books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Writers: Are You Taking Care of Your Emotional Health? 8 Tips to Keep From Going Batty as You Launch Your Career



   First, a couple of announcements: This blog is up for a Goodreads “Independent Book Blogger” Award and we'd love your vote. If you’re a Goodreads member,  you can vote through the vote button on the sidebar. Unfortunately the Goodreads icon seems to have been eaten by the Blogger elves, but the button works. You can vote once in each of four categories,  Publishing Industry (that's us) Young Adult, Adult Fiction, and Adult Nonfiction.

     AND: Ruth Harris has a brand new book out! It’s OVERRIDE—another hold onto-your-hat, fast-paced thriller written with her husband, Michael Harris. More about it on Ruth’s Book Page.

This week we have a returning guest, literary author and college professor Samuel Park. Last year when he visited us, Samuel had just published his first novel, THIS BURNS MY HEART with Simon and Schuster. (And he told us NOT to kill our darlings.)  His spectacular reviews are the kind most of us just fantasize about.) Now he’s preparing for the debut of the paperback. (I just love the new cover!)

Yes, there still are hardbacks and paperbacks coming out from the big publishers! And yes, there still are success stories like Samuel’s. People magazine and the Today show do still pay attention to debut authors. Congratulations, Samuel!

And how did he do it? Turns out he didn’t torture himself with overwork and 20-hour days filled with endless publicity gigs.

He took care of himself. He thinks you should, too.  

Take Care of Yourself: (Emotionally) Healthy Living for Writers
by Samuel Park

Being a writer is full of highs and lows, with lots of opportunities for anxiety. For instance, I can’t think of anything more frustrating than waiting to hear from an agent after a query. Or the emotional yo-yo of being in a relationship with your book—one prone to fits of joy, followed by bouts of self-doubt. Being a tortured used to be part of the persona of the artist, but these days, everybody wants happiness. Even writers.

Here are 8 Tips for (Emotionally) Healthy Living:

1.     Delegate Anxiety

If there’s a particular part of the process that sets your teeth on edge, see if you can get a spouse or friend to do it—somebody who is less emotionally invested than you are. If querying agents is getting you down, see if you can get someone to take care of that for you. That way you can avoid the emotional rollercoaster of waiting to hear back.

I’m not suggesting you hire someone—I don't believe in paying for that kind of service. And you absolutely have to write your own query. But if you can get a writer friend or spouse to manage the submission of the queries and the follow-up (maybe trade query duties with a fellow writer?), that'll remove you from the daily stress of the waiting game.

2.     Be Delusional

According to what I’ve read, delusional people tend to be happier, richer, and more successful. For a writer, being deluded can be an effective antidote for writers’ natural propensity to be pessimists. It may, in fact, be the only way to have a more clear, truthful perspective on your situation.
I have a friend who published book a few years ago and it didn’t do as well as she’d hoped. Recently, her former editor got in touch with her to find out what she was working on.

Because I was an impartial observer, I knew that the editor was checking in in the hopes of possibly snapping up my friend’s second book. My friend, however, read it as the editor simply being nice and feeling sorry for her.
In this case, my friend thought she was being realistic. My advice for her was to be more delusional, and tell herself that she was brilliant, talented, and that editors were desperate for her next book.

In her case, “being delusional” actually provided a more accurate reflection of reality.

 When writers act “delusional” and tell themselves that they’re fabulous, there’s a good chance the “delusion” is a necessary corrective for writers’ natural tendency to doubt themselves.

3.     Use Up Your Brain Cells

Sometimes worry and frustration come from your writerly brain not having being used enough that day.

When I first started writing, my mentor Don Roos stressed to me that I should write for an hour a day every day (except weekends).

 I thought it was for the sake of discipline and productivity, but he said it was actually to stave off the self-loathing that every writer feels when she hasn’t produced that day.

When you don’t write, the guilt starts inching forward, and makes you feel bad. When you do write, the world feels terrific. And the brain post-writing (and post-FLOW and post-high of creating) is too tired and spent to indulge in negative, self-sabotaging thoughts—its capabilities have been used up by the plotting and scheming for the day.

4.     Let Out the Anger…But Don’t Become a Rage-a-holic

One of the easiest ways to escape the writer’s blues is to indulge in anger. If you’re feeling bad, you can probably start feeling good almost right away just by letting out your repressed anger.

The problem with that, though, is that you become an angry person. If a rejection from an agent stings, go right ahead and let out some expletives. It’ll make you feel better.

But for the sake of your friends and family, get out of that mode as soon as you can! Nobody wants to be around someone who is mad all the time.

5.     Take Care of Yourself

Evolutionarily speaking, we weren’t born to work indoors all day, or to be writers in the modern sense of the profession.

Being sedentary and solitary may be conducive to producing work, but it’s not conducive to producing happiness.

Exercise; get vitamin D either by going outside, getting a sun lamp, or by taking multi-vitamins; be social, ideally in a “tribal” scenario—that is, with two or more other people; watch your favorite TV show; or better yet, do all of the above.

6.     Avoid Avalanche Thinking

Being turned down by an agent is not bad if you maintain things in perspective.

But we’re writers, we have big imaginations, and it’s hard to resist avalanche thinking: “Agent X doesn’t want my manuscript, which probably means that Agent Y won’t either, and no agent will ever want me, and that’s because I have no talent, and if I have no talent, then I’ll never sell a book, and if I never sell a book no one will ever love me, and no one will ever love me then daddy was right when he called me a loser, and so on and so on.”

If an agent turned you down, all it meant was that he wasn’t right for your manuscript.

The right writer-agent combo is something worthy of a matchmaker, and dependent on personality, work styles, and temperament. It takes a while to find the right one.

Don’t read too much into things.

Avoid negative chains of thought; chop them off from the very beginning. If you’re prone to avalanche thinking, try reversing it by replacing it with a positive thought, or by feeling gratitude for something.

Think about something good that happened to you and focus on that in your mind, and focus on how you feel about the person who helped you or made that possible.

7.     Take the Lesson Contained in the Conflict

I hate to sound like Polyanna, but every time we feel bad about ourselves or others, there’s a lesson there waiting for us.

The lesson may be to be more patient, or to write a better query letter, or to improve one’s writing by attending a conference.

Instead of dwelling on the rejection, rewrite it as a teaching moment, and try to squeeze a lesson out of it.  And then focus on that lesson.

Instead of dwelling on what went wrong, focus on what will go right next time.

This will help you get over the negative emotions surrounding the event (disappointment, anger, frustration) and focus on the positive emotions that come from focusing on the future (hopefulness, more inner strength, satisfaction from self-improvement). 

8.     Think About Being Down When You’re Happy

When you’re happy, the last thing you want to do is think about the worries and frustrations of being a writer, but I’d argue that when you’re happy is the exact time to set these behaviors and habits into practice.

When you start feeling beat down is actually too late, because by then you’re in a funk, and it’s much harder to get out of a funk than to prevent one in the first place.

If you’re feeling bad, you won’t be able to gather the motivation to do any of these things. When you’re feeling good, you can’t imagine that you’re ever not going to feel good, but that’s a mistake. 

Anticipate the inevitable lows of the writer’s life, and prevent them rather than ignore them.
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Originally born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Korean-American author Samuel Park graduated from Stanford University and USC, where he earned his doctorate in English. He is the author of THIS BURNS MY HEART, which was chosen as one of Amazon’s Best Books of 2011, a People magazine “Great Reads in Fiction,” and one of the Today Show’s “Favorite Things.” THIS BURNS MY HEART was also a Kirkus Reviews’ Best Fiction of 2011, a BookPage Best Book of 2011, an Indie Next List Notable Book, and a Starbucks Bookish Reading Club Selection. Translations of the book are forthcoming in Norway, Germany, China, and South Korea. He lives in Chicago, where he is an Associate Professor of English at Columbia College.
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What do you think, scriveners? Do you feel better about yourself if you write every day? Do you think being delusional is helpful to writers? (I wonder if I’d have gone down this road if I hadn’t been a little delusional myself.) How about trading query duties with another writer? I never thought of that, but it sure would have made it easier. (Misery loves company.) Do you have any other tips for keeping your sanity in this crazy business?

INDIE CHICKS FANS: The final installment of the Indie Chicks anthology is from Michelle Muto. Read her inspiring story on the Indie Chicks page



35 comments:

  1. Anne, thanks for the introduction to S. Parks. Samuel, this is a great post for anyone who is trying to cope with the daily angst of our craft. I do write every day, however, I switch gears and work on posts, or a synopsis or a new plot. Your suggestions are excellent and can put a bit of perspective on this whole mess of trying to get published. No reason why we can't have fun and be happy, even on the days we think every line we write s$$ks. Thanks again :)

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  2. Anybody who's having trouble commenting, you can send comments to me in an email to annerallen.allen at gmail dot com and I'll put it up. Blogger is blocking a lot of commenters today. No idea why. Lots of weird changes going on.

    Also, it sometimes helps to sign out and sign in again. That's what I've had to do recently with WordPress I wonder if Blogger and WordPess are having a spat?

    Florence--I'm glad you were able to comment--especially since you're the one who usually gets blocked. I sure did find Samuel's tips refreshing.

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  3. Ahoy Anne & Anne-ophiles,
    Delusionality? Absolutely, though as noted in Samuel's example, one writer's delusion can be an editor's reality. In terms of things to do that help, my sainted mother was a serious fan of thank you notes, & darned if she wasn't right. When a MS comes close, but doesn't cut it for some agent or editor, a thank you note for a critical read puts me in a more positive spot, more able to move on to the next Big Edit.

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  4. Very important tips, Samuel. As someone who has an MA in counseling as well as six titles in print (well, # six is at the printers), the points you bring up are key to having a happy life. Being miserable takes the joy out of being published. When I started writing seriously and feeling the roller coaster that my life became, I started my blog, Your Shelf Life dot com. About being delusional, I read somewhere that people who are clinically depressed have expectations that turn out closer to what happens than regular people. Or happily delusional people. So here's to delusion!

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  5. This post is so good it should be called Commandments for Writers.

    For myself, I find that letting myself get overly fatigued & exhausted is a real no-no. Can't think, can't write, can't do squat.

    I need to learn to stop. Feeling overwhelmed & burned out is horrible!

    Thank you, Samuel, for excellent guidelines!

    PS: I logged out, logged back in. Fixed the no-comment problem. Thanks Anne!

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  6. fOIS in the city--I'm glad to hear that. I think writing everyday is also one of the best ways of staying in the dreamworld of the novel--constantly marinating ideas in the subconscious.

    CS Perryess--I'm a big fan of thank you notes--both getting and receiving.

    Sandy Nathan--Indeed, what would be the point of accomplishing without enjoying it, right? I'm not a fan or believer of the whole tortured artist syndrome. Good luck with book #6!

    Ruth Harris--congratulations on the new book--and thank you for the kind words! I'm really happy you liked the post!

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  8. Tips to AVOID insanity? Why would anyone want to do that? I'm insane and enjoy every second of it! *hysterical giggles*

    But back to reality, your tips are awesome Anne - thanks very much for posting them! As someone who's easily worked up and upset, it's nice to have guidelines to work by - deluding myself should be easy, and lots of fun. I'm very good at delusions *giggles*

    Love your posts! Love you! Love your cat! xD
    Charley :)

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  9. Tips to AVOID insanity? Why would anyone want to do that? I'm insane and enjoy every second of it! *hysterical giggles*

    But back to reality, your tips are awesome Anne - thanks very much for posting them! As someone who's easily worked up and upset, it's nice to have guidelines to work by - deluding myself should be easy, and lots of fun. I'm very good at delusions *giggles*

    Love your posts! Love you! Love your cat! xD
    Charley :)

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  10. ... voted

    ... I've noticed that wordpress is a bit prissy of late too

    ... loved the 'delusional' tip ... all of them really, but'specially the delusional one!

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  11. *giggles at Charley*

    Yes writing everyday is good. I participate in a daily writing practice blog to do just that. I got to it late today and found myself itching to do it. But, being my birthday and all, I was trying to fit a whole bunch of my other favorite activities, like baking and sewing and spending time with the kids. So let's see that means I've got #3 and #5 covered? *grins*

    I might have to work on the delusional thing next. It sounds like fun. I do believe I am at least an optimist at best, realistic at worst... a step in the right direction, for now.

    Thanks for all the advice. I might have to bookmark this page for future reference (like when I start querying).

    :} Cathryn

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  12. Anne and Samuek:

    Thanks for the great advice. But I have to say I think all successful writers are delusional. Unless we get accepted immediately, we're delusional because we think the next person will love our book. And we keep going. "Persistenvce" is the magic word.

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  13. This is a great post. Thank you for all the good advice. I especially like No 5 - Taking Care of Yourself. If you don't, it's over...

    Denise

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  14. "Evolutionarily speaking, we weren’t born to work indoors all day, or to be writers in the modern sense of the profession."

    Such a valid point. Fundamentals like good food and exercise are so important to mental well-being.

    And nothing can be worse for the human body and mind than exchanging a long day sat at the computer screen for a long evening sat at the TV screen.

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  15. Writing every day definitely helps me--there's a nice rush from laying down words that I can't get anywhere else. The other big thing that keeps me a bit more sorted in my head is getting my ass to the gym on a regular basis.

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  16. Hi Anne--

    I think the point of this was "Be Balanced." My friends forced me to buy a piano to get away from the computer. They were right. I was enslaved by the writing.

    As far as "delusional," I've been in a few crit groups where I thought there was definitely some delusional thinking going on, but, hey it worked for them.

    Must go now and work on next bestseller.

    Delusionally yours--
    Dana Taylor

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  17. Great advice. Personally, though, in #5 I'd skip the TV. That's not going to help you physically or mentally. Get some exercise instead, it'll help more.

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  18. Anna--So glad this post helped!

    Charley--Sounds as if you have a problem with what Samuel calls "Avalanche thinking" I sure do, so I relate.

    widdershins--Thanks much for your vote. Yeah, what's up with WordPress? All of a sudden Gravatar doesn't work there and I have to sign in with my twitter handle.

    Cathryn-Yeah, delusional is fun.

    Phyllis-I think you're right that we all are a little self-deluding. We have to be.

    Denise-You're so right. I'm dealing with that one right now. The pressure to do too much is so intense, but I've got to cut back or I won't be around to enjoy any of it.

    Mark and R.E.--You're right about the TV. But I can't seem to kick the habit of zoning out for an hour before I go to bed. TV puts my brain to sleep.

    Katriena--For urban people I think the gym is probably pretty essential. Me, I just walk country roads.

    Dana--I love the idea of getting a piano! Music uses a different part of your brain, so it would definitely bring balance.

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  19. Lots of interesting points to think about. I'm probably not that balanced - I have a habit of mirroring the feelings of my characters, so if they're depressed I'm twice as bad. Although it works equally when my MC is happy.

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  20. Couldn't find a better place to drop this. It's only a small hometown Paper on the sleepy coast.
    but congrats anyway. Fingers crossed on IBBA
    rel="nofollow">Peachy




    Maybe Uncle Sam's blog is getting traffic

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  21. Hi Anne,

    I needed to read this last year when I first started self publishing. You're a year too late, lol.

    On a serious note, good post. If writers are driving themselves into the ground over what they're doing, they probably need to find a new approach. I'm far more settled now than I've ever been. You just need to go with the flow and keep writing. That's all you can control.

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  22. Anne & Samuel, I cannot express how much this means to me. I was *so* in a funk yesterday, and it wasn't even related to a rejection!

    Sometimes the wear and tear of the learning process of writing is enough to give me a case of the doldrums. Thank God for my writer friends who remind me I'm not a Giant Bag of Suck (GBS, for short), and for writers like you who continue to remind me that what I'm feeling is NORMAL.

    Thanks again! :)

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  23. Analisa--I have the same problem. I thought it carried over from my acting days, but it may be part of the normal writer's experience, too. When my characters are down, I go right there with them.,

    Alon--Thanks so much for posting that link to my poem! Yes! I got a poem published in a fairly high circulation newspaper: "Post Traumatic Peach" I was pretty jazzed when I saw it Sunday morning.

    LK--This was a timely post for me too. I'm now in the process of unloading a number of obligations so I can get back to having a life. With me it's that marketing took over and I had no time left to write.

    Jessica--It happens to all of us, but that doesn't make it any less agonizing when we're going through it. The brain really does get depleted of endorphins when you work too long and hard at something cerebral. It's a sure recipe for depression. Time to go to the beach.

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  24. You have a great blog! I found you from the Independend Book Blogger Awards page on Goodreads. (psst... I voted for you)

    Keep up the great work, and if you haven't voted for a YA book blogger maybe consider my page - www.readinhouston.blogspot.com.

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  25. Kelly--Thanks a bunch! The Book Blogger awards are helping me find out about so many great book review sites. Already voted, alas, but I'll definitely check out your blog and I just added you to my Google+ writing circle.

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  26. Great tips! Writing and, especially, promoting our books can be an overwhelming, frustrating experience.
    The three P's: perseverance, perspective and patience are crucial.
    For me, chocolate and a sense of humor are too!

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  27. Patricia--Your three P's are priceless. Plus a sense of humor and chocolate. Definitely chocolate.

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  28. Thank you for a wonderful article. Finally, it feels good to be delusional!
    Carole Avila, Posse member

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  29. Be delusional--love that. It's a state I'm familiar with. I spend a lot of time there and agree that you can't be disappointed while you are happily living there. Loved the post.

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  30. I concur about socializing to offset the solitude of writing, much as we all savor that. Other people, even pets, take you outside your head, which is healthy and refreshing. And, outside influences contribute to your imagination.

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  31. I agree about the importance of socializing to offset the solitude of writing, much as we all savor that. Other people, even pets, take you outside your head, which is healthy and refreshing. And stimulates your imagination.

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  32. Absolutely. How can one continue to write if not delusional? Great point-think about your down moments when you're happy so you can figure out how to deal wit ha funk when you are best equipped to tackle the problem.

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  33. Carol, Cora and Lesley--I love being delusional! My family always said I must have been born with rose-colored contact lenses, because I always see the good in things even when it's not actually there. :-)

    Melanie--It's so important to make yourself get out there and be with other people. Introverted writers can get so lost in our own heads. I think you're right that a pet help in the same way. They keep us grounded. (And remind us of the passage of time--as in "it's dinner time, doofus!)

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  34. Anne, thanks for the post. I'm not in this alone there are other delusional folks out there. I love the positive attitude of Samuel. Well written. Augie

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  35. Augie--I think we're all in this delusion together :-) Samuel is an amazing inspiration. His positive attitude shows that success isn't about a "boot camp" mentality or being cruel to yourself. His novel is a literary masterpiece taught in schools all over the US. I'm so honored he guested for us!

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