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. 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.
Strategies for Avoiding 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 instead of 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 great writing. 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 tackling the world!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.
I recently read a social media post where a writer asked for help because she hadn’t accomplished what other authors had. She wanted to know what was ‘wrong’ with her. There’s a real danger of falling into this Pit of Self-Doubt and Despair when comparing your accomplishments to others’. If you’ve done your homework with a solid, well-edited story and tried your best to build an author platform, then you are where you need to be at this moment.
Can you improve? Sure, in time. But don’t beat yourself up. Don’t should on yourself (see point 2). Thinking that way just digs you deeper into the Pit. If I find myself falling down that hole, I climb out as fast as I can.
2. Manage Time (especially 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 on weekends with my mobiles, but I’m trying to phase that out.) A walk in the woods. A chat with a neighbor. Cleaning out the attic (not fun but a great sense of achievement). Ooooooh. Maybe even cozy up in the sunroom with a lovely read!
When I don’t have promotions or launches, I keep social media time to an hour or less, spread throughout the day. As much as I want to Comment, Like, Tweet, and Pin everything that comes my way, I tell myself it’s okay. I cannot do it all and manage a full life.
Social media is an essential tool. But unless you’re a social media professional, you can’t let it become a career in itself!
In fact, I don’t feel guilty by thinking I should accomplish more; I will 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 challenging to connect with people, especially since our nearest family member lives 300 miles away. We don’t have that natural support system. We can’t pop over to visit Gramps or cheer at Niece’s graduation.Writing is a lonely occupation, especially for this extrovert. … That’s why it’s extra-important for me to make human connections.
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 them until they blossom and self-perpetuate. I get a shot of glad just seeing my look-forwards on my calendar.
4. Identify Outlets to Nourish Body and Soul: Find healthy pursuits that bring quick results.
In addition to planning look-forwards with people, I’m invigorated by non-writerly activities. A daily walk or swim is a must for keeping centered and healthy. Even hula-hooping to Charlie Rose and crew during their 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 digital camera and photo editing apps is another low-stress, creative pursuit.
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.
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.
Frazzled, Overwhelmed, Swamped? A Writer’s Guide to Mental Health
by Ruth Harris, from Anne R. Allen’s Blog
Honest look at author overwhelm along with realistic, do-able suggestions for de-stressing.
What I’ve Learned
by Liz Pichon
This post busts myths about writing children’s books as the author shares what she learned after two years of being a Kid Lit writer.
On Quitting Writing: I Can’t Go On. I’ll Go On.
by Becky Tuch
Becky shares her journey and tells how she adjusted expectations about her writing life in order to continue and succeed. She posts uplifting interviews with different authors who share how they turned the corner at their crossroads and continued their writing career.
When Days Are Dark
by Lea Wait
How a successful crime writer coped when six years of nothing followed her initial success.