In the past months, a few of my author colleagues suddenly disappeared from social media. No more tweets or likes, and little explanation beyond abrupt messages about wrestling with The Big Decision: a crisis of balancing work, writing and family. Some decided to leave the writing life. Others took extended sabbaticals.
I feel their pain because I almost burned out this winter.
Despite working 70-80 hours a week, the progress I wanted eluded me. Then I became ill with a nasty virus. And a malware virus attacked my hard drive. I chipped my tooth and needed a crown. The last straw: someone stole my personal information, hacked into my credit card account, and started charging on it.
Work piled up. I was not up to tackling even simple tasks, and I was not having fun. I considered throwing in the towel.
Taking a cue from Disney's "Frozen," I let it go! I shut down the office and stepped away.
After rest and soul-searching, I'm back. Happier and more productive because of attitude adjustments and new ways of approaching work. Interestingly, I accomplish more by doing less. Go figure!
Please read on to find what worked for me and wise resources to keep you safe from author overwhelm.
1. Set Realistic Expectations
Enjoy the journey and avoid the pit of self-doubt.
I now approach writing focused on what could be and not what what I think it should be. Instead of expecting results NOW, I accept that writing is a long journey, where going slow is the norm. (I hear you sighing at this truth.)
Most Kid Lit authors never earn big profits or see huge followings, despite hours of effort and oodles of talent. And this Type-A personality is okay with that because I adjusted expectations. Really! I am content with my circle of faithful readers and hope to attract more as I publish more. My books have a positive effect on kids. I’m building presence in my community - way easier than trying to lasso the world all the time!
I recently read a social media post where a writer asked for help because she hadn’t accomplished what other authors had during the same period of time. She wanted to know what was ‘wrong’ with her.
There’s a real danger of falling into The Pit of Self-Doubt and Despair when comparing your accomplishments to others’. If you craft a solid, well-edited story and are building your author presence, you are where you need to be.
Can you improve? Sure, in time. But don’t beat yourself up. Don’t should on yourself. (see point 2). Stay out of the Pit.
2. Manage Time (especially on social media!)
Give yourself permission to accept there is only so much you can do.
On weekends, I close the office door, stand down from social media, and focus on life. Full disclosure: I still peek online with mobile, but I’m trying to stop. A walk in the woods. A chat with neighbors. Cleaning out the attic (not fun but a great sense of achievement). Ooooooh. Maybe even cozying up with a lovely read!
When I don’t have promotions or launches, I limit social media time to an hour that's spread throughout the day. As much as I want to Comment, Like, Tweet, and Pin everything I read, I tell myself it’s okay if I cannot do it all.
In fact, I won't feel guilty thinking I should accomplish more. I remove the word ‘should’ from my vocabulary. Repeat after me, Lovely Readers: "I will not should on myself!" (see pit of despair #1).
3. Schedule Look-Forwards
Create fun, rewarding non-writing activities
Writing is a lonely occupation, especially for this extrovert. It’s even more challenging to feel part of a social unit since our nearest family member lives 300 miles away. We don’t have that built-in support system. Can’t pop over to visit Gramps or cheer Niece’s soccer games.
That’s why it’s extra-important for me to make human connections. The more I plug into being with people, the better I feel. While I adore virtual friends, it's imperative to head out of the office for my look-forwards. Gal Pal jaunts, neighborhood book club, singing with the church choir, or volunteering at a senior center. Such activities get me out of my head and away from writing. They help me link with life.
These things don’t happen unless I set aside time. I rigorously plan until my look-forwards blossom and self-perpetuate. I get a shot of glad just seeing them scheduled on iCal!
4. Identify Outlets to Nourish Body and Soul
Find healthy pursuits that bring quick results
In addition to look-forwards with people, I’m invigorated by non-writerly activities that require physical effort and bring quick results.
A daily walk or swim is a must for keeping me centered and healthy. Hula-hooping to Charlie, Norah, and Gayle during the CBS Morning Show strips off stress and tightens the abs. Designing pocket gardens in our small suburban yard is a major creative outlet and stress release. (Nothing like hauling 50-pound bags of mushroom compost to feel strong and in charge!) Experimenting with my new mirrorless camera is another low-stress pursuit I adore.
5. Don't Go it Alone
It's smart to get help.
Depression and anxiety are serious health issues.
If you or a loved one cannot shake off despair, please, please, please seek support from a family member or find a trusted professional who will help.
BIG AH-HA: It’s okay if the writing life is not for you. You are NOT a failure if you decide on another path. Failing only comes when you're too afraid to try something new.
And you are trying! Here's a standing ovation, just for YOU, no matter where you are in your writerly life.
Learn More: A Resource List
The wise writers and sources below offer moving insights for coping with author overwhelm. I hope you never need these resources; however, the writerly life is tough, and you never know when they might come in handy for you or a friend.
1. Frazzled, Overwhelmed, Swamped? A Writer's Guide to Mental Health
by Ruth Harris, from Anne R. Allen's Blog
2. What I’ve Learned
by Liz Pichon
3. On Quitting Writing: "I Can't Go On. I'll Go On.”
by Becky Tuch.
4. Ten Things to Consider Before Jumping into Being a Full-time Writer
from Writer's Digest
5. Why You Should Believe in Your Book and Never Give Up
from Jennifer Margulis’ blog
Guest Post by Alisa Bowman of Project Happily Ever After
6. When Days Are Dark
by Lea Wait
Please join the conversation in the comment section.
What suggestions or resources can you offer
for avoiding author overwhelm?
Don't be shy...we've all been there.
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The writing journey is a long one. And with all that social media and technology in the mix, it's easy to feel overloaded. To make it easier, I share angst-saving tips found along my way. I'm still learning, so please join me. Let's travel this writing journey and learn together.
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