Are You your Job?

First and foremost, let me make it clear, I love my profession and thank the universe every day, that I am lucky enough to do a job I adore. But is there the risk that it represents too much of my identity? To me that’s an easy question to answer. My CV is almost the length of a football pitch (okay, slight exaggeration)… In the past I have been a translator, tutor, doctor’s receptionist, hotel worker, envelope-stuffer, retail assistant… you name it, I’ve probably got the T-shirt. But never, ever, before being an author, has my feeling of self-worth been so closely linked to my career.

The good side of this? It drives me to succeed as it is my reputation and self-pride at stake. I think this applies to anyone who is self-employed. I work long hours. I strive to be my best. I do lots of promotional work and forever look to improve my writing. I write speedily to increase my output and become as prolific as possible.

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But the bad side?  Recently I realised that striving to my best – for me – means striving to be THE best and that is an unattainable and dangerous goal. If a book doesn’t sell as well as the previous one, a little voice hints that I’VE failed. If I get a bad review, it feels like a huge blow to the person, SAMANTHA TONGE. If I lose followers on Twitter, I wonder what I  am doing wrong. Writing is so closely linked to an author’s ego. If I were merely tweeting on behalf of an employer such as a school or doctor’s practise, the ups and downs of that platform’s success would have little effect on me as a person.

In my opinion,  the important thing, as a writer – or artist, actor… any of those professions where you give away a little piece of yourself during the process – is to distance yourself as much as you can from the business side. You won an award (like I did for Game of Scones)? Great. Recognize it as an appreciation of your work, not your soul. It might happen again. It may never. That doesn’t mean you, as a person, have succeeded or failed any more or any less. Just received a bad review? The reader isn’t saying YOU deserve to be the target of rotten tomatoes. They simply didn’t enjoy one of your pieces of work in the way that some people love sushi (yuk) and others don’t. Not gaining as high rankings as another author? No matter. That’s the nature of the business. There are lots of contributing factors and whilst you are the face on the tin, you aren’t responsible for everything like the packaging or final recipe – or amount of luck.

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Plus social media  – whilst highly enjoyable – can easily feed into a writer’s fragile ego. Are my photos appealing enough? Are my tweets and statuses funny? Why have my ‘likes’ gone down lately?

I strive to stand back and see being an author as just a job. And this isn’t as hard as it sounds, luckily for me, as I have a lovely family to enjoy time with. If I had come to writing as a younger person, without other responsibilities, the knocks might have hit harder. So my advice? To start with cut down on social media outside the 9 til 5 or during the day if your writing life starts in the evening. See your social platforms for what they are – tools to drive your career and not an indictment of the kind of man or woman you are. A little hint that you are connecting too closely with your job is what you talk about when you speak to a distant relative on the phone. How much of your news is about your work? Have you anything else to say about other aspects of your life like hobbies and trips out? Try to find an even balance.

So next time you get a bad review or your book doesn’t soar, still pat yourself vigorously on the back. Or as you launch a new book, like I will be doing soon with my summer novel Breakfast under a Cornish Sun. You are doing the hardest thing ever – putting actual parts of your soul out into the big wide world, to be scrutinised by Joe Public. That earns you the permanent judgement of being one hell of a gutsy person, who looks failure in the face – instead of creeping around it, too scared to ever dare step out of its shadow.

13 comments

  1. Raven McAllan says:

    every word is oh so true. It is hard sometimes to separate us as a person from us as an author. Reviews are as we know a review of the book not of us, but sometimes it’s oh so easy to forget. Great post

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Hi Raven, thanks for popping by. Yes it is terrifically difficult and it’s my new resolution to try and get some distance and perspective – for the sake of my sanity 🙂
      Sam x

  2. helen phifer says:

    Excellent post Sam and very true, it’s hard not to take things personally. I always tell myself you can’t please all of the people all of the time 😉

    Helen xx

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks Helen – and that is a very sensible attitude. We just can’t please everyone – even mega bestselling authors have their critics. I guess we should really just be happy with feeling we have done the best for ourselves. Sam xx

  3. Terri Nixon says:

    Hard to know whether it’s better to write full-time, and be worried about competition with other writers, or to have a day job that takes you away from what you really want to do, but gives you another facet to your day. Seems there’s a lot to be said for both sides, after all.

    Perhaps it’s because I have a low-graded, but enjoyable, job, that I don’t look on the success of other authors (as in rankings comparisons) as an indictment of the value of my own writing – but I do take ‘iffy’ reviews painfully to heart!

    Great blog 🙂

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Hi Terri thanks – yes I do think having another job can give a lot of perspective and distance. Although hats off to peeps – like you – who manage to juggle both. I don’t feel competition so much for other authors and love it when my friends’ books fly… I just find it hard not to use others’ success to analyse my own!
      Sam x

  4. Elaine Spires says:

    Great blog! I can really identify with everything you say. I feel that I’m sometimes almost begging, “Like my book! Please, like ME!” Writing is enjoyable but can be hard. As an indie everything else is overwhelming! Posts like these are encouraging; sometimes I think I’m the only one struggling. Thank you x.

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks for that, Elaine – yes, it can seem overwhelming and is always comforting to know we aren’t the only one struggling. Keep on trucking – but keep perspective. I guess that is the message! Sam x

  5. Janice Cairns says:

    I enjoyed your post. I have thought quite a bit about some of the topics in your post. The way I see it, as a writer, you can put huge effort into perfecting your craft, you can also do a lot with regard to self promotion. However, my gut instinct is that it is beyond the control of one person’s effort to determine the absolute outcome. What I mean by this is you cannot absolutely determine how much actual success you get. I think as far as bestsellerdom in concerned luck and fate and timing have more to do with that. I do think making the big bucks is something of a lottery.
    I conclude by saying that every author should do all they can to make the big league then simply relax and hope luck etc favours them. I hope I’m not sounding negative.

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Hi Janice, thanks for reading – yes, that in my conclusion. We are only the face on the tin. A lot of other input goes into a book’s success and it isn’t all down to us as to whether it flies or not. Still, that sometimes doesn’t help if bad reviews or low rankings, for whatever reason, knock at our door. I guess we just have to be content knowing we have done our very best – and yes, hope to find a few four-leaved clovers 🙂 x

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Hi Janice, I totally agree – it is frustrating but luck also plays a part. There is only so much we can do and just because a certain book may not make huge sales, doesn’t in any way mean it isn’t a great story, written really well. All we can do is our best and then, like you say, chill. Sam 🙂

  6. Annie Lyons says:

    Fantastic post, Sam – this is great advice. I personally find social media really overwhelming sometimes – it’s a like a lovely big party but you don’t always want to be at a party, do you? Taking a step back (and a deep breath!) is so important.

    • Sam Tonge says:

      Thanks Annie and great analogy. Yes sometimes it is nice to be the wallflower and observe, or just stay at home and get on with the work, instead of spending a lot of time singing and dancing. We should all step back more often. Sam x

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