As an author, writing coach, and lifelong student and teacher of spiritual psychology, I think a lot about how to liberate writers from self-defeating thoughts and behaviors, some of which crescendo when the publishing process gets underway. As writers, when we argue for our own limitations, we’re bound to be right! Authors both crave and lament publishing. Even if we’re lucky enough to land a sweet deal, we often resist or bristle against marketing and promoting our work. Many writers identify as introverts. Most would prefer to stay home and write. This was my position for years. But I’ve learned that the best way to approach publishing is as an explorer, with a sense of lighthearted adventure, curiosity, and joy.
Lately I’ve been contemplating the Chinese Yin Yang symbol and its relevance for authors. The symbol suggests that opposite forces complement one another and that a little of each resides within the other. While writing takes Yin energy, which is feminine, introspective, spiritual, and inward-focused, being a published author requires a healthy dose of Yang. Yang energy is masculine, forceful, and outward-focused. The days of reclusive authors hiding away in creative solitude while others peddle their books are gone. Publishing requires us to engage with the outside world via social and traditional media, speaking engagements, workshops, networking, book fairs, and much more.
While some authors find these ancillary activities thrilling and fun, many find them excruciating and would rather do just about anything else. The telling of stories—that inner work—is Yin-based, and this is what many writers spend their lives developing. This energy requires incredible discipline and protection to sustain—especially when life gets busy. You have to be able to turn off your phone, ignore your to-do list, turn inward, get quiet, and listen. Writers excel at this. But how do we keep a balance when we move into the phase of publishing that requires us to be in that very different Yang energy?
Partly because of my dance and film school background, I’ve been able to embrace the Yang side of being an author. But what has also helped is an understanding that when I show up to speak about my book, it’s never about me, but rather about my message. It’s about sharing stories. It’s about human connection and trying to make the world a wiser, saner place.
Authors need not appear a particular way; we just need the courage to show up as we are, authentically, and with the intention to be of service. From there we get to share what we love and have conversations with readers. We may even learn something or become inspired!
You don’t have to be an extrovert to enjoy this. Look for joy. Ferret it out. Pay attention to details. Tune in to connections that lighten your heart. Remember that you are enough and your book event or publicity campaign doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s. Focus on the good things that happen—the perks and surprises, the simple delights—and let go of your expectations. If you do, there will be fewer disappointments. Know that you are fine the way you are, no matter what happens with your book. Yin practices help maintain grounding in what’s real. Resist the temptation to take an emotional roller coaster ride when people respond to your work. Don’t let negative responses crush you and don’t allow praise go to your head. Neither matter much in the grand scheme of things.
Embrace your inner Yang as a challenge and an opportunity. It’s in there somewhere. Don’t worry if it feels uncomfortable. In the words of Conversations with God author Neale Donald Walsch, “Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.” Lean into discomfort. Give yourself permission to shine. Shy? No problem. You can still shine. Do it your own way, whatever that looks like. Make it up. Live your publishing experience with the same creativity you summon to write. See what’s on the other side of your uneasiness. Remember that none of us has to do it all. To some degree, we get to pick and choose our publishing and publicity tasks. Sometimes I forget this and freak out because I think I have to do it all. Not long ago, after I’d worked myself into a tizzy over some publishing issue, my husband and I took a walk to help me calm down. We came across a dog chasing its own tail. The sight mesmerized us for a minute and then we looked at each other and laughed out loud.
“That’s exactly what I’m doing, isn’t it?”
I remembered that in order for me not to run around in circles like a confused—and possibly mad—dog, I had to slow down and recommit to my Yin practices, such as meditation, yoga, and journal writing. Lately, I’ve added breath work to my routine. I inhale and exhale through my mouth in a continuous breathing pattern, taking in lots of oxygen. Whether it’s long walks, gardening, or meditating—finding these small ways to ground yourself can go a long way towards enjoying the publishing process rather than simply enduring it.
There’s nothing wrong with hard work if it comes from a place of purpose and joy, but once hard work becomes a proving ground of self-worth a battlefield is born. Don’t work so hard that you neglect to take the time you need to turn within—especially when you’re putting yourself out there with your book.
Yang without Yin is fruitless—and impossible—and so is Yin without Yang. The key is to keep these energies in balance, especially during launch cycles and book tours. When you find yourself complaining about or dreading publication, ask, Where’s the joy? How can I see (and savor) what’s good here? Visualize success. Feel it. Then let go and enjoy the ride.
Bella Mahaya Carter is the author of Where Do You Hang Your Hammock?: Finding Peace of Mind While You Write, Publish, and Promote Your Book. She is a creative writing teacher, empowerment coach, and speaker, and author of an award-winning memoir, Raw: My Journey from Anxiety to Joy, and a collection of narrative poems, Secrets of My Sex. She has worked with hundreds of writers since 2008 and has degrees in literature, film, and spiritual psychology. Her poetry, essays, fiction, and interviews have appeared in Mind, Body, Green; The Sun; Lilith; Fearless Soul; Writer’s Bone; Women Writers, Women’s Books; Chic Vegan; Bad Yogi Magazine; Pick the Brain; Spiritual Media blog; Literary Mama; several anthologies, and elsewhere. For more information, visit her website.