A Short List of Writerly Woes

I was thinking about things writers do to make themselves miserable (well, things that have made me miserable, anyway). So, I came up with a short list of things I have done (or, regrettably, still do) that can be counterproductive to my writing and what I do to avoid them. Anyway, I thought I’d share. Maybe you can relate.

  1. Overanalyze rejection. Obviously, I think you should analyze rejection because you can learn from it, but there is a good (productive) way to do it and a bad (counterproductive) way to do it. Good, constructive analysis is when an editor sends you a personal rejection and says, “Hey, this story would be great if not for X,” and you spend some time doing a little critical thinking about X, even if you don’t ultimately agree with the editor.  Bad, counterproductive analysis is when you receive a personal rejection letter from an editor who praises your work but doesn’t ask you to send more, and you come to the conclusion, after obsessing over the letter for hours, that the editor hates your story, your work, and probably your face. When you overanalyze rejection, you’re usually getting aboard the catastrophic-thinking rollercoaster, which only goes in one direction—down. Really far and really fast. The way I decided to combat this issue was to—you guessed it—create a whole goddamn blog about rejection. I get that that’s a little extreme, but one of the reasons I started this blog is because I’ve often taken comfort reading about other authors’ experiences with rejection. It helped me to know (and stop overanalyzing) that everybody gets rejected. So, when you start to overanalyze a rejection letter, my advice is to look for that shared experience with other writers, on a blog, on social media, or even in person. It can really help put rejection into perspective.
  2. Review surf. Oh, man, this is a tough one. I mean, they’re right there, just a Google search away. This is definitely a do as I suggest and not as I absolutely fucking do. There’s a time and a place to review surf, and I think it’s a bad idea to take a “break” from writing and start plugging your name into Goodreads or compulsively checking reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or wherever. That’s taken a bite out of my ass more than once.  Invariably, I will find a bad review, I will read it, and I will sabotage my productivity for the day obsessing about it. I try not to look at reviews until after I hit my word count quota, then if I hit bad one, I’ve got twenty-four hours to shake it off. When I can’t control myself and my browser starts drifting Amazon-ward, I try and only look at the average review score. If my book or story or whatever has a good average score, I don’t need to read that one- or two-star review bringing down my average. I probably will, but I don’t need to.
  3. Compare your success to another author’s. I’m not talking about the bullshit line of thinking that says another author doesn’t deserve his or her success, which, in my opinion, is a really destructive path to go down. I’m talking about falling victim to self-doubt, getting down on yourself because some of your author friends and acquaintances are having more success than you. I think it’s natural to ask “What am I doing wrong?” when you’re working your ass off trying to make it as a writer, things aren’t going exactly the way you hoped, and it seems like your friends’ careers are blowing up. Here’s my personal cure for that. I lean right the fuck in to my friends’ successes, sincerely congratulate them when they announce their achievements, which I know they’ve worked super hard to get, and, yeah, maybe live a little vicariously through them. When I do that, I feel reenergized, and I feel positive and optimistic about my own work again. Why? Because I haven’t let myself stew in self-doubt. I’ve shared in someone’s totally legit happiness, and as it turns out, happiness can be contagious. Who knew?

Do you have habits that can be counterproductive to your writing? Let’s talk about them in the comments.

8 Comments on “A Short List of Writerly Woes

  1. How about over prepare and under perform? I’m talking about the kind of analysis paralysis that happens when you spend all your time making outlines, maps, charts, wheels of character interaction, world history, yada yada…to the point you never feel you’re ready to…you know…write the f*cking story. I’ve seen this happen, and to a lesser extent sometimes suffer from it. A friend at work actually had two years invested in a novel without a single page of narrative written, if you can believe it.

    • Oh, man, that is a good one. I think what can happen there is that it feels a lot safer to plan that to actually write (which, as we all know, can be scary), and then the planning turns into a procrastination aid. You tell yourself, “How can I start writing? I’m not done planning yet!”

  2. Great advice! Thank you for being honest with yourself and sharing.

    I am not published, nor am I actively attempting to write a book. I have a memoir that I started many years ago and haven’t even considered picking it up. Why? Good question. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just waiting for a few older folks to peacefully exit this world so I don’t piss them off. Is that a bad habit? It sure feels like one. Aside from waiting for people to, ahem, die, there is one habit I am well aware of – wearing rose-colored glasses when it comes to reading and rereading my works. I love what I write so much that I love to read it. Over and over and over again until I… wait I don’t ever get sick of it. It pleases me all day long. Someone liked what I wrote? I reread what I wrote. WTF is that? Why do I do that… I can’t just write something and let it be. I lose about a half hour to an hour a day just rereading my own stuff. Maybe on a subconscious level I am getting ideas for future works or building myself up so I write some more. I don’t know. Have you ever obsessed over your writing in the way I do?

    • Hey, thanks for your comment. Have I ever obsessed over my writing? Absolutely. I think every writer does. Going back over your work, rereading and revising, is a good thing to do, but at some point it can become counterproductive. I’m really the worst judge of my work, and I’ll tinker with a story until the end of time if I let myself. This is why I have a group of honest, knowledgeable folks willing to read my stuff and give it to me straight, which is really helpful and often prevents analysis paralysis (usually). You might try that too.

  3. The big one that gets me is social media. If you don’t set a schedule for that it can easily kill your entire block of writing time. Networking is important, don’t get me wrong, and cat videos are critical to both the craft AND art but it is easy to go down a hole and waste way more time than you intended on “important” things that really don’t matter.

    • Agreed. I think social media is an important part of the modern writer’s workload, but, yeah, it needs to be managed or it can really become a time sink. It’s also a HUGE procrastination aid, more insidious than TV or video games in my opinion.

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