide that this week is dedicated to X, and next week will be focused on Y, etc., giving ourselves some time to feel done (at least temporarily) with each project.
  • Just “Get It Done”:
    Alternately, for some projects—especially with tasks we can knock out quickly—our brain might react better if we tackle them as soon as we think of them. Sometimes, allowing tasks to back up can lead to stress, so getting things done before they hit our to-do list might help. That might mean allowing already backed up items to continue being backed up, like a Last In/First Out method, just to avoid adding to the backup stress.
  • Avoid Focusing on Our To-Do List:
    If we find ourselves getting overwhelmed by a to-do list that only gets bigger, we might be better off referring to our list only when absolutely necessary. Focusing on only one task at a time can seem more doable.
  • Write Tasks Down:
    On the other hand, sometimes it helps to write things down on a to-do list if the act allows our brain to “purge” the information. Trying to hold a list in our brain can add to the stress we feel, and writing everything down can free that work for something else.

Try One Approach and Change As Needed

There’s probably not going to be one single answer for us from that list of options. Some projects might need one approach, and some might require another. Or some weeks, we might get more benefit from a different approach than usual. We can mix and match and adjust and tweak as needed.

How can changing our perspective help us avoid burning out on never-ending tasks? Click To TweetWhile I’m in recovery mode from my surgery, I’ve been using the “Schedule On and Off Times” method, focusing on just one project that I feel up for despite my pain level and heavy medication. This past weekend, I completed a bunch of website updates that I’d been saving up in a “chunk.”

I reorganized my site to better emphasize the content I’ve developed for readers, adding a whole menu tree, and I also created my content warning page, like I’d talked about last month. And yes, even though more plugins announced they needed updating as soon as I “finished,” I still feel some sense of accomplishment because I declared myself “done” with that focus-chunk for now.

We all need downtime, but with ongoing projects, it’s hard to feel like we’re ever “done” enough to turn off our efforts. Depending on our brains and our projects, some of the options above might help more than others. But the more we can do to give ourselves a sense of accomplishment, the better off we’ll be in escaping the plague of burnout. *smile*

What ongoing projects do you have? Do they make it hard to feel a sense of accomplishment? Do they contribute to a feeling of burnout? Does this list of options give you any ideas to overcome that feeling? Can you think of other approaches to add to the list?

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Comments — What do you think?

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Star Ostgard
Star Ostgard

“edit a story to fix issues if we’ve improved our skills”

OMG. Please don’t. Nothing irritates more than having a novel “re-done” after it’s supposedly done and published. And once it’s out there, why should readers feel they have to keep up with “updates”, re-order the book, or figure out what was changed? If it isn’t ready to be published, don’t publish it! And once you publish, live with it. Make the next story better. But don’t treat readers like a training ground for your writing.

Deborah Makarios

I’ve broken my writing process down into three stages. Stage 1 is everything from idea to outline (secretly my favourite!). Stage 2 is first draft through to post-beta draft. Stage 3 is everything from polish and proofread through to publication and publicity.

While I try to have something going on in each stage, I don’t push myself to do lots in each stage every day. A little and often is so much more manageable than Oh Dear Lord I Have To Do All This Stuff Right Now. More manageable, and more sustainable.

And may I add: God bless your bones! (I will spare you my rendition of “O! Wanderer in the shadowed land, despair not!” etc.)

Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara

I agree that a little all the time is better than trying to do too much. By small steps we can still progress. Maybe for updating blurbs and lists of published work, we could schedule once or twice a year. While making book trailers I found I really had to rethink my blurb as the trailer needed a lot less text, and I was able to encapsulate the theme in a few brief lines. So the YouTube content would fit into the marketing section mentioned above, but it could then spread to updating other types of marketing.
If you update a Kindle book, say to correct a misspelling you just noticed, this change will be applied by Amazon to all the books already sold as well as those sold next, as I understand it. So the reader does not need to buy the book again.

I’m glad your health is making progress Jami!

Laurie Evans
Laurie Evans

Yup…a writer’s work is never done! Especially when self-publishing.

Lynne Fisher

So much food for thought here, and complexity… you are totally right! It is so hard to have a cut-off point for writers today because of everything you’ve mentioned, Jami. Going back to a finished project/book for me is allowed for the marketing or for a new online retailer for the book, but sanity dictates leaving the text alone as a done deal. Ive got a new book coming up in the publishing process and I’m looking forward to all that entails, but my first will not have to be forgotten or neglected – maybe like on old friend. Thinking of one’s done projects as old friends and keeping in touch with them now and again to care for them is a way of thinking that might work best for me!

Click to grab Pure Sacrifice now!