How to Remain Sane While Writing

Photo credit: changpp on Flickr
Writers have an interesting job, to say the least. We use every spare moment we can manage to sit in front of the computer (or typewriter, for the few who still use it, or pen(cil) and paper) and write until we've developed severe cases of tendonitis or carpal tunnel, and then keep writing anyway. We daydream about imaginary worlds and cry when we kill of characters that don't actually exist except in our minds and stories and we spend months or years slaving away at a manuscript that may never see the light of day.

We say things like, "Yes, it's a gorgeous day outside, but I must write this chapter," or, "Wow, I'm starving and haven't eaten in six hours BUT THIS SCENE. I MUST FINISH WRITING IT." Then we give our stories to other people and hope that they tear it apart (yes, hope) so that we can sew it back together (into hopefully something even better) with trembling fingers and bruised egos. Then, when all is said and done, we torture ourselves over writing these nightmarish things called a synopsis and query letter and we send them to professionals or we upload them online and bite are fingernails down to little nubs.

Yes, we writers are an interesting lot. Some may even say we're masochists (and who knows? They might be right).

But while a writer's number one goal is to improve his or her writing, remaining sane is also somewhat (ok, really) important. So here are some tips on how not to go crazy while embracing the life of the writer.

  1. Go out. It's very easy for writers to adopt some hermit-like qualities while in the midst of writing a book. I often have to remind myself (and have others remind me) to go out and breathe some fresh air and have a change of scenery. You'll be glad you did, especially when you don't go stir-crazy.

  2. Don't look back. After you send a query or partial or full manuscript to an agent or publisher or critique partner/beta reader, it can be very tempting for writers to glance back at what you wrote. You think to yourself, one little peek won't hurt, then—BAM. You find a typo. ON THE FIRST PAGE. Oh and that sentence makes no sense. And that paragraph is stupid. And, and, and...

    Don't do this to yourself. What's been sent has been sent. No go write something else. Read a book. Anything. But for the love of all things fluffy and adorable, do NOT look back.

  3. Stop comparing. I'm relatively sure every writer has fallen into this trap at least once (I know I sure have), but there are absolutely no positive results from comparing yourself to other writers. It doesn't help you in any way to remind yourself that Christopher Paolini wrote and published his first book when he was fifteen or that you could write a better book than Twilight (or any other published book out there). It doesn't help you write your next book and it doesn't help your confidence, either. So stop it.

  4. Keep writing. When you've received well over a hundred rejection slips— keep writing. When you've trunked your third novel and you wonder if you'll ever be published— keep writing. When you have someone reading your WIP and you're terrified they're going to hate it— keep writing. Nothing reminds you better why you're subjecting yourself to this emotional roller coaster than finishing another novel. Than working on the next WIP.
As someone very wise once told me, "Keep doing it for yourself and eventually someone else will catch on."

What tips do you have for remaining sane while writing?

26 comments:

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I made mistake #2 while querying one book. It's a much smarter idea to just ignore the book and focus on something new. :)

I run. That helps keep me sane, but I get lots of ideas while running.

Daphne Gray-Grant said...

I really like your tips, but think that #3 could be revised to "stop comparing to people who are younger than you." I've always been encouraged to know that novelist Mary Wesley didn't start having her adult writing published until she was 71. And, after that, she wrote seven more novels! Encouraging!!!

Chihuahua Zero said...

I really need to go out more, even if it's only to take a walk. I find that movement helps break through my procrastination.


And the fact that my social media buttons are pilfering out on me.

Ava Jae said...

I learned about mistake #2 the hard way. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but how wrong I was.


I've a couple writers say that running helps. I'm personally not a runner, but I can certainly understand how it would help clear the mind and get some ideas (and blood) flowing.

Ava Jae said...

That story about Mary Wesley is definitely encouraging. 71! How wonderful. I would hesitate to change it to only not comparing to people who are younger than you, however, because age is just one of the ways you can compare. For example, you could compare how many books you write a year versus another author, or how many copies your debut novel sells, etc. I didn't really go into it, but age isn't always the comparing factor that can become stressful.

Ava Jae said...

I think the image is a really nice journal. I'd have to see the inside, but it looks like a really clean, simple design.


As for going out, it's something I have to work on as well--but it certainly helps!

javacia harris bowser said...

Great post! I am good about getting out of the house because I've found that it actually inspires me and helps with my writing. But when I'm in the middle of an essay or article I am horrible about not allowing myself to eat until I finish. And that's just ridiculous. I can't exactly write a great piece if I pass out!

Yesenia Vargas said...

"Wow, I'm starving and haven't eaten in six hours BUT THIS SCENE. I MUST
FINISH WRITING IT."

I think you described me here lol. Sometimes I look at the clock, and it's already 2 o'clock in the afternoon, and I realize I haven't had breakfast! Because I'm trying to do writing-related things and take care of my daughter all at once.

I've been making myself step away from the computer, though. Getting fresh air by exercising or taking a walk is one of my favorite ways to relax after writing and get my eyes to stop burning lol.

Ava Jae said...

It's so important to take care of ourselves while doing anything, but oftentimes delaying eating or drinking happens when we get caught up in something. As you said though, you can't write well if you've passed out.

Ava Jae said...

You know you've been sitting in front of a screen for way too long if you start to get eye exhaustion. I think especially in this age, though, it happens far too often, even to the best of us. It's definitely our body's way of reminding us that we need to get up and away from the screen!

Nickie said...

The 'Don't look back!' is great advice. I get that paralyzed feeling where I have to read and re-read, and re-re-read every sentence, and OMG I used the same word twice on one page.... and then nothing else gets written.

Kim Switzer said...

I try to let my mind get a little unhinged while I'm actually writing so all the interesting ideas can come out! But after a writing session, I try to do something completely mundane that involves getting up and moving around. Washing dishes is great for this. Dancing is good. Cooking works, too.

Most of the time, I also write in 10-15 minute spurts using a timer. I may write for 2 hours, but I do a "breathe and reset" every time the timer goes off. This helps me stay focused on what I want to be doing because I'm easily distracted. It also helps me remember to get up, get a drink, go the the bathroom for crying out loud, things like that. It also helps me remember to go home from the office. Yesterday I was working on a story here at work (we have really slow afternoons), and I didn't set my timer, and I ended up staying late at work.

Gene Lempp said...

Rituals - I make myself stop after every hour of writing (unless the writing is hot and the sirens are screaming in my ear and...) and take a walk through the house. Sometimes this takes a minute. Sometimes my kids want to talk, or the wife, or there is laundry to fold, etc. I'm unconcerned about getting back to my desk during this time, BUT, once I'm back it's another hour and if you missed me on the walk through then you had best not disturb me at the desk. I find this generally brings peace. Generally. Do I hear the sirens calling me? *grins*

Great post, Ava, captures the heart of writing nicely :)

Ava Jae said...

It's very easy to get nit-picky to the point of perfectionism with our work. Sometimes the best thing we can do is send it out and distract ourselves with something else.

Ava Jae said...

Have you ever tried the #wordmongering Twitter hashtag? I ask because I also love writing spurts and although the #wordmongering writing spurts are a half hour, it's pretty enjoyable to do writing sprints with others. Regardless, I agree--the break between spurts can really help you keep from tiring out and keep you focused.

Ava Jae said...

I also love writing sprints (I think I've seen you around the #wordmongering hashtag, haven't I?) and find that half-hour sprints give me just enough time to really get some writing done but it isn't so long that I tire out. As a bonus, the breaks in between the sprints get me energized and focused again.


Thanks for stopping by again, Gene! :)

Tasha Seegmiller said...

This is such a great post! Thank you for these - saving for...I was going to say later, but probably daily reference would be a better statement.

Ava Jae said...

So glad you enjoyed the post, Tasha! Thanks for stopping by! :)

Julia Tomiak ツ said...

So I'm not the only one? Thank you for these encouraging and pragmatic words. You always have something helpful for me to use against the negative spirit on my shoulder.

Ava Jae said...

You're certainly not the only one. :) And you're very welcome, Julia--always happy to hear that my posts have helped in some way. ^_^


Thanks for leaving your thoughts!

Laura Pauling said...

We are a crazy bunch but I doubt any of us would have it any other way!

Ava Jae said...

Agreed! ^_^

Gene Lempp said...

Yes, I have been on #wordmongering but not in some time. During Nano I did 1 hour sprints with a group of #row80 tweeps - mass production, was awesome. Hoping to work them into my schedule again during the coming days.

Ava Jae said...

It's been a while since I've been on #wordmongering either. How did one hour sprints compare to half-hour sprints?

Gene Lempp said...

Half hour, for me, was 500-700 words; hour was 1500 to 2000. For the hour ones it was easy to use Fast Draft methods and relax into the writing.

Ava Jae said...

Hmm, that's interesting. I might have to try that some time.

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