Sometimes this writing gig is WAY TOO HARD! We face moments of unbridled inspiration and then droughts of writers’ block. We sacrifice sleep, relationships and leaving our house for the sake of our passions. We isolate ourselves so that we can be real to the world. We nit-pick and fixate. We criticize and whine. We aspire and pursue only to be rejected and disappointed. We’re a sensitive lot and if our work is getting to be too much for us or if our other responsibilities are overwhelming us, then we can completely lose it.
I’ve completely lost it a few times. I understand. I’ve had major existential crisis. I’ve put my writing on back burners to focus on my other aspects of my life more than once. Actually I walked down to my neighbor, the one who owns the Middle Eastern restaurant and but it on his back burner. Actually, I sent my writing to Oklahoma City so that my college friend who runs a Taco truck can put it on her back burner.
But when I did I panicked. I start fretting about my readers, about my blog, about the novel that still needs to be finished, about Nanowrimo, about my platform, about my friends, followers and likes. I start to do crazy things.
I have a feeling, however, that I am not the only one who feels like this. So, I’ve come up with a quick list of No-No’s for us who are doubting our writerly futures during difficult times.
This is what you do not do. DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, do the following:
1. Tweet, What are you people following me for? I am such a loser! If you can’t something nice about yourself, don’t say anything at all.
2. Decide that your new outlets, say running and photography, deserve their own blogs. Do not believe that you are the next Pioneer Woman. Do not create, in a manic state, that this next idea is THE BEST ONE EVER! All ideas need time to germinate. If it’s a good one, it can wait until you are more able to handle it.
3. Conclude that because no one left a comment on your facebook author page that you are doomed to never, ever sell a book. Do not think that future agents will shake their heads in disgust at your pathetic numbers. Do not set up a fake facebook account to comment on yourself. We all start at zero. All of us.
4. Ask on a writers email loop, “Hey, who’s got a March release that want me to help promote?” You will, most assuredly, be deluged by enthusiastic writers who understandably jump at this chance to be noticed. You will later regret this decision and have to confess how stressed out you are and could they please wait, um, until 2016? Oops. Only do promote your close friends or sign up what you can handle.
5. Decide that because your frequency of blog posts has decreased that your entire publishing career is careening out of control, like a rogue bottle rocket in a suburban backyard. You can take a break. You really can.
6. Worry about a Klout score. Especially while you’re trying to make dinner for a family of seven. Especially after you’ve cried all day. Especially while the dinner is burning. If a number of any kind is stressing you out, then stop looking at it. Or find someone you trust to look at it for you.
7. Believe that everyone and their dog has taken all the good agents, or ideas, or publishing houses, or contest prizes. There is a place for you somewhere. Be patient and work on your craft instead.
8. Sign up for Instagram and then laugh maniacally, saying, “This! This! Is my ticket to fame and fortune!” Especially if you get a lot of followers right away. Especially after taking photos like this one:
9. Start smoking. Do not start drinking whiskey. Do not fly to the Florida Keys and check into the Hemingway Hotel For Stressed Out Writers. This will only make you grow fat, gray your hair and say bad words. It’s not worth it.
This is what you do do. DO ALL OF THESE! DELIBERATELY AND REPEATEDLY:
1. Stick to the basics. For me this means laundry, meals and general life for my large family. They need me to take care of them whether I write or not.
2. Eat properly. Drink water. Sleep regular hours. Life is so much better when just these three things are covered.
3. Find a good way to exercise.
4. Communicate with your family about what you’re stressed about and figure out solutions.
5. Be honest with a few close friends. I feel so good when people who love me ask how I’m doing, pray for me, and encourage me, whether I write or not.
6. Realize that this is only a season. I’ve compared my personal problems as being 8.5 months pregnant. I only have the foggiest idea of what the future holds and life may not settle down for three more months — or longer. But that’s okay.
7. Hang on to the belief that our suffering has a purpose. It makes us better writers, it makes us compassionate to others, it draws us closer to our family, it draws us closer to God.
8. Seek the truth. This is what’s keeping me going in this weird place in my life. I’m dwelling on my identity in Christ, not my identity as a writer. I’m finding myself at home in his presence, not worrying about my physical home. I’m seeking peace, not fretting over a writing piece.
BUT . . . What if there’s a deeper problem here?
You could take this Mental Health Assessment quiz from Psychology Today, or this quiz from PsychCentral. Now, please don’t abuse these quizzes. They are only tools to examine the possibility of a need. They are not there to label you or to diagnosis. Use good judgement.
You could also talk to people around you who are experienced in this field. I had suspected for a long time, based on what some friends had told me (friends that were mental health professionals) that therapy would certainly help, especially when I realized, after forty years, that I had a history of abusive relationships. And it turns out that I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which TOTALLY explained the previous episodes of freaking out and panic and anxiety. Now, through brilliant cognitive therapy, I know exactly how to handle this and I haven’t had an existential crises in some time. YAY!
This was a hard post to write. It’s not really about writing, or being funny, or the things that I usually do. My hope is that perhaps there’s a reader out there who could stand a hug, or a gently push to get help or even knowledge that there’s someone else who had needed help too.
Sometimes we’re just tired. Sometimes we’re a little stressed. Sometimes we need an expert.
Your mental health is far more important than your writing goals. You owe it to yourself and your family to fix what’s broken.
What have I forgotten? What else should writers in crisis do or not do?