Sunday, December 30, 2012

How not to let your writing make you crazy in 2013

When I began to write Venom at the end of 2010, in collaboration with Paper Lantern Lit, I was also working full-time as an RN, going to grad school, and writing a contemporary manuscript. I had always been the kind of girl who got things done, so I naively thought: I can do all of this. No problem.

And it wasn't, for awhile. But then the revising and copy-editing for Venom started to blend together with the outlining for Belladonna. All of a sudden I got emails about flap copy and promotional stuff. Meanwhile, school got busier and I had finished my contemporary manuscript and managed to land my dream agent. But now I had revisions to do for her before we could look for a publisher. I found myself working on three books in the span of a single day.

I started to go crazy. Like teary-eyed, stressed out, starving, sleepless, scary-crazy. I was snapping at everyone. I had road rage. I had rage in general.  My friends and family tactfully voiced their concerns. And I knew they were right. So I decided to take a semester off school.

 This is how I look when I'm crazy, except not as blue or as cute. Or as fluffy. Fine, this looks nothing like me, but I love me some Bumble.

But I really wanted to finish my Masters degree. The reality is, even after my agent sold my contemp in a two-book deal and I was writing five books for two Big Six publishers, I still wasn't making enough money to survive on my writing income alone, and I knew an advanced degree would give me more choices.

Since I wasn't willing to quit school, I decided to take a year off from my job as an RN to finish my degree and the books I had under contract. This was a hard choice because I LIKE nursing. It has a way of making you feel useful, like you're giving something back to the world. Writing can do that too, of course, but I have always gravitated toward writing fluffy fun books, not big life-changing stories.

Believe it or not, once Venom's release date came near and I was doing promotional stuff for it, doing copy edits and jacket flap stuff for Belladonna, and beginning to write Book #3, which was going to have to be drafted in less than three months to meet its deadline, the crazy came back. I was just as busy, just as rage-filled and stressed-out even without my RN job.

What I'm saying here, in the most verbose way possible (as usual), is that writing is fluid. It will spread out, suck up all of the free space that you give it. It will drown you if you let it. This is especially true once you have a publishing deal and all of those optional things like blogs and FB pages become less optional. So with that in mind, here are some suggestions that might help you stay sane as a writer in 2013.

Note: I realize many of you will not need these suggestions, as you are undoubtedly more enlightened and less obsessive than I am. But those of you who are compelled to do everything, all the time, read onward. Perhaps something will resonate.


1. Whenever possible, schedule your writing time for the week: Whether you write 4 hours or 40 hours, if you start the week with an idea of your butt-in-chair schedule and (mostly) stick to it, you can prevent yourself from spending 99 hours in front of the computer and still feeling like you didn't get anything done.

2. Give yourself tiny goals with tiny rewards once you meet them: Write 500 words and then you can check twitter. Write for an hour and then you can play with the kitties. Revise 10 pages and then you can go for that walk or read another chapter of that book. Trust me, you really don't need to check twitter every single time someone posts a new tweet #BeenThereDoneThat

3. Have designated web-free days: Two days a month I unplug and go do something completely not writing-related. Like hike or kayak or shop or go sledding or take a cooking class. Try it. Do whatever it is you've been wishing you had time to do, or else do something new and interesting you've never tried. Turn off the email alerts on your phone and limit your usage of it to checking messages once or twice and jotting down any amazing ideas that hit you while you're biking or climbing a mountain, etc. You'd be surprised how days off actually recharge your creative batteries and increase your overall productivity.

No cell service? No problem.

4. Find a writing community: No matter where you are in your writing journey, you can find a group of like-minded individuals locally or online who will understand the stresses specific to being a writer. I feel so fortunate to belong to the Apocalypsies and to have 'met' the 2012 Breathless Reads girls online. These groups, along with my crit partners and a couple local writers, have been there to tell me when I'm being unreasonable, support me when I'm not, and to occasionally pull me back from the ledge, so to speak. Love you guys! :)

5. Make to-do lists: I realize to-do lists are not for everyone, but when you find yourself getting charged excessive late fees by your credit card company because you were so busy that you forgot to pay your bill, a little reminder about those mundane obligations goes a long way. I find them especially helpful to coordinate my writing and grad school deadlines. If you don't like lists, try just jotting down crucial things on a paper or phone calendar.

6. Read your negative reviews, or don't: I started out ostrich-style, fingers tucked securely in ears. LALALALALALA Whatever I don't know can't hurt me! Then one day I was just like "Whatevz. I am busting my arse writing these books, and working with a development company means I have to please three or four editors so if I can manage that feat then who cares if I can't please all the readers." So I read all of Venom's bad reviews. And you know what, some of them were really helpful. Some of them inspired changes in the later books. So it's a trade-off. Your negative reviews might help your writing, but they might also make you feel bad or discouraged. I think every writer has a balance when it comes to letting reviews into their world. Find yours and be okay with it.

7. Remember that you are not your book: Seems obvious, right? But when you're tired and stressed and everyone you know is getting starred reviews and movie deals and your book seems to be getting scorned by the world, it's easy to internalize those negative words. Whether it's Kirkus or your crit partner who doesn't like your book, it doesn't mean they don't like you.

8. Ask for help if you need it: Do you have to write 12,000 words per week to meet a deadline? Perhaps you should ask for an extension. Not possible? Perhaps you should ask your professors for an extension on that term paper. Maybe you should ask your spouse to grocery shop this week, or do the laundry. Maybe a friend would be willing to watch your kids for a couple of days so you can grind out more words. Don't try to do it all. No one likes a Mary Sue :)

9. Know when to step away from your writer community: Insane jealousy over everyone else's successes got you down and distracted? Log off the message boards. Publisher's Lunch announcements all starting to read like this: Someone younger than you just sold a trilogy about that thing you wanted to write about that everyone told you was overdone and wouldn't sell, in a 7-figure deal, at auction. Movie rights for all three books to JJ Abrams. Time to unsubscribe, dude.

10. Institute a universal cooling-off period: Yes, wait. Before you quit your job, buy a car, decide to move, press send on that email, etc. Writers spend a lot of time embroiled in fictional drama. If you let down your guard, it might leak over into the real world.

11. Regress and regroup: Watch Cartoon network in your penguin-print pajama pants and your NIN hoodie. Have a big ugly cry. When the stress starts to pile up, allow yourself to do whatever you need to do to feel better. Then get back to work.

So cute when he's not being bad...

12. Don't forget to do other stuff: This is sort of a catch-all that includes things like sleeping and showering (not optional), as well as more whimsical things like watching your kitties sleep and having snowball fights (though not with your kitties--they don't seem to like that). Even if you're on a huge deadline writing 60+ hours a week and mostly ignoring everything except your laptop, writing is still not TEH ONLY. Doing other stuff is kinda fun, and if nothing else it gives you more things to write about.

Got more sanity tips? Share them in the comments :)

8 comments:

  1. Great post! Some of these definitely hit home. There's some great suggestions here. I hope that I never get that stressed but I know we all do sometimes and its best to take it one step at a time. I know easier said than done though ;)

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    1. Thanks Jamie. I definitely struggle with some of these things. I am the WORST EVER at asking for help. I will just let stuff pile up from all angles until it crushes me and think if I can't handle it then it makes me weak. Oh god, I just realized I'm a Mary Sue :)

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    2. nah you are not a Mary Sue cause you are far from boring! Strong women hate asking for help because then we feel helpless even though we aren't. But I know what you mean I tend to let stuff just pile on and then I start thinking about all the stuff I have to do and then next thing I know I'm combining immediate due dates with stuff over a month out and then it's migraine city! **deep breaths**

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    3. More like I am far from perfect :) I actually read nursing research this semester that showed inhaling either lavender or rosemary essential oil reduced BP and HR, as well as feelings of anxiety.

      The difference was that lavender was more sedating and the rosemary was more invigorating. So I'm thinking rosemary before exams and lavender before speaking engagements :)

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  2. Love this post, great tips. Yes, spaces of sanity were few and far between in 2012, I have greater hopes for 2013. I finally got to work on a book not under contract this month, and was so exhuberant and fell in love with writing again (something that during some especially difficult patches earlier this year, I thought wasn't possible for me anymore). I look back and am not quite sure how I actually managed to accomplish everything I did this past year, writing wise. It's a wicked tricky business, this whole creating art as a job thing, and on top of all you've mentioned about the insane deadlines, trying to also touch that shining thread of what drew us to writing in the first place- our love of stories and characters and books that pack a satisfying emotional wallop.

    As far as tips for sanity, I just had to play a lot of mental games with myself, like: all that matters is writing my eight-to-ten pages today, there is no deadline looming, just these eight-to-ten pages. And then if got those written, I felt like the day had been a success. My other mantra was: I can only do what I can do, as in, I can only manage what health problems and time restraints allow. If that means only five pages get written one day, that's okay. If I can't manage to get this done in time and don't hit my deadline, then I'll deal with that fallout, because I can only freaking do what I can manage to do! Thankfully, these little tricks helped take the pressure off enough that I WAS able to hit my deadlines. Somehow. I'm still not quite sure how. The stress-ball that was 2012 is all kind a bit of a haze now!

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    1. Love these thoughts! Wishing you a sane 2013 Ms. Heather :)

      Oh, the beauty of the non-contracted manuscript. One thing that I always tell writers still looking for their first deal is to embrace that time where it's just them and their story. No agent feedback. No editor suggestions. No one from marketing/PR mandating a title change. A book deal is awesome and I'll always feel lucky to have gotten one, but there's something so liberating about working on a story before anyone else places expectations upon it.

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  3. Such wonderful tips, Fiona! As an author who definitely sweats the small stuff (and there's a lot of small stuff with a full-time job, hubby, 2 kids, 2 dogs, and my first traditional pub release coming up), I have a great deal of difficulty on some days with the time crunch and pressure. Thanks for the reality check and the smiles. I'm a Bumble fan too! :)

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    1. Thanks for the comment :) Yeah, no kids over here--just some cats who think they are dogs--but I'm pretty sure each child counts as 1.5 full-time jobs for you. Congrats on the Harlequin deal and here's to finding our balance in 2013.

      Did you see Bumble in that Windows phone commercial? I was like Buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuumble!! <3

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