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DO NOT DO THIS EVER: “Self-Destructive Special” Edition

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The following is a that Bronwyn Green and I co-authored and presented to the Grand Rapids Region Writers Group, and we thought we’d make it available to everyone by posting it simultaneously. So if you’re looking to get some advice about common self-defeating behaviors for authors, read on after the jump.

You don’t have to look very far to find self-defeating behavior. That’s why it’s called SELF defeating behavior. A lot of these habits result in unfinished or obviously rushed final products.

 Denial: We’re starting with denial because at least one person in this room is thinking, “I don’t have any self-defeating behaviors attached to my writing. I love writing. It’s my life.” In order to fix any of the behaviors we’re going to discuss, you have to be willing to recognize them in yourself. The first step on the road to recovery is admitting you have a problem. Blaming these behaviors on other people or circumstances—“I wouldn’t be such a martyr, if I wasn’t so needed!” “I don’t procrastinate, there’s just never any time!”—will just hold you back and is a self-defeating behavior in and of itself. It’s comorbid with all these other problems that we’re about to shame you for.

Procrastination: The common procrastinator knows they’re procrastinating, but they genuinely believe that they have all the time in the world. In the middle of January, a March deadline seems ages away. But when February 27th rolls around, and they’ve only got fifty thousand words of their one hundred thousand word novel finished, the panic sets in. The Procrastinator knows that this is a problem of their own making, and doesn’t want to accept that responsibility, so they deny it, usually by getting on social media or taking an avid interest in a new show that has seven or eight seasons on Netflix. A lot of procrastinators can actually pull off getting their work done under the wire; however there’s always a price to pay: your house is dirty, your kids are eating crap for dinner, nobody is getting the attention they need, you lose sleep, then you get sick, and then at that point you’re so burned out, you don’t start writing again until the deadline panic sets in once more.

How do you fix this? The easy answer would be to ask for a deadline extension. But that only prolongs the inevitable. When faced with the new deadline, the procrastinator starts the cycle all over again. And if your deadline is self-imposed, you’ll see it pushed back further and further as your manuscript languishes unfinished.

So, how to combat this problem?

 1. If you’re in dire straits and need a fix to finish by a deadline, the first thing you can do is estimate the amount of words you think you need to complete your project. Divide that by the number of days you have until your deadline. That’s the number of words you need to write every day. Add a couple hundred if you feel nervous. If you are fifty thousand words short and your deadline is in ten days, Sorry, you’re up a creek. Exercising this step at the start of a project may help keep you on track in the first place.

 2. Remove yourself from the internet. The biggest distraction a writer faces is twitter, tumblr, facebook, or pinterest. It’s easy to tell yourself that you’re getting on twitter to build your readership, or you need to make some kind of story vision board on pinterest, but if you’re doing this during your writing time, you’re not writing. Have someone change your internet password, and tell them to only give you the new password when you’ve completed your work for the day. Or, enlist a timed program like Freedom to cut off your access for a few hours. There are ways around these solutions, and you could always get up and walk away from the computer—do you need to clean out your closets? Put photos in the albums in chronological order? Knit a sweater?—but the point is stop the mindless surfing of sites like Buzzfeed and Gawker.

 3. Get to the root of why you’re procrastinating. Is it because something else is on your mind? Is it because you’re afraid of failure? Is it because you’re suffering from depression or ADD? Stress can also shut down your writing productivity center, and distraction helps us ignore stress. Unless you seriously examine why you’re not able to focus, you’re going to find yourself backsliding into more procrastination.

4. Some adults go for years with undiagnosed non-neurotypical features like ADD or Aspergers, which affect their ability to focus or manage time effectively. Learning disorders that evaded detection during school years can become unmanageable in adulthood—and often these problems are explained away as laziness, stress, or procrastination.

 Martyrdom, the passive-aggressive sidekick of procrastination, is defined by a deep need to put everyone else’s problems before your writing. Sometimes, this is unconscious: many writers find themselves at the mercy of family and friends who do not respect a request for uninterrupted writing time. Working writers know this all too well; the phone rings constantly, because people know you’re at home. The house doesn’t get cleaned and the dogs don’t get let out if everyone takes your presence in the home for granted, especially when it appears to them that you are doing “nothing” during your writing time. The problem comes when you allow people to take you for granted, or you don’t see that it’s happening.

But good news! The martyr is totally able to get down off the cross. With a healthy dose of selfishness and stand-up-for-yourself-ittude, you can learn to set boundaries to protect your writing time.

 1. Don’t train your friends and family to neglect themselves. If your spouse needs something laundered, there are directions on the inside of the lid of the washing machine—and they’re in at least two languages, with illustrations. If you’re working on a project with a group, and one member isn’t pulling their weight, don’t pick up the slack all by yourself. If you intervene in someone else’s responsibilities, you teach them that you’ll always be there to rescue them—this goes for children, too. If your children have an urgent need—a bathroom accident, a cut or scrape—that is an unavoidable interruption. Boredom, can’t find the remote, homework projects left until the night before they’re due, are all things that can wait, or result in inevitable consequence. When people around you learn that you work from home or have carved out time to work on your writing, they’ll impose on that time if you let them. Defend your writing time as though it were a small and helpless baby surrounded by hungry tigers.

2. Do not set an unreasonable schedule for your writing time. This one applies especially to women writers, and even more specifically, to writers who are mothers. When we started writing, a common piece of advice for writers was to stay up after everyone in the household went to bed in order to get quiet writing time. Or, we could get up an hour or two early, before the kids needed to be on the school bus, so we could get a few words in. The problem with this “wisdom” is that it expects the writer to sacrifice their health for their writing and their family. While the spouse and the kids are slumbering peacefully after a long, hard day of you doing everything for them, you’re hunched over the computer, bleary eyed, so as not to inconvenience them. This is productive for no one. Lack of sleep will make you cranky with your offspring, more likely to catch colds (from your diseased spawn), and it will lesson your productivity during the day.

3. Do not offer. It’s hard to hear about someone else’s problems without wanting to help. Some people are natural fixers. If someone needs something from the store, don’t jump up to get it. When the phone rings and it’s a needy friend desperate to have her love life fixed, don’t answer. Sometimes, an honest conversation is what it takes to set a boundary. However, these conversations need to be repeated. It’s unpleasant, but with practice, it becomes less so. Eventually, someone will try to test the boundary you’ve set, but remain firm. The key to withstanding siege is to fortify your walls. And your food stores.

The Muse: Do not wait for “the muse.” The muse doesn’t exist. As a writer, you need to write, even if you’re not “feeling it” or you’re not “inspired.” Inspiration won’t find you, you need to hunt it down—not on pinterest. The only way to keep your head in your story is to continually write it. Even on days when you’re not into it, or you don’t know where the story is going. The muse won’t write your book, no matter how romantic and poetic it may seem.

Talking about your book too much: This is another simple one. If you are constantly explaining to everyone who will listen—and even those who would rather not—about your characters or your world building or your plot twist, you’re going to get as tired of it as those poor saps in the elevator. And when you’re bored with your book, you’re not going to want to write it. You have talked yourself out of a story. Brainstorming is fine, but constantly reciting your story will sap your excitement and drain your creativity.

Perfectionism takes many insidious forms. And we’re going to talk about them right now.

Research-a-holic: How will anyone know that I did my research on 18th century French insane asylums if I don’t ferret out exactly what type of lock they kept on the doors. I should also find out if the walls were made of limestone or cinderblock, and if limestone, where was it quarried?

Sometimes the reader doesn’t really care all that much about the floor plan of the Terrace Room for your character’s Plaza wedding. Sure, you’ll get the occasional expert who will complain in an Amazon review that you specified the wrong type of collar on your medieval heroine’s dress, or the horsepower on the motorcycle your protagonist rides is different from the model you described, but people will complain about things that actually are correct, too. If your research is preventing you from doing actual writing—see also procrastination—then you’re not helping your book, you’re hindering it. Specific details requiring research can be added in during the editing process. Getting your first draft on paper is more important than limestone quarries.

Comparison: “I will never write that well, so why do I bother?” Your favorite author is your favorite author for a reason, but that doesn’t mean you won’t ever become someone else’s favorite author. There are things you can learn from reading another author’s book, but those lessons can’t come through comparison that finds your work lacking. Analyze the things about their work that affect you as a reader, not things that you think are missing from your own writing. Voice is one of the common traps we all fall into—namely, that we can recognize other author’s “voices,” but we never hear our own. Our prose seems amateurish and unstructured when compared to the books we’re reading. But the books we’re reading are finished products, and the books we’re writing are not. Comparison speaks to a writer’s insecurity, and desire to be the best.

Some competition is healthy—when you’re competing with yourself for a new record time on your run, or number of words written in an hour, you’re pushing yourself toward an obtainable goal. But when you’re competing with others, (someone specific) either consciously or unconsciously, you’re only setting yourself up for failure. Either you’re going to miss the mark and feel bad, or you’re going to attain your goal but never feel satisfied. You’re still measuring your success by someone else’s standards—and there will always be someone doing better than you. It becomes a vicious cycle of self-hatred and hollow successes with fleeting satisfaction. In order to break the cycle, you have to first learn to stop comparing yourself with other writers.

1. Retrain your brain. If you read a book you really enjoy, and find yourself distracted from that enjoyment by all the ways it is superior to your own work, pause and force yourself to think, “This a really good book. Good for them. They’re a great writer, and I’m glad I get to enjoy this book.”

 2. Learn to celebrate the successes of others. There’s room in the market for everyone. Hardcore readers buy books by the armload. If they buy one written by someone you view as competition, that doesn’t mean it’s the only book they’re going to read. They might pick yours up later. If a publisher buys your friend’s book, it doesn’t mean you’ll never sell yours. Snoop Dog and Cameron Diaz knew each other from high school, and they both still got famous. Just because something happens for one person, doesn’t mean it won’t happen for the other.

3. Set new markers for success. If your joy of writing comes from the number on your royalty check, or the failure of an “enemy” author, you’re not truly enjoying writing. Yes, royalty checks are super awesome, and it’s always fun to watch someone you hate fail (and we would never take that away from you), if you can’t write without these negative rewards, you need to repeat steps one and two, or reevaluate your choice of writing as a career. If you truly do not enjoy it, why keep torturing yourself? If this is the position you’re in, try taking a week off from writing. Every time you think of a new idea or scene while you’re doing some other activity, make a note of it. At the end of your hiatus, if you don’t have anything listed, then you’ve got your answer. If you spend the entire time fretting over how many people are finishing their books before you, how many people are making money that you aren’t, then congratulations, you actually do enjoy writing, but you’ve got a problem that needs to be fixed through self-reflection.

Confusing mental health issues for creativity: More people have heard of Ernest Hemmingway’s alcoholism and suicide than have read any of the words he wrote. Because he was a great writer, his mental illnesses were romanticized and given full credit for his genius. You’ve probably heard, “Write drunk, edit sober,” as actual writing advice. It’s not uncommon to hear writers in all genres talk about how they bleed for their characters, how they need to “hear voices” or become so emotionally invested in their characters that they can no longer separate their own fiction from reality. Get on Twitter on any given night, and you’ll see author after author joking about their wine, as though alcohol consumption equals writer credibility.

Everyone will have that occasional character that they’re especially in tune with, but if you find yourself buying a Christmas present for your friend the character who does not exist, this isn’t a hallmark of genius, but a red flag for mental health. Occasionally having a glass of wine while you’re writing isn’t a cause for concern, but if you’re unable to write without alcohol, or if you feel the need to broadcast your consumption in an attempt to normalize it, you may have a problem.

Writer culture has coopted features of various mental illnesses—we hear voices, we have imaginary friends, we cling to our rituals like a person with obsessive compulsive disorder, and we thrive on having dark, tortured souls. These tendencies, if they are an affectation, are insulting to people who suffer from mental illness at best, and perpetuating misinformation at worst. However, if these are not adopted behaviors romanticized for street cred, they’re serious symptoms of mental illnesses that need to be addressed.

Some writers who are genuinely mentally ill may reject treatment on the grounds that their creativity will be hampered. The truth is, you’re more likely to produce quality work if you’re not mired down in depression or so riddled with anxiety that you can’t think about anything but your fear that your house will burn down.

1. If you are hearing voices, literally hearing voices, seek help from a medical professional.

 2. Similarly, if you find yourself unable to create without drinking or taking drugs, find an addiction specialist.

 3. Learn the warning signs for depression, ADD, obsessive compulsive disorder, and anxiety. If those warning signs seem to apply to you, talk to a doctor or mental health professional. They can help you with coping strategies and determine the best course of treatment. If you face obstacles in receiving care, don’t give up. Some doctors, like some people, are less informed and sympathetic to mental health issues.

 4. Do not reject medication on the grounds that it will harm your creativity. Don’t let the misplaced romance of the crazy genius stop you from getting the help you need to live a productive life. Alternately, don’t let the stigma of mental health issues dissuade you from seeking treatment.

 5. If you are not experiencing any of these symptoms, but are using them to describe your creative process in a pithy way, consider some alternatives. Mental illness is serious, stigmatized, and the severity is underestimated, and making a joke out of it marginalizes the sufferers. It also makes it difficult for a writer with mental illness to recognize what is the normal writing process and what is a mental health crisis.

 If you recognize yourself in any of these examples—unless you’re that secondary type of martyr, in which case you will not—take heart, for there is hope. Unfortunately, you’re the only person who can fix these problems. Be honest with yourself; so many of these issues are excuse driven. You don’t have time, so you procrastinate. No one can help themselves, so you have to do it for them. You can’t possibly finish the scene if you can’t describe the type of marble in the foyer of the house your characters are renovating. This is all bullshit. You have the power and the ability to control your own destiny as a writer. Sure, we can’t ensure blockbuster novels and lucrative careers, but we can make sure our books get finished, and that we’re doing the best work we can.

32 Comments

  1. Hth
    Hth

    Needed this so much today! I’m putting my writing time on my calendar right now and keeping the appointment, because yes I am busy, but also, I am Procrastinating. Thanks.

    November 17, 2014
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  2. I’m a total procrastinator and perfectionist. But I accept that I have these issues, so I’m not in denial. lol

    I think my perfectionism feeds into the procrastination, though. I have this need for my first draft to be perfect, so I’m forever starting over and never finishing anything. And I get overwhelmed by the need for perfection, so I freeze and read your blog instead (so it’s YOUR FAULT!). 😉

    I’m really trying to convince myself that it’s OK if the first draft sucks and that I just need to get the story down. I’m a kickass editor and I don’t have delusions that every word and scene in my work is necessary, so there’s no reason I need to be perfect. I can fix it! Ugh.

    November 17, 2014
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    • Everything about this comment rings true for me, up to and including blaming Jenny! My desktop wallpaper is just the words “Finished is better than perfect” but so far I haven’t been able to convince myself. Probably because I’m browsing the internet instead of looking at it – or, you know, writing.

      November 17, 2014
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  3. Cami
    Cami

    Oh god I feel so identified with the procrastination, especially about the internet. I know that what I do is wrong but… I just can’t help myself. Oh I’ll look for inspiration on Tumblr! *spends hour and a half watching vines*

    November 17, 2014
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  4. Heather
    Heather

    You know, this is just great advice for life. Even if you’re not a writer, all of this stuff applies to just the every day struggle of being. No matter what you’re trying to accomplish, this is exceedingly helpful. Thanks, ladies!

    November 17, 2014
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    • Laura
      Laura

      Absolutely, I totally agree. I’m not a writer (well, a comment writer, maybe), I work in science and technology, but I’m a hardcore procrastinator (and a social anxiety sufferer), and I find the honesty and warmth of the post very touching.

      Thank you , Jen and Bronwyn!

      November 17, 2014
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  5. Laura
    Laura

    This was awesome. More advice please! When you have time, of course, in between all the other awesome stuff that you do for us for free. Wait, maybe I should be asking what I can do for you…

    November 17, 2014
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  6. Oh man! I’m now wondering if I’m making a joke of mental health issues when I describe the urgent ideas for my art pieces as ‘a little witch flew into my head today and she wants to be made’ and ‘this little fairy told me she wants a sister, so that’s who I’ll make this week’. I’m not a writer, I’m a polymer clay artist and I sculpt little story scene pieces like witches, mermaids, fairies, etc. And that is usually how I describe it.

    November 17, 2014
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  7. This is a very complete and user-friendly list of tips. Thanks, Jenny and Bronwyn. Regarding alcohol and creativity, I often come up with a creative idea when I am drinking socially with friends, because I am more relaxed and “outside the box” of analytical thinking. However, actually crafting that basic idea into a story and writing it down is a job that is best done sober. Anyone who doubts that should go back and look at their own drunk texts or drunk posts once they have sobered up.

    November 17, 2014
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  8. Procrastination and lack of focus due to depression is what’s been keeping me from writing, going back to February of 2013. The ex boyfriend and I split and I moved back to Michigan, and since I had no job and nowhere else to go, I moved in at my parent’s house, where I’m still stuck at. At the end of 2012 I had finished the first draft of my first novel (was actually a complete rewrite of one I had written years ago) and had started the sequel and managed to make one pass of edits in January of 2013 before the split. And since then I’ve not been able to get back to writing that series other than to do edits to the first book, write a few short stories, and sluggishly start a new novel. I have my good days when I can focus and get quite a bit written, but most days I stare at the walls and think about stuff that makes me sad. My current job wears me thin, and on my days off I sleep more than anything, unless it’s summer, then I’m outside in my flower gardens tending to them. I force myself to write, but then the writing itself feels forced, and I stop. I want this funk to go away, but it seems to have made itself at home in my brain.

    Three weeks ago my cat went outside and never came back home and I’ve been depressed about that, and this weekend a friend I haven’t seen in ten years came to take care of family issues and stayed with me for the short two days she was here. She lives in Arizona and she told me that she doesn’t plan to ever come back to Michigan, and those two days I had to see her were taken up by me having to work and only being able to hang out with her in a tired stupor for a few hours before going to bed. Her and I were very close growing up and I’ve missed her terribly. And I won’t even start with the repairs and money I’ve had to throw into my car.

    For nearly two years it seems like things only keep getting worse instead of better, and my writing, something I’ve enjoyed, has suffered. I want to write, but this thing in my head tells me why bother? I read in hopes that may help pick me up and give me motivation, but that doesn’t always work. When I’m at work, I think to myself if I didn’t have to be there I could get some writing done, but on my days off I sit at home with the file open as I stare at the walls or putz around on the internet instead of working on my stories. I remember how my friend from Arizona used to bounce story ideas back and forth with each other when we were growing up and wish I had that with someone again.

    I don’t know. The only way I’m going to get anything written is to ignore my sad brain and get to writing. As hard as that may be, that’s the truth of it if I ever want to be a writer, especially one that is published.

    November 17, 2014
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    • Depression certainly plays havoc with motivation. Sometimes a better approach is to spend a certain number of hours writing (even if you only manage a paragraph in that time) rather than having a specific production goal. If you can manage to spend your allotted time period writing (or staring at the blank screen) rather than surfing the Internet or getting up to do something else, you have achieved your goal and won that particular battle against the motivation-slayer.

      November 17, 2014
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    • Mel
      Mel

      Mate your problems sound a lot like mine. My partner (the father of my children) and I split in 2011 and I’ve had to move back in with my mother due to rent skyrocketing in not just my area, but everywhere. I don’t have a full time job but I do transcribe for a media company occasionally (I’m waiting to receive some more work from them at the moment) and volunteer at an opportunity shop while studying creative writing and literature at uni (I’m in second year). I have bouts od depression where my creativity is at an all time low and recently I came home from uni just absolutely convinced that everyone else’s writing was of a far superior quality to mine. I was of course, wrong. A week later I had to workshop a script and everyone fell about laughing at the dialogue – they loved it. I felt so much better after that. Sometimes giving your work to someone else to read – like your friend in Arizona, maybe – is just the thing you need to boost your confidence as a writer. i had a friend like that but I’ve lost contact with her and don’t even know if she’s alive or dead. She just seemed to fall off the face of the earth. One minute we were talking, the next, nothing. Part of my depression lately has been because I can’t re-establish contact with her and miss that melding of minds, as well as her feedback.

      Sometimes we just have to plow on, and write regardless of how we’re feeling or what’s going on in our lives. It may be the only way we ever get close to being published writers, either of us!

      May 22, 2016
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  9. Ilex
    Ilex

    This is so timely! Because I’m supposed to be editing/revising a novel for my agent, and what do I find myself doing instead during my precious few hours to work on it? Procrastinating. With a vengeance. And it’s not as if I have an actual, agreed-upon deadline at the moment … but it would still be nice to have this done in a timely, professional manner.

    I’m seriously going to have to install Freedom on my computer (a handy program that blocks Internet access for a set period of time) — and then use it.

    November 17, 2014
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  10. Candy Apple
    Candy Apple

    I suffer from the demons of Procrastination, Muse-Seeking, Perfectionism and its parasitic twin Research-A-Holic. They needed a good calling out. They’re now blinking and squalling in the cold light of day; with any luck, I can just sneak away when they’re not looking, abandon them on the side of the road and continue on my journey.

    Thanks, Jenny.

    November 17, 2014
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  11. Ilex
    Ilex

    Also, an anecdotal comment about writers and depression: I spent decades suffering from emotional trauma and associated depression and anxiety. And while I managed to write little things during that time — a few short stories, some poetry, a lot of beginnings to potential novels, plenty of random scenes — I never found the focus to complete anything significant. And the stuff I wrote was somewhat emotionally crippled, because I was. I couldn’t dig into the depths that really make for a good story (at least the kind of stories I write. Not everyone needs to be able to get into that darkness and grit).

    Since starting therapy five years ago, I’ve managed to complete a novel, revise it to queryable condition, get an agent and survive rejection from 75 other agents, write a (so far un-revised) sequel, and start these edits/revisions in preparation for submittal to editors. I’m never going to be a powerhouse writer (I have a day job), but this is way better than I managed for thirty years (I’m 50 now)

    So seriously, folks, if you want to write, and write well, don’t put off getting professional mental/emotional help. I could kick myself for all the time I lost — not just writing time, but feeling-better time. And don’t convince yourself there is no help for you. There probably is! 🙂

    November 17, 2014
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  12. Twitchlet
    Twitchlet

    So, I’m an academic writer, not a creative writer, but this was still a great set of tips. That’s what I love about your blog, Jenny- it’s a little bit of everything! Sharp social commentary, emotional honesty, hilarious recaps, AND excellent writing advice!

    I have found it immensely helpful and satisfying to use a SPSS file to keep track of the days I write (date, day of the week, time), the duration of my writing sessions, the number of words I write (in finished and notation form), whether I met my goals for the day or not, and the project I was working on. Keeping it in SPSS is fun since I’ll be able to run statistics on it after I’ve collected enough data, but excel would probably work just fine. I got the idea from “How to Write a Lot” by Paul Silvia. That book is well worth a read- it has much of the same advice, with some additional pragmatic techniques for becoming a prolific academic writer!

    November 17, 2014
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  13. Cherry
    Cherry

    Thank you so much, especially for the thing about the muse. I really needed to hear it and I love you guys for saying it.

    November 17, 2014
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  14. IfYouEverComeBack
    IfYouEverComeBack

    So, this totally applies to one is writing papers too. I am pretty much in the middle of all this right now. I am also an avid procrastinator. This was quite helpful btw. Now off to finish these two papers that are past due/ due tomorrow.

    November 17, 2014
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  15. I am a massive procrastinator. I work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week so when I get home, and get everything there done that needs to be done (I live alone, so cooking, cleaning, taking out the garbage, taking care of my cat, fixing anything she broke, general errands, etc) all I want to do is crash. I keep *intending* to spend my day off being productive, but instead I usually end up having to go get something on my car done, get groceries, pick up some things I need, sleep in because I didn’t get enough sleep during the week so I’m exhausted… And another week goes by where by the end of every day all I’m doing is catching up on things in my DVR queue and playing a game.

    Trying to train myself to ‘schedule’ writing time has been something I’ve been struggling to do for a while now. Just like I’ve been trying to schedule regular work outs or time to go out and interact with other human beings (my job primarily has me alone all day with minimal interactions with other people) and I fail spectacularly because my motivation to do any of it is virtually non-existant outside the whole ‘I really need to do this stuff, for my health if nothing else’. Which apparently isn’t good enough.

    A few years ago when I was working a normal job with normal people hours I was writing nearly every day for hours, producing some mediocre stuff, but I enjoyed the hell out of it and it was the best part of my day. But since moving and changing jobs I’ve failed to make a single friend (I now live a 6 days drive from all my existing friends and almost all my relatives) and seem to have lost all my energy to do much of anything at all outside work. On the plus side I seem to have beat my life long anger issues and struggle considerably less with the more immediately dangerous forms of depression.

    But now we’re into the excuses. I have enough time in my day to get everything done that I want to get done, I just don’t. If I START to do it I can do it no problem (not just writing, all the things I want to do like working out and cooking healthier but more complicated meals. I’m a pretty decent cook, but like everything else, most of the time I just go the lazy bastard route and nuke myself some left over pizza like a college student rather than cooking some quinoa and lemon chicken like an adult) but starting is so very much harder than it has any right to be… I’m considering setting a series of ‘did you do it yet?’ alarms on my phone or computer to try and annoy myself into doing things. And the fact that I say ‘I’m considering’ rather than ‘I have just’ is a big part of my problem right there 😛

    I set the alarms.

    November 17, 2014
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  16. clara
    clara

    thank you, ladies, for this great advice for pretty much anyone who has to write anything.

    “working from home” outside of my house is when i’m most productive, but i still struggle with feeling guilty about the added expense. sometimes forcing myself to get out of the house is the only way i can successfully combat the procrastination.

    November 17, 2014
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  17. Amanda
    Amanda

    “Learn to celebrate the successes of others.” Yes please! If somebody writing in your subgenre gets good sales, you should be THRILLED. When I read something I enjoy I don’t say, “Okay that was great, now I am done with this topic.” No! I go trawling the internet for recommendations of something similar. Give me moar!

    And as for playing games with medication… be careful. I have a friend who used to go off her ADD meds to write, and then start taking them again to edit. I tried to help her edit the ensuing manuscript, and it was a wreck of stream-of-conscious plotting and half-finished sentences. I know she *felt* like she was writing up a storm with no inhibitions, but I don’t think the additional word count was worth messing around with her chemical balance. (The rest of her life inevitably went into disarray whenever she was med-free)

    November 17, 2014
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  18. Alison
    Alison

    So which one of you is Snoop Dog and which one is Cameron Diaz?

    November 17, 2014
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    • JennyTrout
      JennyTrout

      You tell me.

      November 17, 2014
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      • Petra Newman
        Petra Newman

        So loving the mermaid tattoo Jen!

        November 17, 2014
        |Reply
  19. Bekah
    Bekah

    (Longtime lurker, first-time commenter.)

    Thank you for saying that about mental health and writers–you nailed what’s bothered be for a long time about authors saying things that seem to steal from mental disorders like it’s “cool”. Because it’s not cool to hear voices or be an alcoholic; it’s a problem, and we shouldn’t normalize them.

    November 18, 2014
    |Reply
  20. I would suggest adding bipolar disorder to the list of mental health issues to watch out for. It’s often mistaken for depression (as it was in my case) but requires different treatment. Treating bipolar with just antidepressants can have catastrophic consequences.

    November 18, 2014
    |Reply
    • It can also get masked as an anxiety disorder as well since depression and anxiety tend to be two (of the many) ends of bipolar disorder. And manic episodes are nothing to joke about either and I’ve seen authors joke about those too in the past.

      November 18, 2014
      |Reply
  21. Great article! Comparison and talking too much about the book are both deadly. A new plot idea is a bit like a crush, almost–when it first comes on you want to talk about it and think about it all the time, but the more you focus on it the more likely it is to burn out. Eventually you just get sick of it, and end up thinking “Ew, what was wrong with me?”

    November 23, 2014
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  22. Lauren
    Lauren

    This whole post is amazing, but I especially love the “Confusing mental health issues for creativity” section. Thank you so much for saying all that. It bugs the crap out of me that many writers are constantly joking about alcohol in a way that makes it seem like it is the only important thing in life. I mean, to be fair, it’s not just writers. Society in general is obsessed. With work people, it’s “happy hour!” With mothers, it’s “Having a much deserved glass of wine – or three! – after the day my kids put me through – wink wink!” But when people claim alcohol/drugs are an integral part of the creative person’s lifestyle, it makes me want to scream at them. Same with people who claim their art is much better when they’re in a manic state, or when they’re off their medication, or when they’re going through unbelievable pain, etc. I’m always kind of in shock that it’s an adult, not a twelve year old, saying this to me.

    December 3, 2014
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  23. Jane
    Jane

    Once upon a time, a medication made me have a lot of trouble being creative. So I stopped taking it. It was ONE THING in the cornucopia of treatments I have tried. A single, heavy-duty medication that wasn’t right for me. Other things have made me pukey, made me tired, made me dizzy, made me feel drunk, done nothing, and made me unable to come, but not one of them made me feel less creative.

    Prozac will not make you a zombie, some people actually need electroshock, and even with frontal lobotomy, some people said that their lives were saved by the operation and that the constant pain/craziness/horror had stopped and that they’d do it again in a minute. So yeah. You have to find the right thing for you.

    November 3, 2015
    |Reply

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