When You Can’t Do All The Things

By Kerry Schafer

I don't have an award wall or a bunch of trophies. I've never been first in my class and wasn't in the running for valedictorian in either college or high school. I've never even been employee of the month.

Since I am an overachiever at heart I always see myself as a bit of a failure.

I have to remind myself on a regular basis that I am a functioning adult with a steady job, good credit scores, well adjusted kids, and a relationship in good standing. And then I go on to reassure myself that yes, this is enough. I don't have to be the mother of the year or the star employee or anything other than myself.

When it comes to writing and publishing, I'm particularly hard on myself. It's not enough to just be published - I want to be successful. And most days successful seems like a moving target I'm never going to hit. I'm not even sure what it means to be successful in publishing. How many books do I have to sell before I can call myself a success? What kind of advance do I need to get, how many loyal fans would need to line up at book signings for an autograph?

I have a sneaking suspicion that there is no number that would satisfy my thirst for perfection. But I have to try, right? And this means not just writing a perfect book, it means writing it in the perfect genre at the perfect time and submitting it to the perfect editor on the perfect day.

It also means I need to become a marketing expert.

Have you paid any attention to marketing lately? There is a staggering amount of advice out there. Different writers and marketing experts advocate for different approaches. Most insist that it is essential to do All The Things they recommend. If there was only one marketing guru out there this might work out okay, but there are hundreds, and they all have their very own You Must Do list.

If I live to be a hundred and spend all day every day pursuing All The Things recommended for novel marketing, I would still fail. This is a sobering thought, equivalent to the first of the twelve steps.

I, Kerry Schafer, acknowledge that I am powerless to do All The Things.

Last week this realization, combined with the challenge of simultaneously working on two projects with tight timelines while still putting in full time hours at the day job, knocked me on my butt. I felt very close to despair, in fact. Since I couldn't possibly do All The Things, I actively chose to do None of the Things.

This did not serve to make me feel better.

And then I had a small epiphany. I've been working with a lovely deck of Self-Care cards designed by Cheryl Richardson. The other morning I drew this card:


I very nearly drew another card for the day. Independence is not something I struggle with. I do a lot of things on my own and tend to be outside of popular opinion a lot. But I turned it over to read the thought that goes with the picture:


I don't like making decisions. What if I make the WRONG one? Because God knows that there is always a perfect decision and the whole world will probably fall apart if I fail to make the right choice. So the more I thought about this card, the more I felt like I'd been handed a gift.

What if making a choice were not a difficult and unwelcome task, but a right. A privilege. What if the right to choose applies to that impossible list of things to do for marketing?

Since then I've been looking at the lists of All The Things with a lot less anxiety and making selections based on personal comfort level, finances, and time. My choice might not be the one you would make, or that the marketing expert would make. It might not be the choice that will launch me into the circle of success, wherever that is.

But it makes a lot of sense and fits a certain trajectory: My life. My writing. My books. My career. My choices.

Maybe success or failure isn't the point at all, in the end, in which case doing Some of The Things is more than enough.

Kerry Schafer
Kerry Schafer writes fantasy with its teeth sunk into reality, mystery that delves into the paranormal, and (as Kerry Anne King) women’s fiction that explores the nooks and crannies of family and forgiveness. More about Kerry on her website.

10 thoughts on “When You Can’t Do All The Things

  1. Gosh, Kerry, this is my favorite post of the year! Shannon is so right about being in our heads on this one! Just the thought of doing ‘all things perfect’ has had me in a funk this year. I’ve been crazy reading inspirational Buddhism teachings to relieve some of the exhaustion. I LUV the cards! I need about 20 duck taped to my computer monitor, LOL!

  2. This is just crazy! Are we all in the same place–struggling overachievers finally admitting we can’t do all or be all, but having a tough time letting go? Yes, Kerry’s in my head too.

  3. Kerry – seriously… you’re in my head too! Doing All The Things and Doing Them Perfectly is something I struggle with daily as well. The flip side of this struggle is that I know I can give myself permission to back off, but the perfectionist inside me has very high standards and expectations. It’s a crazy mind game. And yes… I totally struggle with the immobility when I know I can’t do it all. But we do have the right to choose… we owe it to ourselves to exercise that right.

    Success and I have Come to Jesus meetings now and then. I think its important to have a sit down with ourselves to really think about success, what it looks like for us, and make a plan. I think doing so helps let go of all the external pressures. My goals for me will be different from the next author, and I think that’s good.

    Love the affirmation cards!!

  4. Kerry! You have just been named OUTSTANDING BLOGGER OF THE WEEK! Congratulations! You may hang the enclosed plaque on your office wall! :-)))) Seriously, thanks for voicing what so many (probably ALL) writers think and agonize over. Thanks, too, for reminding us that we do have a choice, and we don’t *have* to do it all! Wishing you much *meaningful* success with your writing!!

  5. Excellent post for sure. This line really sticks with me: “If I live to be a hundred and spend all day every day pursuing All The Things recommended for novel marketing, I would still fail. This is a sobering thought, equivalent to the first of the twelve steps.” So true. So, so true. You have to find the balance. Have to.

  6. Thank you, Kerry! This has been my vague line of thinking for the past couple of months, but you have made it cogent. I will now CHOOSE what sort of marketing I will do, and I will CHOOSE activities that fit into my lifestyle.

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