I originally wrote this as a long Tweet thread a couple days ago, and I got so much feedback from other writers says they’ve struggled with this/something similar that I decided to post it here. So, here it is. Skip if you’re not interested in writing stuff or the publishing business.
This week, I was on my phone scrolling through Twitter (thus cheating on my Cold Turkey laptop internet blocker) & came across a thread with an author talking about her exhaustion versus her expectations. I don’t remember the author or everything from the thread, but I recall the author said she pushed herself with writing until her health finally deteriorated enough to force her to slow down. I could REALLY relate, hence this very long post.
Lots of personal info coming up, so apologies for TMI. However, I want other writers to know if they’re struggling with exhaustion-vs-expectations that they’re not alone. Here’s what happened to me & it didn’t matter that I’d already had several bestsellers by this point. A lot of writers (myself included) tend to think “If I just get to ___ milestone, I won’t stress anymore!” but that doesn’t happen.
Okay, until 2012, I thought if I didn’t write at the same pace as More Prolific Authors, I was a failure. That was simply how I considered it. After all, if these authors could write 2, 3, 4, or 5 books a year, then I should be able to do that too, right?
WRONG. But I tried. I frequently spent 12 hour days at my keyboard, not letting myself leave even if words weren’t coming. I also frequently didn’t take weekends off. If I did, I felt so guilty that it was difficult to even enjoy spending time with my family or doing non-work things.
The reason why is I kept thinking if I only tried HARDER, it would get easier to write more. But it didn’t. It got more difficult instead. Then, I’d get so depressed seeing other authors talk about 3K, 5K, or even 7K+ word count days when I was barely topping 2K after ten hours.
I worried constantly that I wasn’t a “real” writer like they were. All of this starting taking a toll on my relationships and my health. It started with night terrors. Several times, I’d literally wake up screaming while flailing as if I were being attacked. It scared the HELL out of my husband, as you can imagine. It scared me, too.
But it still didn’t get me to slow down. I kept thinking I HAD to continue this way or I’d lose the career that meant so much to me. It wasn’t until a couple years later, when I went to the ER with severe chest pains I thought was a heart attack, that I actually, truly thought “What am I doing?”
When I was waiting for test results to see if I might die immediately, I didn’t care if I ever wrote again. I only cared about spending more time with my husband and my family. It took something that scary for me to reset my priorities.
It wasn’t a heart attack, thank God. Or a pulmonary embolism, which it could have been from the ridiculously long hours I’d spent in chairs, not getting up b/c Must! Write! More! It turned out to be costochondritis, which is typically caused by car accidents, other injuries or lifting too many heavy things. I’d apparently given it to myself from sheer stress.
Now, I still care about my writing and my career because it’s my dream come true and the only thing I want to professionally do. But I’m not willing to harm myself for it any longer. Yes, I still sigh in envy when I see authors I admire writing so much faster than me, but I’ve stopped punish myself over it.
I know now that it doesn’t mean I’m a “failure” or “lazy” or “ungrateful” or not a “real” writer or any of the other things I told myself when I was trying to self-berate into faster productivity. It only means that some people write faster. And that’s okay, personally and professionally. Publishing IS competitive, but it’s not a winner-take-all game. There’s room for many kinds of authors, including slower ones like me.
This doesn’t mean you won’t occasionally burn the midnight oil to meet a deadline. It doesn’t also mean you won’t work weekends sometimes. But those things should be occasional and not the long-term norm. Not only are health issues a real concern, creative burn-out and writer’s block are common symptoms of overworking, too.
As with everything in this biz, other writers’ mileage may vary. I’ve met authors who write every single day with no ill effects at all. And good for them, really! But just because they can doesn’t mean that all authors can. Or should. Hey, some people can summit Mount Everest, too, but that doesn’t mean everyone should strap on a backpack and try it ;))
So, if you’ve duct-taped yourself to your laptop because you think you have to produce at levels that you’re simply not capable of, take it from me – cut yourself free. It’s not worth it and it probably won’t help you reach those goals, anyway. Do your best, then be okay with whatever that turns out to be. Hugs to you!