Four years ago today I left for the Camino de Santiago, and my life changed forever. One of the unexpected results was becoming an indie author—with all the work that it entails. Today, on Labor Day, I reflect on the lessons I learned on this adventure and how they affect me as an indie author.
The Camino de Santiago is a 500-mile pilgrimage across northern Spain. Originally a religious trek, it is now a European Cultural Itinerary. I walked it in September-October 2011, taking 43 days to complete my first long walk. Today, as I think about what I learned, I want to share what walking the Camino de Santiago taught this indie author.
- Look for the signs. The Camino trail is marked with yellow arrows. All one has to do to reach Santiago is search for and then follow the arrows. Sometimes they are hidden or not very easily found. If you get lost, all you need to do is double back to the last arrow, and then proceed forward. It requires trust not only in those who marked the trail, but also in yourself to find them. At times, there are multiple route choices, each well indicated, each ending at the same destination, but with a different path. The alternate route may be easier or more difficult, more or less rewarding, offering a distinctive experience, but ultimately ending in the same place.As an indie author, there are many people who would like to guide you. There are bloggers, marketers, other writers, etc. You must learn to differentiate between the true “arrows” and the misdirections. I think the only way to do this is to look into your heart to see if the path they are leading you down feels right.
When I was just starting out as an indie author, I followed lots of advice and quickly learned that most was not a fit for me and my needs. As I gained more confidence, I started to find my own way. When I realize that I am not heading in the desired direction, I stop to look around for the yellow arrows, indications that confirm if I am on track or not. For me, the yellow arrows are sales, contacts, reviews, followers, and, most important, whether I am having fun or not.
- Be in the present. On the Camino, I learned to live day-to-day, not in the future. As an indie writer, have a future goal and work on it each day, but without fretting about how long it is taking you to reach that goal. Sometimes it may feel as if you are barely progressing, even going backwards. Other times, you may find a shortcut, or an easier path.When I injured myself on the Camino and had to take three days off to heal, I wondered if I would reach Santiago by my return date. Taking the break not only allowed me to heal, it reenergized me so I could walk farther and faster. I arrived in Santiago with enough time to visit Cape Finisterre, where the Camino meets the Atlantic Ocean. I exceeded my expectations.
Living in the present also means being fully immersed in what you are doing. On the Camino, I learned to hold the endless chatter of modern life at bay, to deal with what is important, and to let the rest go. Being able to fully concentrate on the task at hand has immeasurable and obvious benefits.
- You are not alone. Each year hundred of thousands of pilgrims walk the Camino. They stay in various hostels, and become friends with the other trekkers. They build a camaraderie and trust. There is no competition and pilgrims help each other.I found the same to be true with indie authors. I feel a bond with other writers. We help one another by promoting each other’s work, answering questions, and giving heads up to new technology, contests, and success tips. We commiserate and support each other. To meet other authors, join forums, writing clubs, or reach out directly to one you admire. The indie environment is very supportive.
- Be yourself. One of the gifts that the Camino teaches is the freedom to be yourself—a very liberating experience. Many novice writers start by imitating other authors and, with time, develop their own voice and style. It takes courage to put yourself out there. It is you that readers are interested in, not mimics. Be unique; be you.
- Don’t be a coward. On the Camino you meet people from all over the world, many who do not speak English or Spanish. They are exposed to different cultures, foods, values. For many, this is their first long walk, or first time away from home. The trail can be difficult, boring, lonely, painful. It can also be joyful, thought provoking, and a learning experience.Indie authors also are on a journey venturing into new territories, learning the ins and out of self publishing and marketing. It can seem dauntless. Don’t be afraid to take on these challenges. To be successful, be courageous.
- Learn patience. The Camino taught me to be patient with others, with dealing with complications and disappointments, and, most important, with myself. I learned not to rush to Santiago, but to appreciate each step of the way.Indie authors must also learn patience. We all want our books to be successful. For most of us, that happens only with a lot of hard work and diligence, and with going forward one step at a time. I rushed my first book into print because I was speaking about the Camino and wanted the accompanying book. Prior to the speaking engagement, I had made corrections based on family, friends, and beta readers, but had not waited for feedback from my editor. As a result, I destroyed almost all of my first editions, too embarrassed to sell them.
- The value of time. We all know that time is priceless, that it should not be wasted. On the Camino, I learned that taking time was as equally important as not wasting time. I took 43 days out of my life to walk the Camino. Each day I lived in the now, completely focused on the experience. I learned to trust my instincts, and for my efforts, I received insights about myself that I never would have received had I not taken the time. After three years, I routinely take time to rekindle the spirit of the Camino, to reconnect with the peace that taking the time gave me, and to open my mind to the possibilities.Taking time was a wondrous gift I gave myself. I encourage all you indie writers to take time to appreciate the journey you are on, to reconnect with your purpose, and evaluate if you are on the correct trail or need to look for the yellow arrows. Taking this time can make such a difference.
Have you experienced something that profoundly changed you and that can relate to indie authors. If so, please comment.