However, writing can be one of those things.
When I started thinking about writing for money and potentially making a living off of it, I legitimately thought that it would be the most relaxing, stress-free lifestyle anyone could hope for. Sitting on Chicago’s North Beach, typing away at my computer, while checks roll in and all my friends envy me as an intellectual, was my idea of being a writer.
I’ll be frank: I thought writers were taking the easy way out, and I planned to get in on that.
Well guess what? I was wrong. Writing is one of the most stressful things someone can choose to do with their life. Writing tears at a person through a furry of punches known as reality.
Writing is a stressful job, if not the most stressful, due to the roller coaster income, length of time it takes to actually write and edit, and most frustrating, the expectancy to handle a wide array of skills we are unfamiliar with. Whether you have a degree in writing, have taken a class or have no training at all, the majority of lessons we learn about writing pertain to the actual writing itself: plot, story arc, character development, prose, genre specific writing and a little bit of how to get published.
Now here is a watered-down list of all the tasks and skills actually required of a writer:
- Building a platform (the most general term in the book)
- Social media marketing (not just that you should be on Facebook, Twitter and the numerous other sites, but how to interact with followers)
- Building and designing a website
- Getting people to actually see that website
- Frequently posting on a blog
- Handling an email list and thinking of content to provide your readers
- Going to conferences
- Finding an agent
- Finding publishers
- Deciding whether or not to put your book on the back-burner in order to write for short-term paychecks
- Holding a full-time or part-time job to pay for your craft
- Staying healthy while sitting in a chair all day
- Wondering what family and friends think about your writing
What I’m trying to say is that writing is one of the rare professions that asks us to not only be writers, but every profession in the world. It will be stressful, but in order to break through and become happy with your writing, you must reconstruct your thinking towards these tasks.
Anxiety comes with the territory. In fact, asking for a writer’s life without stress and complications is almost unartistic. The best part of the stories we love so dear is when conflict arises. When the main character is forced to cope with an obstacle, and figure out a way to become stronger by fighting through that obstacle.
The onslaught of foreign tasks that come with being a writer are simply a part of your own story, and as artists we are the select few that are charged with navigating these uncharted waters and communicating to others the excitement that life has to provide.
An artist is an explorer.
Typing away on a computer or jotting in a notebook isn’t a writer’s job. A writer’s job is triumphing over barriers to show other people a view of the world that was once concealed.
Below area a few ways to crush you writer’s anxiety and stop fighting the craft you love. I don’t want to sit here and spew out a bunch of “easier said than done” points, because those never helped me and they probably won’t help you. (ie. ambiguous “build a platform” advice) Let me know if I missed anything:
- Always put your “big picture” project before short-term gigs – Paychecks come and go. I know everyone has to pay the bills, but to paraphrase Neil Gaiman: “I imagined that where I wanted to be was a distant mountain and where I wanted to be was a published author of books. As long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be alright. I declined proper jobs that paid proper money since they drew me away from the mountain.”
- Blogging – Start with a blog and spend an hour every other day posting (or set your own time limit). Make sure this is written in your schedule every day you plan on writing and never go over or under your limit. If you go over, finish it up tomorrow.
- Don’t build a platform, build relationships – Writers aren’t business people, so why are we told to build a platform as if we are creating a brand and everyone who reads our work is a numbered customer? Writers should become friends with their readers, business people can stick to placing people into demographics. Follow blogs that relate to yours, like posts and comment on content that touches you personally. One thing I learned about the writing community is that everyone is unusually friendly and most writers are excited to return a favor.
- Leave SEO and Linkbuilding for later – Search engine optimization and building back links to your blog is important for getting your site to show up in search engines, but nothing is more powerful than people talking about your site, commenting and sharing. Besides many blogging platforms such as WordPress have SEO built-in. Work on your writing and interacting with other people. Free up your time and decrease stress by focusing on relationships instead of how many back links your site has.
- Be social with social media – Don’t sell yourself on social media. Spend a maximum of 20 minutes a day interacting with contacts, and have fun with it. For some reason whenever people start to promote themselves on Facebook or Twitter, they stray from the friendly tone they had on their personal pages and turn into a cliché sounding sales person.
- Work out – I’m far from the workout regiment I was on during college, but moderate exercise is important for dampening stress, finding inspiration and of course living longer. Take a look at my post Ditch The Desk – A Guide To Healthy Writing, because sitting all day is never acceptable.
- Wake up early – Most writers have a part-time or full-time day job that helps pay the bills, or maybe a full school schedule. I despised my last job and whenever I came home I never had the energy or self-confidence to write a single word. Try waking up an hour before your job or classes to write. This way, instead of dreading the day that lies ahead, you are waking up to something you love. I tried this during my last job and it begins to feel like your job is just extra work you do after your true passion. Make writing your reason for waking up in the morning.
- Spend time with friends and family – Similar to working out, this allows you to find inspiration and forget about all the work you haven’t completed. I often find that even during dreadful encounters with friends or family I am able to write more clearly afterwards.
- Organize everything – I put this last because I think your social and work life should all be written down. We’re writers after all! My entire social life is documented on my Google Calendar. Yes even lunch and dinner, every single day. This allows me to know exactly what is coming up next. (it also makes me smile whenever “dinner” pops up as a reminder). As for your writing progress, document all your current projects in some form. I use an Excel spreadsheet that I designed, which can be found here. (A quick help video can be found here for those less experienced with Excel) This lays out your work for you to clearly view it. The tasks of posting on your blog, writing your novel, handling freelance gigs and marketing yourself is far less daunting with a simple list of progress made on each. Not to mention it’s a great feeling when you get to check them off.
Hopefully these tips help some of you other writers minimize stress as they have done for me. (A ball to throw off the wall and my Wheaton Terrier always help me as well.)
Just remember, writers are charged with the difficult task of managing multiple skills, not just writing. If we can conquer all the barriers that come along, by reinventing the way we think about them and turning them into fun challenges, our stories will be that much more exciting to tell.
See ya next time…