Dos & Don’ts for Writers Having An Existential Crisis (From One Who Knows) by Katharine Grubb

Sometimes this writing gig is WAY TOO HARD!

We face moments of unbridled inspiration and then droughts of writers’ block. We sacrifice sleep, relationships and leaving our house for the sake of our passions. We isolate ourselves so that we can be real to the world. We nit-pick and fixate. We criticize and whine. We aspire and pursue only to be rejected and disappointed.

We’re a sensitive lot and if our work is getting to be too much for us or if our other responsibilities are overwhelming us, then we can completely lose it.

Dos & Don'ts For Writers Who Are Having An Existential Crisis From One Who Has Been There by Katharine Grubb

I’ve completely lost it a few times.

I understand. I’ve had major existential crisis. I’ve put my writing on back burners to focus on my other aspects of my life more than once.  Actually I walked down to my neighbor, the one who owns the Middle Eastern restaurant and but it on his back burner.  Actually, I sent my writing to Oklahoma City so that my college friend who runs a Taco truck can put it on her back burner.

But when I did I panicked.

I start fretting about my readers, about my blog, about the novel that still needs to be finished, about Nanowrimo, about my platform, about my friends, followers and likes. I start to do crazy things.

I have a feeling, however, that I am not the only one who feels like this. So, I’ve come up with a quick list of No-No’s for us who are doubting our writerly futures during difficult times.

This is what you do not do. DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, do the following: 

1. Tweet, What are you people following me for? I am such a loser!  If you can’t something nice about yourself, don’t say anything at all.

2. Decide that your new outlets, say running and photography, deserve their own blogs. Do not believe that you are the next Pioneer Woman. Do not create, in a manic state, that this next idea is THE BEST ONE EVER!  All ideas need time to germinate. If it’s a good one, it can wait until you are more able to handle it.

3. Conclude that because no one left a comment on your facebook author page that you are doomed to never, ever sell a book. Do not think that future agents will shake their heads in disgust at your pathetic numbers. Do not set up a fake facebook account to comment on yourself. We all start at zero. All of us.

4. Ask on a writers email loop, “Hey, who’s got a July release that want me to help promote?” You will, most assuredly, be deluged by enthusiastic writers who understandably jump at this chance to be noticed. You will later regret this decision and have to confess how stressed out you are and could they please wait, um, until 2016? Oops. Only do promote your close friends or sign up what you can handle.

5. Decide that because your frequency of blog posts has decreased that your entire publishing career is careening out of control, like a rogue bottle rocket in a suburban backyard. You can take a break. You really can.

6.  Worry about a Klout score. Especially while you’re trying to make dinner for a family of seven. Especially after you’ve cried all day. Especially while the dinner is burning. If a number of any kind is stressing you out, then stop looking at it. Or find someone you trust to look at it for you.

7. Believe that everyone and their dog has taken all the good agents, or ideas, or publishing houses, or contest prizes. There is a place for you somewhere. Be patient and work on your craft instead.

8. Sign up for Instagram and then laugh maniacally, saying, “This! This! Is my ticket to fame and fortune!” Especially if you get a lot of followers right away. Especially after taking photos like this one:

9. Start smoking. Do not start drinking whiskey. Do not fly to the Florida Keys and check into the Hemingway Hotel For Stressed Out Writers. This will only make you grow fat, gray your hair and say bad words. It’s not worth it.

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This is what you do do. DO ALL OF THESE! DELIBERATELY AND REPEATEDLY:

1. Stick to the basics. For me this means laundry, meals and general life for my large family. They need  me to take care of them whether I write or not.

2. Eat properly. Drink water. Sleep regular hours. Life is so much better when just these three things are covered.

3. Find a good way to exercise. 

4. Communicate with your family about what you’re stressed about and figure out solutions.

5. Be honest with a few close friends. I feel so good when people who love me ask how I’m doing, pray for me, and encourage me, whether I write or not.

6. Realize that this is only a season. I’ve compared my personal problems as being 8.5 months pregnant. I only have the foggiest idea of what the future holds and life may not settle down for three more months — or longer. But that’s okay.

7. Hang on to the belief that our suffering has a purpose. It makes us better writers, it makes us compassionate to others, it draws us closer to our family, it draws us closer to God.

8. Seek the truth. This is what’s keeping me going in this weird place in my life. I’m dwelling on my identity in Christ, not my identity as a writer. I’m finding myself at home in his presence, not worrying about my physical home. I’m seeking peace, not fretting over a writing piece.

 

 BUT  . . . What if there’s a deeper problem here?

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You could take this Mental Health Assessment quiz from Psychology Today,  or this quiz from PsychCentral. Now, please don’t abuse these quizzes. They are only tools to examine the possibility of a need. They are not there to label you or to diagnosis. Use good judgement.

You could also talk to people around you who are experienced in this field. I had suspected for a long time, based on what some friends had told me (friends that were mental health professionals) that therapy would certainly help, especially when I realized, after forty years, that I had a history of abusive relationships. And it turns out that I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which TOTALLY explained the previous episodes of freaking out and panic and anxiety. Now, through brilliant cognitive therapy, I know exactly how to handle this and I haven’t had an existential crises in some time. YAY!

This was a hard post to write. It’s not really about writing, or being funny, or the things that I usually do. My hope is that perhaps there’s a reader out there who could stand a hug, or a gently push to get help or even knowledge that there’s someone else who had needed help too.

Sometimes we’re just tired. Sometimes we’re a little stressed. Sometimes we need an expert.

Your mental health is far more important than your writing goals. You owe it to yourself and your family to fix what’s broken.

What have I forgotten? What else should writers in crisis do or not do?


 

I am a fiction writing and time management coach. I help time crunched novelists strengthen their craft, manage their time and gain confidence so they can find readers for their stories.Katharine Grubb is the author of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day, Falling For Your Madness, and Conquering Twitter in 10 Minutes A DayBesides homeschooling her five children, baking bread and doing crazy amounts of laundry, she also leads 10 Minute Novelists, the liveliest writers’ group on Facebook. Her new book, Soulless Creatures, about two college roommates who bet a brand new car that one of them doesn’t have a soul, will be released August, 2015. Katharine and her family live in Massachusetts.


 

4 thoughts on “Dos & Don’ts for Writers Having An Existential Crisis (From One Who Knows) by Katharine Grubb

  1. It’s a brilliant post, Katharine!
    And it also takes a skill and strength to write about such things in a quite non-dark way. It’s not a funny post, it’s not an easy post to write, but it’s uplifting for sure.

    Here’s my addition to the “no-no!” list.
    10. Reflect on writing career or anything that you’ve written up to date.
    11. Re-read rejection letters/emails of an sort. You don’t really need that extra bit of pain now, do you?
    12. Bring your problems to social media. It’s better to use them as “comforters” getting “likes” under cute cat pictures/motivational quotes.
    13. Sign up for Master in Writing course, spend fortune on the self-therapy books, self-help books and everthing else, just because you think it’s going to help you become a better writer.

  2. Thanks for sharing this post. It’s good to know I’m not alone when I kept putting my own writing off. I think I’m finally back on track. I am doing this for me!

  3. Hi Katherine,
    This was very hard hitting – in a good way. I can totally relate to what you are saying and it is so affirming to know that someone else goes through the same issues. For me writing itself is actually a way of dealing with my mental health issues. I deal with some quite raw issues in my stories and also, my blog is an account of my recovery from depression. It’s a work in progress but for me writing itself is the key.
    Thanks for all your lovely posts.
    Paula.

  4. Great post. You have given wise advice. I especially like your “Do” list. It focuses on the right priorities for any person. We don’t regain control by being more tired and malnourished. Getting some chores done around the house lets us feel more in control of our lives.

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