books with Athena

books with Athena

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Frazzled? Frustrated? Going Mental? 6 Ways to Beat the Breakdown

I think it gets worse at this time of year. The holiday frenzy adds its own brand of crazy to our already pressured lives. I talked about that pressure a couple of weeks ago in my post on White (or Red) Queen Days: Why Are We Running as Fast As We Can to Stay in the Same Place?

It seemed to resonate with other writers, because the post got thousands of hits, and Porter Anderson mentioned it in his Writing on the Ether post last week, agreeing that it's increasingly hard to survive on "the accelerating authorial treadmill."

Now here's some advice from Ruth Harris, who's been surviving in this crazy business for a lot of years now and has figured out how to keep the frazzles at bay.

Six Ways to Beat the Breakdown
by Ruth Harris

You’ve got a book to write, a cover to create, tweets to tweet and pins to Pin. There’s metadata, pricing decisions, giveaways, keywords, tagging, liking, formatting and facing FB. Your lists have lists, your back is killing you and your eyes are crossed from so many hours in front of the computer.

There are 1000 things to do and, sometimes, it feels like 999 of them are driving you batshit crazy.

You feel overwhelmed and out of control.

We’ve all been there, done that. Anne and me included. We decided it was time to take a step back and figure out how to be a writer in the Twenty-first Century without going bonkers.

1) Know your trigger points.
What is it that absolutely, positively guarantees a meltdown? One more email that must be dealt with? A blurb that resists your creativity? A looming & leering deadline?

For me, it’s dinner when I’ve been working hard all day and am running on fumes. I don’t even always know how I feel when I’m in that state but Michael has learned to recognize the warning sighs (You think a crabby, cranky wife might be a tip-off?) Even though I love to cook, he knows when I’ve had enough and should stay the %#%!! out of the kitchen lest the pots & pans feel my wrath.

Born and bred in Manhattan, he’s a true New Yorker who reaches for the phone. There’s Afghan, pizza, Turkish, Chinese, A+ hamburgers, deli sandwiches and the long-running pasta palace nearby so when dinner is the tipping-point, we (he) knows the warning signs, has learned how to deal & keeps me out of trouble.

Whatever your own trigger points, it’s essential to recognize them (or have a spouse/kid/best friend who does) and can come up with a strategy to fend them off before you have a meltdown.

2) Recognize your limits. You’ve uploaded your new book to Amazon, Nook, Kobo and Apple, approached 10 book bloggers requesting a review, edited the first half of your next book, tweeted and posted to your blog. You took your oldest to the dentist and your youngest to ballet class. You hit the supermarket, the dry cleaner and the drugstore.

Uh. Really?

Don’t you think you might be pushing it? Don’t you think you should learn to prioritize? Don’t you think allowing a little space in your schedule might be a good move? Haven’t you heard of delegating? Does the laundry really have to be done tonight? And addressing those Christmas/Hannukah/ Kwanza cards? Can’t one of the kids help? Wouldn’t one of the neighbors, recently retired and sort of bored, enjoy lending a hand in exchange for a free book or a tray of your fabulous brownies?

You don’t need me to tell you’re not superman or superwoman. You need to tell yourself and keep reminding yourself. Take the pedal off the metal, back off, slow down, pace yourself.

3) Dump the OCD tendencies. IOW, don’t torture yourself with perfection because perfection is a fantasy. When I was preparing my backlist books for epub, I was sort of shocked to find a few typos and other minor mistakes. Not many, to be sure, but a few. Books published back in the day went through an editor, a copyeditor, and a proof reader. Not to mention the fact that the author (me) had two more go-rounds: galleys and page proofs.

You’d think that with that many eyes, no mistake would survive but you would be wrong. You should aim for an excellent book but not a perfect book because perfection simply doesn’t exist and the big advantage of cyber-pub is that if a reader spots an error you missed, you can fix it. Not possible in TradPub.

Mr. Monk solves crimes, but you aren’t going to solve the riddle of the perfect book. Hire an editor if you need to. Get your best friend, your crit partner, your neighbor who loves to read to do a careful proofing, then let it go.

4) Don't become a tech wreck: get help. Does uploading a cover image to specified measurements in KBs and MBs and pixels have you tearing your hair out? You mean you don’t even know what KBs and MBs are? And pixels? What’s pixels? Drunken elves? Does creating a text link cause you angst? Is Photoshop your Rubicon? And don’t even mention HTML, JPG & PNG.

Kids grew up with tech & if tech is turning you into a wreck, look for a kid—maybe even your own kid or the neighbor’s kid—to bail you out. Make a deal and pay them because what they do in saving your sanity is well worth it. Or, as the ad says, priceless.

5) Recognize burnout and deal with it. If you’re running on empty, give yourself a break (literally). Meditate, take a yoga class, have a 10-minute massage (most manicure places offer them). Read a good book. Watch a season’s worth of Homeland. Go to the movies, a concert, the ballet. Make a lunch date even if it’s only with yourself. Take the time to catch up with an old friend—gossip is a superb refueling technique & a great source of new ideas.

Here ares some suggestions for dealing with burnout ideas from other writers at the top of their game—

Mark Chisnell: Ace thriller author of the Kindle chart-toppers, The Defector, The Wrecking Crew and The Fulcrum Files—as well as contributor to leading magazines and newspapers including the Guardian and Esquire.

His advice: balance mental with physical:

“I've always felt that because writing is such a sedentary job, it's really important to balance the mental stresses with some physical ones—usually with some sport. So I try very hard to do a mix of yoga and aerobic exercise, and do some sort of physical activity every week. Football, surfing or mountain biking are my preferred forms of torture, but I'll take whatever the weather and geography will allow, even if it's just a run round the block. If I keep to this routine I find that I can keep everything else in perspective, and don't get to the frazzled and overwhelmed stage.”

Donna Fasano, superstar author of bestselling sweet romances—her latest is Her Fake Romance which earned a "Top Pick" 5-star rating from

She deals with the frazzle like this:

“There are always those two great and well-known standby remedies in my house: chocolate (for daytime frazzles) and wine (the perfect solution to evening frazzles). However, several other coping strategies have served me well. I find solace in nature, so I take a lot of walks. I visit friends. I take in a movie, usually a comedy because I love to laugh. I often will find myself up to my elbows in flour (I love to bake), or stirring up some new recipe in a pot (I love to cook). One of my favorite coping mechanisms is to switch gears, literally. I love my manual 6-speed convertible Miata. When I return from a glorious top-down drive, I don't seem to mind picking up my much-lighter Ms Overwhelmed, slinging her over my shoulder, and getting back to the endless tasks that come with the job of being an Indie Author.”

6) Go Noir. Scream it out and laugh about it. Considering all the things that go wrong, that get screwed up, that have you in fits, a sense of humor is your Number One offense & defense. When all else fails, when you look in the mirror and see Quasimodo, don’t scream: laugh. Be bitter, be outraged. You have the right, damn it!

Now that reviews are disappearing, your buy buttons have mysteriously evaporated and ancient covers from a long-forgotten Transylvanian edition have replaced the elegant & expensive covers on your author page, noir does the job.

You can even write a blistering email to the guilty cyber vendor invoking every known noun, verb, adverb & adjective deriving from the ubiquitous and much-loved f-word--as long as you don't hit "send."

On second thought, make that a capital F!

How about you, scriveners? Are you feeling the burnout? Is your family begging you to take a vacation...preferably alone? Is it all getting to be too much? How do you cope with the frazzles?

Blog News: Anne will be visiting Romance University on Friday, November 30th, where she'll be talking about Slow Blogging--another way to combat the creeping enfrazzelation.


  1. Fantastic post, Ruth. And perfectly timed. Now pardon me while I go kick the sofa.

  2. Balancing the mental with the physical - knew there was a reason I liked going to the gym!
    The perfectionist one gets me sometimes, but I have learned my limits.
    Good tips, Ruth!

  3. Excellent post. Pixel = drunken elves? OMG I'm still laughing... That's exactly what I needed today. Now I feel like forging on with my wip chapter. Thanks much for sharing. Enjoy your Sunday!

    ~ Aithne

  4. Ahoy Ruth,
    Thanks so much for this timely post. And fellow creative folks struggling with all this, I highly suggest connecting with Mary Hershey (, children's novelist & life coach. Mary does amazing things working with authors & artists, helping us slow down, back up, & take stock of all the chainsaws we're juggling - or think we have to juggle. She's a gem.

  5. Alicia—Thanks! Don't hurt your foot! Those sofas can be cruel.

    Alex—Mark is right about exercise. I'm another one who actually enjoys the gym. Now we know why!

    Aithne—Laughing is totally the best. Glad to help out! :-)

    CS—Thank you & thank you for the tip. I'm going to bookmark her site.

  6. Jogging outside combines exercise with my love for being outdoors all in one. Ahhh. I also always try to remember advice I received early on in my marriage, "There are a lot of good things to say yes to, many great things, but only a very few excellent. Say yes to the excellent."

  7. I find it hits me hardest at the end of short vacations like these, when I feel like I've been given just a taste of what it's like to be on break without enough to satisfy my longing to spend two months on a beach in Hawaii. I REALLY want to be in Hawaii right now!

  8. Julie——Your approach is super über multi-tasking. We all could—and should—learn from you!

    Meghan—Awww. You're experiencing The Tease. Or should we rather call it an apéritif promising good things to come? Definitely the second, I would think! :-)

  9. Ruth, great post for us OCD types. When I lived in NYC I'd go for a long walk up and down the hills of Inwood or take the subway to mid-town and wander. Retired to put-on-your-car and go land ... I often find swimming or driving a comfort.

    Either way, great stuff in here for all us "nuts." :) Thanks

  10. Running works for me. So does walking the dog. And reading. In other words, stepping away.

  11. As much of a control freak as I am, I'm happy to delegate. Please edit my book. Please format it for me. Please do my cover art. Assembling my own team makes me feel like I'm really publishing something- while I take my kids to Hebrew School, make dinner, homeschool and try to keep the house clean.

  12. fOIS—Thank you from your friendly OCD type! Another plus of NYC is window shopping & people watching. Distraction & entertainment combined. Great idea-triggers when you're stuck. It's free + the exercise is an added benefit!

    Caroline—Your suggestions are terrific! Any one will often do the trick to liberate a hassled & overwhelmed writer.

    Deb—You're so right! Let's hear it for delegating & using our executive abilities as well as our creative talents.

  13. Fab post Ruth! Can't wait to try and implement them - I'll know things are going well when they do xP

  14. Great post, Ruth! For me, knowing my limits and actually doing something about it is critical.

  15. Talli—Thank you for stopping by & for the kind words.

    Just realized I forgot to say in my post that it’s important not to confuse motion with progress. Those two are NOT the same! The first is exhausting & is often just spinning your wheels. The other is doing something effective & actually getting somewhere! A very important distinction.

  16. Physical - restarting Zumba next month, walks I love them, and should take more...

    Vacations - well next year will be the first Mother's Day vacation (with my mom but sans everyone else) for relaxing recouperation.

    Yup... Definitely not super womam. *grins* But do you have any idea of how you tell a 7 and 5 year old that? :}

  17. Cathryn—Zumba & vacation definitely a plus. Communicating to 5 & 7 year olds, not all that easy. lol

  18. Great post! Great tips! For me, it's just not doing some stuff, like FB and Twitter, both of which I tried and decided didn't work for me. I really don't care what people are doing every second of the day. I also blog when the spirit moves me. Just too free-spirited to be tied down to an elective action on a certain day. So, about selling my books? Hmm, kinda at a disadvantage here, I suppose, what with my lopsided approach to publicity. Well, my niche is so small (historical southern fiction), I can only do the best I can with my assets and hope everything links up.

    Which is what brought me here: to say Thank You. Anne hosted a blog contest a while back I entered, my first. I then expanded that entry into "Remy Broussard's Christmas," which did quite well. This afternoon, I'm doing a cover reveal for "Rings of Trust," the second in the "Remy's Bayou Road" series. So, with lots of hugs, Anne, thank you for a little contest that nudged me out into the world.

  19. Kittie—Thanks for the kind words & congratulations for using Anne's springboard so constructively! Here's to very good luck with your historical southern fiction (sounds appealing to me!).