How to Manage Writing Overwhelm
The desire to write is a strong pull. Anyone who’s written a book or is currently writing a book knows intimately the power writing can wield over us. As much as we want it and love it, our writing can start to feel like a “should,” and a little bit like a spurned lover when we’re not giving it our full attention. Yes, it’s that intense. You think about it when you’re not writing. You feel like you should be spending time with it when you’re doing other things. You start to feel guilty.
Most writers seek me out at the point when they realize they cannot write alone. Deborah Siegel, cofounder of SheWrites.com, once said, “Writers don’t let writers write alone.” This has since become a mantra in the She Writes community. We all need support. We need champions and cheerleaders and to know that we are not alone in our experiences of frustration, fear, overwhelm, anxiety, and yes, sometimes nausea. And we need someone to join us in our excitement when we reach important milestones, because the non-writers in our lives just don’t get it—bless them.
Here are a handful of ways I see writers getting overwhelmed, and ideas for managing that overwhelm. And please, if you want to contribute other ways in which you get overwhelmed, and/or solutions to overwhelm, I want to hear from you! Leave a comment!
1. High expectations:
Authors who start to dig into what it takes to get published may soon start to feel the crushing weight of expectation. You’re expected to have so much in place to get published. You may have even had your fears confirmed by an agent or editor who rejected your manuscript and told you that it wasn’t ready, or maybe that you needed to work on your platform. When you open up a Facebook fan page or a new Twitter account and see that your competition has 4,957 Facebook fans and 67,000 Twitter followers, you will feel like a latecomer and a newbie. You will begin to wonder if you’re worthy. You’ll start going to bookstores and seeing all the newly published books and you’ll start to feel defeated. The “why bother?” demon will start to make regular appearances.
How to manage high expectations: Take a deep breath. There are good strategic ways to self-educate and to build your platform. You do need to start, but you also need to take it all in stride. You must find ways to build support for your writing into your life. Remember that all those published authors started out unpublished. If you’re paralyzed, take a class or find a writing community; if you’re swimming in a sea of expectation, do one new thing (like Twitter) and don’t add another new thing until you’ve mastered it and/or are having fun with it.
2. Fear of success:
I believe that fear of success is a bigger obstacle for most writers than fear of failure. Writers have gumption! We want our work to be read or we wouldn’t be writing. And yes, it’s tough to get published in today’s book publishing climate, but we’re going for it. We want to see our names in print! But then a strange and insidious thing starts to happen. Most of you won’t recognize it for what it is. Finishing your book and meeting deadlines starts to feel very loaded. You want it, you tell yourself. I want it, you tell your friends. But something is holding you back. If you think about the ways in which your life might change once you’re published, how much more there will be to do and how many more demands there will be on your already-strapped schedule, then you most definitely suffer from fear of success.
How to manage fear of success: This one will hold you back, and it’s so surprising once you name it! Fear of success? How is that possible? This is what you really really want. Yes, and your life will change. It’s possible that your friends will be jealous, that other people will start to feed into that whole expectation thing. You might have to start guarding your time even more than you do now and establishing better boundaries. Life will change. Growth is scary. If fear of success rings true for you, the best thing you can do is journal or meditate. You need to understand this fear and get ahold of it before that part of you that is frozen in fear can allow your expansive self to grow into your full and amazing potential.
3. Writer’s ADD:
It’s not enough to just be writing a book these days. You’re supposed to be publishing articles or essays, building up a social media empire, getting media exposure, and securing advanced praise for your unwritten book! Figuring it all out and trying to keep up results in our attention getting pulled in a hundred different directions—and it’s hard to focus. You’re suffering from Writer’s ADD—a syndrome whose symptoms include your brain jumping to other ideas and to-do’s while you’re working on the project at hand—if you can no longer sit and focus on your writing during scheduled writing time. It’s hard to focus when you’re supposed to be working on social media, or writing a blog post, or if you’re following 50 bloggers and you need to read the morning headlines.
How to manage Writer’s ADD: You do need to shut it off. Stop. I had to seriously reduce the number of blogs I was reading once I started to write my book. So yes, I was missing out on things I used to enjoy catching up on, but something had to be sacrificed. For those of you dealing with too much too much too much, spend some time prioritizing. If you have more than one project, you need to choose to work on one first. You need to implement a content strategy. Work with a coach to help you figure out your goals, timelines, and priorities. It’s crucial. If you don’t know what to do first, your attention will constantly be split, and you will be swimming in a sea of unfinished projects with no completion strategy in sight for any of them.
Most people start writing for the love of writing. It’s soul-expanding. Being in flow and creating work I know is good is one of the most rewarding things I do. So when the thing we love starts to be weighted down by the heaviness of the industry, of our goals, of our expectations, of technology and social media and the push to always do more, it’s imperative to take stock. It’s like getting a writing adjustment—a chiropractic alignment for your writing. If overwhelm is preventing you from writing, support yourself to name what’s happening. Seek out support and community if you’re not doing so already.
Find one thing to support your writing practice this month!
Until next month,