The Joy of Being an Indie Author: Using the Brain to Best Advantage

indie author brainThere are a lot of differences between us indies and those who are traditionally-published, not the least of which is the fact that we have to do (or at least arrange for someone else to do) everything involved in publishing and promoting our books. Traditionally-published authors have some or most of that all done for them, although the loss of creative control and the quality of those tasks might take some of the joy out of being cared for. Some indies might bemoan the fact that they have to wear ten hats and take care of all the aggravating details when they’d rather be locked in a room writing. Our RJ Crayton wrote about the miseries of self-publishing not long ago. Clearly, it’s not for everyone. For me, however, it’s the perfect blend.

I don’t know about anyone else out there, but I’m not in writing mode 100% of the time. Many of you may have heard me say that I am about the least disciplined writer on the planet, and if I don’t feel inspired, if I don’t feel the creative juices flowing, I don’t write. To me, it’s a waste of time to try to force something when the spark is simply not there. I don’t think of this as writer’s block; I believe it’s just the vagaries of the process, the ups and downs of my brain waves, the firing or misfiring of synapses. When I know I’m in this kind of space, I don’t sweat it. I just find something else to do.

And there’s always something else to do.

The good news is that the brain doesn’t always work the same way. Now, I don’t have any studies to support this idea, but I do believe the brain works differently when we are creating than when we are working on a task or trying to resolve an issue. During creative times, we’re imagining, maybe even daydreaming, allowing a thread of a story idea to wander and grow and see what happens. When I’m writing, I’m running a movie reel in my head, and I’m constantly either letting the movie run or rewinding it back to a set point and letting it go a different direction. It’s much less about me figuring out what’s going to happen than about letting the characters and the story play out and then simply describing what they do.

Similarly, cover design is more about light and contrast, color, mood, emotion. Sure, you have to be objectively aware of how well the title shows up, text placement, and so forth, but it’s a creative effort overall. Creativity is all about feel.

The rest of the work — research, proofreading, editing, formatting, promoting — all seems to be done by a different side of the brain. This is the part of the brain that is analytical, comparing, judging. It’s easy at this point to make lists and check things off as we go. This time is less about telling the story and more about covering the bases. When my mind is in non-creative mode, these sorts of tasks are the perfect exercise for it — and I get a ton of things done.

So again, I think of this less as needing to do many things and more as being able to choose which part of the project my brain is best suited for at that particular moment in time. Yes, it’s undisciplined and no, it doesn’t lend itself to deadlines, but then neither do I.

Wouldn’t I rather sit in a corner, hunched over my keyboard, working on my WIP every waking moment? That’s never been my style. I like variety. I like multi-tasking. I like having a lot of plates in the air at one time. And that’s why I love being an indie.

Author: Melissa Bowersock

Melissa Bowersock is an eclectic, award-winning author who writes in a variety of fiction and non-fiction genres. She has been both traditionally and independently published and lives in a small community in northern Arizona. Learn more about Melissa from her Amazon author page and her blog.

21 thoughts on “The Joy of Being an Indie Author: Using the Brain to Best Advantage”

  1. Melissa, “creating” is always more magical and fun. However, my analytical brain likes to interfere with the process. I vacillate between right brain/left brain at every stage of my novel, which exhausts me. I’d hoped that writing would become easier as the years went by, but it seems the more I know, the harder it becomes. Does anyone else feel this way?

    1. Linda, easier? Ha! After 40 years of writing, my latest novel is still like pulling teeth. I can’t say that I’m happy about that, but I do know I’m giving it its due and letting it come together as it needs to. It’s all such a nebulous, protean process, and each project is different. Yes, sometimes it’s frustrating, even exhausting, but it’s still a wonderful thing that we do. Wouldn’t trade it for anything.

  2. This is a very positive way of looking at it. I like the variety of tasks involved in writing and publishing, and I like setting my own priorities, and they are a bit loose although I find I truly need to set deadlines to get much done. If I could find someone else to take over all my accounting and all my proofreading, I’d be a happy woman, I think (maybe I’m more of a control freak than I like to believe). And although I truly enjoy playing with design, even to the point of fantasizing about doing that as a sideline, if I can afford to pay people who are better at it than I am, I usually will.

    1. Funny, Sandra, I don’t think of myself as a control freak, but one of the things I love the most about being indie is having total control. After all, I know what the book is supposed to be about; I know what it’s supposed to look like and feel like. Being able to bring that idea to fruition is the most satisfying thing in the world. But obviously we all rely to some degree on others to help us make that happen. We are independent, but we have strong coalitions to help us hammer out the details. I call that the perfect combination.

  3. I’m such a do-it-yourselfer that I sometimes wish I could delegate more and reduce my overwhelm! I love being an indie, and have been thanked by some who self-published after hearing me lecture about it. Some groups like IU took our hand through the process, we took the hand of others following us, and they in turn will do the same for newcomers. Thanks Melissa, and all who contribute to my learning curve and success.

    1. Ester, you are entirely welcome. I, too, love the fact that we can pay it back and help the ones that come behind us. Like I always say: cooperation, not competition!

  4. This is interesting to think about Melissa. I find that writing different things works differently for me at different times of the day. I’m generally a night person, but find I can’t get my brain in gear to write reviews after about 6:30 or 7 in the evening. Yet writing a post for IU or some other kind of writing (even writing computer code which is much different in some ways and not in others) I can do at all hours.

    1. Exactly. I’ve become such a night person since taking up writing, my wife’s take to calling my ‘The Count’–and it’s nothing to do with Monte Cristo. 🙂

    2. Al, that is interesting! I’ve never tried to track what I’m doing when, but I might just keep that in mind. I know I work best during the day, but beyond that, haven’t paid much attention to the details. I just know that when I’m stymied on one thing, I’ve always got two or three or ten other things I can do. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

  5. Thanks Melissa – again, and Indies Unlimited. I’m always inspired, uplifted, reaffirmed and informed by these blogs. I, too, am like you Melissa. When I’m being creative and writing well, nothing will stop me or get in the way. I’m in writing mode. When I’m struggling with the characters and what they want from me, I do social media, I update my website, I try to write informative blogs (but they are no where near as good as UI blogs); it’s also when I do my research. Through research I can sometimes find a little gem that will solve my characters problem and send me back to my creative muse.
    I often read blogs about how important planning is and how planning makes you a better writer. If that is the case, then I am doomed to fail. I cannot plan beyond the basic arc of starting here, moving to there, changing here and ending up there.

    1. Vicky, I’m with you 100% on this. I am not a planner, either. I go with whatever the flow of my brain is. I know, some writers will be aghast at this lack of discipline, but this has worked for me for 40 years, so I’m not about to change now. That’s the beauty of creativity and any art–it’s so personal, it can take a zillion forms. If something works for you–I don’t care if it’s standing on your head–keep doing it. Thanks for commenting.

  6. “Creativity is all about feel.” YES!
    And yes to the description of your work method. Getting into the habit of working on writing every day does help keep the creative juices flowing, but if the feeling isn’t there, the words will lack life.

    1. Exactly. I’ve thrown away more writing than I care to think about, and why? I’ve never understood the writing-just-to-be-writing concept. I’ll never lack for things to do, but I can easily go days, even weeks, without working on my WIP. There’s no loss of productivity, though. It’s just a different kind. You and I are definitely on the same page here.

  7. Hi Melissa,
    It’s implied in your post, of course, but I’d like to emphasize the satisfaction I have with the indie process. I tried to go traditional. If I’d stuck with it, I’d probably still be looking for an agent for that first book. There’s no way I’d have the 19 books I now have (two more in editing or beta-reading mode right now). Sure, I need to manage a bit and not write all the time. I’ve also swallowed my pride and recognized that other people can do certain steps in the process far better than I can, so I hire them to do it. It’s still a tremendous savings in production costs, and I pass those savings on to my readers. Because I’m a full-time writer now, I still have lots of time to write, my second love (my first is my wife, of course!).

    1. Steve, sounds like you’ve found the perfect process for you, so that’s great. Like so many of us, it evolves over time and we may change it here and there as we grow and change. But compared to the slow, lumbering process of trad pub? Warp speed, not to mention the satisfaction quotient. Glad it’s working for you.

  8. It’s a while ago now, I know, but as part of one of my education degrees we were taught about the left side of the brain and the right side. Left = logic and right = creative. Apparantly we writers switch from one to the other. Editing etc is left side work, and writing the story is rigth side creative. And yes, sometimes the switch won’t work!

    1. Yes, I remember that. Now if we could just learn to throw the switch whichever way we want, but so often the brain has a mind of fits own (pun intended).

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