I’ve been thinking about writing this blog post for a while but I just couldn’t do it. I wasn’t at the stage where I had figured out how to stop my downward spiral and take responsibility for ‘fixing’ myself.
Now, I have.
And if my story can help any of those in the same situation. Either as an author or in any other facet of your life, then I’m glad.
Word of warning, this is another personal post that goes on for a while…so either grab a drink and enjoy or move along.
Oh, and there will be typos.
First up, let’s talk about loss of identity.
I don’t know about you, but with a little bit of success comes a hell of a lot of doubt. While your friends and family are going ‘Wow, you’re doing so well’ on the inside all you’re thinking about is ‘Yes, but it can vanish in an instant and I’m terrified.’
To the outside world, you look like a confident achiever. To your snarky inner voice you’re an utter fraud.
I’m sure not everyone feels that way but I did for much of last year before finally accepting that I could relax a little and be happy that I’d done my best and not to stress about the future.
Then…I lost that confidence and started to slip.
I don’t know what happened.
No, that’s a lie.
I do know what happened.
I started comparing myself to other successful achievers and stretching myself too thin. I believed that I’d gotten to where I was as a pure fluke, that I needed to diversify and broaden and write in genres that were hot. I didn’t trust in myself or my brand and because I didn’t trust, I lost my identity.
For almost a year, I put my #supersecretseries on hold as my publisher was very interested in it (still are but that’s another story). I pitched it as a contemporary romance. I swore to myself that it would be sexy and awesome but with none of the dark that I find adds such a thrill to stories. I thought I was doing the right thing.
For months and months, I kept saying to authors and assistants that I was going to branch out and leave the dark romance brand. I believed whole heartedly what I said.
Only…my imagination left me high and dry.
Whenever I tried to plot my #supersecretseries it was dust and emptiness where normally my mind is bursting with flavour and colour. But I didn’t let it phase me. I just figured I needed a bit more time for the characters to marinate.
So, I decided to take time off to write a book just for me. Unseen Messages was the book I always wanted to write and stand by it 100%. I lived the days on the island; I was there as G and Stel built their new world. I guess I had to write that book as I LOVE the thought of going off grid and living on an island in the middle of the tropics. Every day I adored going into their world, but it did teach me something I didn’t want to hear.
It sold okay.
But it didn’t do what Tess and Q did. It didn’t do what Jethro and Nila did.
I have a feeling why.
Because it wasn’t my brand. I wrote it for me, but it didn’t have that spark that dark romance manages to conjure. I LOVE dark romance. There is something intrinsic about it as a genre that defies others in a way I can’t explain.
The same thing happened with Ruin & Rule and Sin & Suffer. Those books I loved writing, however, my market wasn’t expecting a Motorcycle book from me and it showed. It sold. But it didn’t sell like my others.
Subconsciously, I knew what I needed to do, but because I’m stubborn, I ignored my instincts and pushed on with contemporary. I should really have noticed that I was setting myself up to fail as I couldn’t even write Forbidden Flaws without wanting to make it dark. I managed to get 90,000 words into that book before I had to admit I couldn’t do it and scrapped it.
Because I kept banning myself from the one thing calling to me, I lost who I was. I became adrift and unsnapped myself from an anchor granting me courage to be me no matter what the market told me I had to be.
I got scared.
I got nervous.
Then started comparing.
Now, some comparing is good.
It gives you a kick up your butt to push harder and inspires you.
However, constant comparing is not good.
And unfortunately, this writing business makes us compare constantly. Not in a bad, but in a business way. We constantly monitor the market, seasons, genres, pop-out successes, and fluxes in readership expectations.
If we spend money on Facebook ads, we constantly have to watch the book rank on the platforms promoted to see if the ROI (return on investment) is worth it. If we plan to reinvigorate a back list with sales and advertising, we have to look at other author’s releases, busy time of year, and try and figure out what would be best. There is no such thing as a simple release. All of it comes with stress and unknowns. Not matter how successful the book was or is.
There are two sites, no three sites, that strip my confidence, happiness, and courage and I don’t even notice it’s happening until it’s too late. Those sites are: Facebook, Amazon, and my sales dashboard.
Facebook can be a wonderful place of friendship and encouragement but it can also be a drama school ground for trolls and hurtful comments. Amazon is a wonderful place to buy, stalk, and investigate but if you’re already down about your future and lost as to who you are, looking at other books doing well and driving yourself nuts with trying to predict the market whittles away your self-worth click by click.
Let’s just do a little case study…I’ll reveal some very personal stuff to get my point across.
Last weekend, I went on an overnight trip with my husband to meet a wonderful friend who’s been in my life for over 13 years. Hubby and I had an argument before leaving which was so unlike us. And it was over work.
The night before, I’d asked him to help upload the Indebted Boxed Set onto iBooks on the Mac. I have no idea how a Mac works as I’m a PC lover. So that’s his task. However, I was multi-managing and doing a bazillion things at once and he asked me questions to make sure he’d done it right. I said flippantly ‘give me a second’ but it obviously came off a lot ruder than I meant and he no longer wanted to help.
I get it. I do.
When I’m in my head, I’m in my head. This is why I’m so hard to work with or for. I don’t know how to delegate and do everything myself before asking for help even when I’m drowning.
Okay, so moving on.
Hubby went for some time out and I sat there finishing everything. What I didn’t tell him was…for WEEKS I’ve been suffering heart palpitations from stress. At the time, I didn’t know it was stress. Most of my life, if I had a test at school or a scary day at work, my heart would flutter and double-beat all the way to the event making me breathless and slightly woozy. When I faced the source of my fear, my heart normally calmed down and behaved and it became a good barometer of my anxiety levels.
Over the last few years, I’ve been woken up by heart palpations just before release wondering if I’d uploaded the right file, set the right price, and edited the damn thing. Without fail, I would feel at least a few heart flurries before I calmed myself down.
But I’ve never had them constantly.
They’re not as thundering as the single incidents but over the past few weeks, I’ll get a few flutters every few hours or so. It doesn’t matter what I was doing: writing, online, watching TV, hanging with friends. Out of the blue, my heart will spaz out and I’ll take a few gulps of air to calm down.
This is what I hadn’t told hubby before the argument and when he needed time out, I went to bed and we NEVER go to bed without resolving an upset. So, obviously the next morning, when we should’ve been happy about going away for the weekend, we finished what we should’ve last night, finally getting back to happy levels only for my Indebted boxed set sale that I’d uploaded onto Amazon not being published because of a letter from Amazon saying my books were available for free online elsewhere, therefore, I couldn’t sell them for money.
These emails are STRESFFUL, especially if you have close to $1000 in promo booked in and it’s all hinging on getting the sales link asap.
Know what causes that email from amazon?
Pirated books that are stolen and uploaded illegally. They not only steal revenue but also create havoc for authors on the other end.
Anyway, I’ll wrap this up quickly.
Instead of having a relaxing drive, all I could think about was my release and promo that would go to waste. It was the weekend and amazon was shut, so I couldn’t get resolution. The night out, instead of laughing and living fully in the moment, I was constantly refreshing my dashboard to see if NOW it had published. The next day driving home with our friend, instead of catching up on the year we’ve been apart, I was internally freaking out that my book still wasn’t live.
Guess how many heart palpations I had on that weekend away?
Let’s just say I’m lucky to be alive.
So….that…it was a catalyst to show me how invested, obsessed, and addicted to this business I had become. It wasn’t making me happy. It was stripping me of every mortal thing. And it started me thinking about change.
And this is the point that I can now talk to you about how I made that change as I did and I’m 100% happier and if it helps anyone else, then I wanted to share.
A few days ago, I spoke to a very dear friend, Skye Callahan, and finally opened up about having these heart palpitations. She told me it might be PVC and it’s stress / anxiety related. I had to find a way to rebalance before it was too late.
In the meantime, a week before going away through some fluke of nature, I was able to lease a horse. (I’ve attached the FB screenshots so you can see how it happened). I thought this would be a turning point that I would automatically feel the stress melting off but the opposite happened.
It added yet another layer to my already chaotic life.
Not only did I have to market, plan, write, meet deadlines, deal with a stranger who’d leased my land, care for a horse, keep on top of my house / chores, and relearn everything equine after a 15 years sabbatical from the saddle, I also struggled with my lost identity and a future that I didn’t know if I could face. The uncertainty of being able to afford a new horse or the time away from work drove me to breaking point.
The horse, like any animal, could sense my stress and nervousness and those first few days, she acted out. She bit and reared and acted like a brat. Yes, she was testing me as her new owner to see what she could get away with, but because I’d lost myself, I let her walk all over me.
I wanted to throw my hands up and say it’s too hard, I can’t do this. Take her away.
But a small voice (that annoying voice that keeps you going even when you want to give up) told me to get a trainer and see if she was a bad horse or just me. I wasn’t surprised to find that the horse (although stroppy and needing discipline) was a sweetheart when her respect was earned.
Then hubby said something to me the other day. Something I’d said to him a few years ago and totally forgot.
That was the line that made my life, my stress, my lack of identity screech to a halt.
I had said that. I do remember it. And I fully meant what I said. I believed the day I made a childhood dream finally come true would be the day that I could look at my life and go…I did well. Yay me. Now, let’s relax and be kind to myself.
Only the opposite was true.
I was lost. I was the most stressed I’d ever been. I was at a crossroads. And I was so tired I had to fight tears so he didn’t know how much of a fraud I felt. Because I felt more like a fraud than ever before. I was afraid of this horse. I was afraid of my future. I was afraid I’d peaked and had nothing left. I was afraid I couldn’t do this anymore.
Meanwhile, my heart was going like crazy and I finally forced myself to step back and ask one simple question.
One question I used to ask a lot in my past and it was the perfect tool to keep me focused on what was most important. Imagine my horror that I hadn’t asked that question for over a year. No wonder I was twisted up and confused and scared to the point of overwhelming stress. I was trying to do it all because I believed it all mattered.
What was that question?
If I don’t look at amazon to see what genre is selling best will it kill me? No.
If I don’t look at my dashboard every hour to ensure my paid marketing is working, will it kill me? No.
If I don’t go on Facebook every second to promote myself, will it kill me? No.
See… by asking that simple question, it puts things into a huge perspective. I started asking questions that really mattered:
If I don’t get off line and start living, by being mentally present and not just psychically, will it kill me? Yes. (Yes, I could lose my husband and our incredible life together.)
If I don’t spend time on my health and happiness, will it kill me? Yes. (Literally, I could die of an illness that could’ve been prevented.)
If I don’t exercise and get strong again to horse ride, will it kill me? Yes. (I could fall off and be seriously injured.)
If don’t remember how to be myself and remain true to my passion, will it kill me? Yes. (I’ll destroy my career and have nothing left.)
It was like taking a huge breath and finally being able to breathe.
Yesterday, I found I had focus for the first time in so long. I was able to finish a book, respond to necessary emails, and be able to say, I’m done work for the day with no guilt or shame or worry. I went to the paddock and tacked up the horse and took her for a walk down the lane. She listened, she obeyed, and we finally bonded because I was THERE with her in both mind and body rather than thinking about my next release, next post, next everything…
I came home content.
And I haven’t been content in so long.
The moral of this very long winded story is if you’ve been feeling overwhelmed and stressed to the point you’re making yourself sick.
Ask yourself that question. If I don’t do this, will it kill me? And if the answer is no, then don’t do it. Give yourself a break. A true break. Don’t worry about it. Don’t think about it. It will be there when you get back.
Along with finally taking time out to find what was important, I re-watched The Secret to help remind me that the fear of lacking and terror was me sabotaging my self-worth. I remembered why I have been successful and that was because I focused on me. Not the market. Not the noise of life. Not the worry if I was doing the right thing. I focused on what made me excited because that was the voice of instinct telling me I was on the right path.
If you’ve watched the program, great. I put a lot of my success down to The Secret and keeping my mind focused on positivity. I get that it isn’t for everyone, however, if you want to watch it, I’ve included the link below.
So not only did I set myself back onto the path of no stress but I also swam to the bottom and found my anchor once again and strapped myself tightly to it.
And I am FINALLY able to say this with conviction, honesty, and utmost excitement.
I am Pepper Winters and I write dark romance.
For so long, I wanted to put some distance between me and that brand. But WHY would I want to do that? I LOVE LOVE LOVE Dark Romance. I don’t want to dilute my brand or destroy my reader’s faith in me by delivering books I don’t truly feel. Comparing to others can do dangerous things to our confidence but remembering what’s true can restore it.
All great authors have a brand: Nora Roberts has her contemporary family sagas mixed in with a few paranormals.
J.R Ward has her kickass vamp series that sells like hotcakes.
J.R Rowling had Harry Potter (with a pen name for other works)
They all stayed true to their brand. And I was not. I was betraying myself. No wonder I was so damn lost.
I’m often asked why I write dark romance. Why go for taboo subjects and things that make some people uncomfortable. I honestly don’t have an answer for that. I love the depth of human emotion I can reach when my characters are at their lowest. I love the height of love and forgiveness I can tap into when the pain becomes redemption.
Darkness is in all of us and its recognised by those who understand it. For a while, I started believing that what I was writing was wrong. That people didn’t want that. That I shouldn’t be delivering such tales of wrongness when there are so many other great things to write about. I locked up my true passion in the search of another.
And by doing so, I doomed myself.
#supersecretseries (that will be introduced with the covers and blurb on the 3rd June) reminded me that I can’t lie and write something that isn’t in my heart. Finally realising that took away the restrictions and ‘should dos’ and finally allowed me to listen to what my imagination was telling me.
For a full year, I couldn’t find a plot for #supersecretseries while I put chains on myself to keep it light and romantic. However, the moment I removed those chains and thought truly what I wanted to write, the plot exploded within 5 minutes.
Within 5 minutes, I knew the synopsis for all five books. I knew the hero; I knew the heroine. It was as if they’d been waiting for me to come back to them.
I can proudly say #supersecretseries will be dark / grey romance and I will write it exactly as the characters tell me to. No more second guesses. No more comparing. No more worry about the future.
I know who I am. And I’m going to stay true to that.
I still have heart palpitations but hopefully over the next week or so, I’ll be able to reduce the stress in my blood. The horse will help. Knowing my true path will help. And finally having the confidence to share this most definitely will help.
If you’re still reading…that is how I lost and found my identity and succumbed to the awfulness of stress. I wanted to be blatantly honest about what I’ve been going through because I know I’m not the only one. The world today puts so much expectation and pressure on all of us that we feel we have to be superwoman / man all the time. We have to juggle friendship, family, work, and careers all at once. We have to bow and conform and obey.
We have to be happy.
That is our one task in life and we can only be happy if we listen to who we truly are and be gentle on ourselves.