Today, we are going to tackle a delicate subject which I have dubbed “Author Fade.” What is it? How do you recognize it? And how do you avoid it or recover from it?
What is author fade?
You may have guessed that this topic concerns a personal struggle of mine. Recently, I have been fighting against what is known as “podfade,” which is defined by the Urban Dictionary as:
“When a podcast begins putting out episodes more and more sporadically and at greater intervals. Typically begins with only one episode missed, but if a podcast isn’t careful, it can compound, sometimes as severe as one podcast every other month. Podfade often leads to podcast death.“
So, this gave me the idea for discussing author fade which is also something I struggle with. There’s a pattern here.
We can define author fade as an indefinite pause in writing activity. Author fade often leads to writing death. (Yikes.)
How do you recognize author fade?
Everyone you have ever met, upon learning that you are writing a book, will tell you they hope to write a book someday. The typical would-be author begins but never finishes their first story, so if you have completed a book, published or not, you are in an elite group.
However, many serious, earnest, mature writers experience author fade. This starts with missing a scheduled day of writing and then a week and then a month which turns into years of not writing.
Author fade can begin at any time, even after an author has published several books. Remember, I said this is personal for me.
The author simply fades away. They don’t publish. They stop sitting down to write. They are filled with regret.
Be alert to the symptoms.
Author fade is not usually intentional, so be on the lookout for the symptoms.
- Author fade is generally accompanied by loads of guilt.
- Author fade often involves false promises: “I will start again tomorrow or next year or when the kids get a little older.”
- Common excuses are:
- “I don’t have the time to write.”
- “Nobody is going to read my work anyway.”
- “I’m not good at spelling and grammar.”
- “My family doesn’t understand or support my writing. They haven’t read even one of my books and think writing is just a hobby.”
Monitor your self talk.
Let’s stop making writing excuses. Life is what it is. Set aside the excuses and the fibs you tell yourself. If you catch yourself whining or making writing excuses, stop and reframe the words your are using about yourself and to yourself.
Your self talk can be toxic, so you must control what you tell yourself.
“I don’t have the time to write” needs to become “I can find the time to write.”
“Nobody is going to read my work anyway” becomes “All I need is to find 1,000 true fans; there is an audience for my work.”
If you catch yourself whining or making writing excuses, stop and reframe the words your are using about yourself and to yourself. Your self talk can be toxic, so you must control what you tell yourself.Kathrese McKee
“I’m not good at spelling and grammar” becomes “I can work with an editor to take care of the nitty-gritty details.”
And finally, “My family doesn’t understand or support my writing, and that is okay because this is a common experience among creatives.”
Marathon vs. Sprint: Massive action is not the answer.
Massive action is not the best way for most people to overcome author fade.
In every work life, some urgency must fall; there is a time—usually at the end of a project—when you must push yourself. Somehow, the week before a new change goes into a software app, programmers get three times the usual amount of work done. Been there. Done that.
However, writing books is a marathon, especially if you intend to write books from now on. You will burn out if you take massive action all the time.
If you take massive action 24/7/365, inevitably the other shoe is going to drop. Your relationships will suffer. Your health will suffer. You will learn to hate writing.
Also, stop comparing your results to others’ results. You don’t know their life. You have no idea what is going on there. It is useless to compare your beginning with someone else’s middle. Comparison kills writing motivation.
Instead, use vision, habits, increments, measurement, and accountability to pace yourself and keep moving forward.
Five Steps to Defeat Author Fade
Vision: Create an author mission statement.
If you don’t already have an author mission statement, then you need to create one right away. Vision combines self-knowledge, dreams, goals, and motivations. A lot of people set out on the writing road without figuring out WHY they want to write or where they hope to end up.
If you do not understand your WHY, your energy will wane and your efforts will decrease over time. But if you take time to figure out your reasons why and write them down, then you can turn your dreams into goals and stay motivated.
You need to know why you are writing.
- Who do you hope to touch with your work?
- Who will benefit from all your efforts?
- What do you hope to accomplish?
- How do you see yourself in five years? Visualize that and put it in your author mission statement.
Your heart needs to be involved.
You must have an emotional connection to your writing goals. No matter what you write—fiction, non-fiction, epic novels, ghost writing, articles, blog posts, or tweets—you will be more likely to succeed if you know your reason why and have a heartfelt reason for putting yourself through the ordeal.
Write your vision down.
Your written vision statements will help you remember your reasons why. Put them in a place where you can review them often, and feel free to modify them as you gain experience.
Vision is the key to long-term motivation and to moving forward.
Work back from five years in the future, to four, to three, to two, to one, to next month and set reasonable, actionable goals for what you need to do next.
Habits: Create strong habits to combat author fade.
If you want to create good writing habits, then you need to create a system to support them.
I love the book Atomic Habits by James Clear. Clear writes about the Four Laws of Behavior Change, and they are:
- Make it obvious.
- Make it attractive.
- Make it easy.
- Make it satisfying.
Let’s take a single example. If you want to form a daily journaling habit, then set up a system to make that happen.
To make journaling obvious, you might set out your pen and notebook where you drink your morning coffee. Then schedule 15 minutes every day with a reminder on your phone to do it. Then keep the appointment with yourself.
To make your new habit attractive, purchase a lovely new notebook and pen to use. Or find an app you enjoy using.
To make journaling easy, limit yourself by time or space. This seems counterintuitive, but if you KNOW journaling will take no more than 15 minutes or a single page of words, then you are more likely to succeed. You can do almost anything for 15 minutes. Right?
Schedule the time, show up, limit yourself by time or word count, and keep score.Kathrese McKee
Now you have a doable task, and tomorrow, you will know you can do it. And the next day. And the next. Meet your tiny, atomic goal and stop. Rinse and repeat. That’s how a new habit is formed.
To make it satisfying, keep score in some way. More about that in a minute.
This habit forming process works with other writing tasks too. Schedule the time, show up, limit yourself by time or word count, and keep score. For bigger, more complicated writing projects, you need more than habit to avoid Author Fade.
Increments: Break goals down to avoid overwhelm.
You need vision first. You must commit to forming habits. But habits and goals need to be broken into incremental steps for bigger projects. Then concentrate on the increments one at a time.
Another book I recommend is The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. If you are puzzled by what to do next, then use Keller’s technique that he calls “The Focusing Question:”
“What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”Gary Keller
This focuses you on something you can do in the moment to move you forward. You can modify this question for each area of your life. In your case, it might be:
“(For this novel project), what is the ONE Thing I can do (this week) such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary.”
Perhaps the best focus of your efforts this week is figuring out the system of magic for your epic fantasy novel. Or writing the introduction for a character. Or finishing chapter twelve.
Keep your efforts incremental so you do not fall victim to overwhelm and let author fade get a foothold.
Measurement: Beat author fade with scorekeeping.
Now that you have your vision, your Habits, and your Increments, you need to measure your results. Measurement is the piece I have the most trouble with, but all you need is a spreadsheet or a piece of paper for simple scorekeeping.
Measurement keeps you honest; all you do is collect data to adjust your efforts, refine your goals, and keep things real.
Measurement is fun. Gamify your efforts by keeping score; play against your best scores while you meet your goals and work toward rewards. Make sure you celebrate victories and reward yourself along the way.
Measurement is the key to tracking your progress.
You guessed it; I’m going to recommend another book. Make that two books. You need to read The Twelve Week Year for Writers by A. Trevor Thrall. His book is an expansion on another great book, The Twelve Week Year by Brian P. Moran and Michael Lennington, but Thrall’s book is specifically for writers.
Thrall discusses measurement in detail, but basically, you decide what the measurement is going to be and keep score.
So, did you write in your journal today? Yes or no. Mark it down. If you have set the bar at seven times per week and you do it six times, then at the end of the week, you have an 85% success rate. That’s your score.
Measurement provides data for success.
Getting a 100% success rate for the week is not always necessary, but if you fall below 80%, you probably need to make an adjustment somewhere. As you can tell, this feeds perfectly into creating habits.
Scorekeeping is itself a habit, so make it as obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying as possible. Keep your “scorecard” handy. Schedule your scorekeeping and keep your appointment.
In education, we call this reflection, an important part of learning that is too often neglected, so make a scorecard and schedule your reflection time, just a few minutes every week to record your data and reflect on how to improve.
Accountability: It isn’t what you think it is.
The last component is accountability. I think people, and maybe especially Americans, get “accountability” all wrong. We have this saying, “Hold people accountable.” And that is garbage.
Moran and Lennington address this in their book, The Twelve Week Year, and I quote:
“Accountability is something we own; it cannot be impressed on us by others or impressed on others by us.”Brian P Moran
In other words, accountability means taking ownership. It must be intrinsic to be effective. Intrinsic means the motivation comes from the inside. If what we think of as accountability is extrinsic (coming from the outside), then we are actually talking about consequences.
Accountability is intrinsic; consequences are extrinsic.
You may think this is purely semantics, but when I was a public school teacher, I had to apply penalties and rewards for the actions my students chose to take. If they did the work, they earned positive benefits. If they didn’t do the work, then they faced negative consequences.
But these consequences, both positive and negative, were extrinsic which means I applied them to the students from the OUTSIDE. Consequences are only effective for a short time; true success comes from intrinsic accountability.
Accountability means taking ownership.
If a student is self-motivated, that means they have taken ownership and they are accountable to themselves. They are calling the shots. They are determining their success. They are making a commitment to themselves. Accountability means taking ownership. Ownership cannot come from the outside; it must come from inside a person.
Report your results to others.
HOWEVER, I said all that to say this—it helps to REPORT your results to others on a regular basis. Just knowing you are scheduled to report your results to others helps you get things done because you want to feel good about your report. (There’s that satisfaction thing again.)
So, find a group of like-minded, accountable people who also need to report their results. Having an accountability group is a proven technique for staying on point with your goals.
A warning about accountability groups.
Your accountability group members are not “holding you accountable.” They are there to report their results. The group should not exist to punish you or to reward you, and if they believe that providing consequences is their job, you need to find another group.
Find or organize an accountability group.
Accountability group members can also ask questions and offer suggestions or mention resources. The reward, if you can call it that, is for you to experience the satisfaction of reporting good results as measured by yourself against your own standards.
An accountability group with regular check in times provides several key benefits: doing things together, motivation, learning by observing others, feedback, gentle critique, and structure.
Take accountability for your work and join an accountability group for all its potential benefits. Or form one of your own.
If you have faded, recommit. Find your reasons why. Keep score. Hold yourself accountable with the help of a group. Make incremental steps that add up to habits that will ultimately lead to success as you define it.
Question of the Week
Do you have tips and tricks for overcoming author fade? Help others by leaving your answers in the comments below.
Clear, James. 2018. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. N.p.: Penguin Publishing Group.
Keller, Gary, and Jay Papasan. 2013. The ONE Thing. N.p.: Bard Press.
Moran, Brian P., Michael Lennington, and A. T. Thrall. 2021. The 12 Week Year for Writers: A Comprehensive Guide to Getting Your Writing Done. N.p.: Wiley.
Moran, Brian P., and Michael Lennington. 2013. The 12 Week Year. N.p.: Wiley.