Under Pressure by Stuart White

Press play as you read:


Love it or loathe it…pressure is almost always essential.

Pressure and heat converts graphite into diamond.

Pressure gives you that urgency to finally finish that edit or first draft or first chapter. Or your breakfast for that matter, because with the pressure of getting to work on time, why would we hurry our cheerios (in blue milk).

I’m even under pressure to write this post, hit publish on Sunday night before bed, put it into the newsletter and schedule that for 6 AM.

Each of us has an optimal degree of pressure. For example, the degree of pressure applied by Obi-Wan to Luke, to make him come along and train with him as a Jedi was not great. Luke wanted to become a Jedi and as soon as he had no reason to stay (murdered Uncle and Aunt) he popped in his speeder, sold it like an old pair of shoes and hyperspace jumped off to the Death Star.

But when Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader used their combined efforts to turn him to the Dark Side, they applied extreme pressure – the Emperor would have killed him – as Luke still resisted.

It’s about a delicate balance between two factors – the degree of pressure but also how much you want to do or not do something.

Writers face constant deadlines and therefore constant pressure. But we all want to be writers and we all want to finish those manuscripts and have those published, so whether it’s your agent or a publisher, or even just a deadline to submit to a competition, that pressure is ultimately a good thing.

Therefore, so are deadlines.

They make us productive, they make it focussed, they make us finish.

And I’m going to go a little off tangent in this next part and talk about pressure of a different kind.

That’s pressure to be published. To have your words in print.

Every single one of us has had that conversation – when I was introducing myself to my writing group today I made a point of saying it – where we say, ‘I am a writer of X,Y, Z BUT I AM NOT PUBLISHED.’

It’s like we feel the need to say that, and without being published we can’t just say, ‘I am a writer.’

And so when the opportunity comes along to be published, no matter the source, or we are offered a contract from an agent, it is VERY hard for us to say no.

There are 3 responses:

  1. Some will take the offer, and will have done well and felt great – ‘I AM A WRITER’ you scream in the shower and to the wee boy at the checkout in Tescos.
  2. And then there’s the group who signed with the agent/publisher and who, in time, went on to regret it – you maybe split with your agent, amicably (the best case scenario). Or maybe you got an offer from a publisher and you went with them, and it didn’t work out. Maybe they over-promised when you signed the contract – they said they would do X, Y, Z and they never did. You were left with the holy grail of a book in print. Your words on real life pages, but in every other way, you may as well not be published, as nobody is reading it.
  3. You asked a LOT of questions to those agents and publishers and if you weren’t satisfied 100% with their responses, you said no and walked away.

1 and 3 are simplest, so let’s unpackage what happened there – 1 is easiest – you accepted and it all worked out great! YAY! Run back to the checkout boy and scream ‘I AM A WRITER. LOOK I HAVE MY WORDS PRINTED ON PAGES.’

There was pressure for sure, and there is again as you work on book 2. But that inherent pressure of ‘being published’ is now gone, replaced, as I’ve been told by so many friends, by other pressures and burdens, some of which are even heavier…but that’s for another post.

Response 3 might seem like the one who wimped out. They didn’t take a risk or leap of faith. They choose to remain than to stay forward. They turned their back on the dream. And that may be so.

But that person is also incredibly strong of will, to resist the temptation to remove that pressure of ‘being published’. To take the offer, and tell all their friends and family that they are now published – that is something a non-writer understands, seeing an actual book – they often don’t understand that you can still be a writer, and a good one, and unpublished.

That person, however, has taken control of their career. They have said that they will only become published when it is right for them.

And by default, and indirectly, they have unladen that pressure.

Now to response 2, poor response 2.

Let me say at the outset, how much I admire those who have response 2 and are able to recover from that, to pick themselves up, to put in the 100s of hours of personal energy and time to market their own book without much help, to get it front of readers, to take boxes to wherever they can to sell books themselves. All too often I’ve seen writers friends get their books published and even their own publisher doesn’t retweet their posts or marketing attempts, while doing little of their own. They leave the author to themselves.

And this leads on nicely to another type of pressure.

Peer Pressure.

That’s thing where you compare your situation, your book, your publisher to a friend or another author. You see their HUGE marketing budget and you see how well the book is doing, and you’re frustrated you’re not getting the same – sometimes you’re at the same publisher and you get a fraction of that support.

I could go on…pressure is EVERYWHERE in our industry, from the grass roots level all the way to the very top.

So I’ll finish on this bit of advice – ALWAYS ASK LOTS of questions. Even if it seems daft, or if you think you’re being annoying – ask as many as you need before you sign any piece of paper in our industry.

If the people do get annoyed by your questions, that’s when alarm bells should ring.

You are authors, you are valuable assets in this relationship. You are one of the most precious things on this planet, in my opinion. You are the teller of stories, the foundation of our evolution and learning, you are the ones who will teach our children to think outwith their own small worlds, to put themselves in the shoes of people very different to them, to teach them about morality and decisions and consequences and a million other things that children’s’ books teach.

Never settle, never sell yourself short, just because of that pressure of ‘being published’.

Your value is not dictated merely by having your name on a cover.

You are the master of your own work, your own writing career and you are also now the master of your own pressure. Yoda would be proud.

Don’t let pressure get on top of you.

There is infinite power in your words and your stories.

May the Force be with you.

*A disclaimer that I have both accepted and rejected contracts from publishers and agents and so, much of that section of the post is based on my experience and those people I know, and should not replace any other advice given – I am simply offering an alternative perspective.


Stuart White is a writer and secondary school teacher, who has undeterred passion for helping people, whether it’s his students at school, or the writers who have joined the #WriteMentor community.
He has a Masters Degree in Creative Writing and founded, and now runs, WriteMentor.

His latest book, Ghosts of Mars, was long listed for Undiscovered Voices, 2020.

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