Deadly Sins: Writer's Block & Workaholism

There are two extremes among writers: those who are completely shut down by stress and those who put themselves on the turbo-treadmill and desperately start running. Most of us fall somewhere between the two on the continuum, but gravitate more to one end or the other.

How do you know where you fall?

1. When you hear negative feedback or face a career-related setback, are you more likely to
A. feel "blocked" for days, weeks, or more or
B. dig in and double your output, thinking I'll show those sorry *#@ety $%^&!?

2. Do you more often
A. avoid writing by doing chores (cleaning, financing, auto maintenance) or
B. avoid chores by writing... and writing and writing?

3. Do you
A. accept every diversion that comes your way when you should be writing, or
B. do you habitually deny yourself exercise, friend/family social time, or reading for pleasure in order to write more than ten hours per day? (Deadline crunches don't count! Everybody pushes themselves then, but doing this longterm with no respite leads to a Very Bad Place -- and anti-anxiety prescriptions.)

4. Do you
A. have trouble staying at your computer or
B. feel guilty enjoying outings, movies, trips, or books that are unrelated to your writing career?

5. Do you
A. struggle to sit down at your desk each morning or
B. wake up in the middle of the night, bubbling with either anxiety or ideas and then get up to write?

The more A's you have, the more prone you are to writer's block. If this is a big problem for you, I highly recommend you read THE WAR OF ART by Stephen Pressfield, which is the best book I've ever read for helping writers (or anyone) overcome "resistance." THE ARTIST'S WAY by Julia Cameron is also recommended, particularly her recommendations on journaling and exercises to help you bash through blocks.

If you have mostly B's, you tend to be a workaholic. You need to focus on finding more balance in your life and set aside time (make a schedule if you have to; put it in your Day Planner!) for things such as (your choice) spiritual, social, family, or physical development. THE ARTIST'S WAY by Julia Cameron is also an excellent resource, especially her suggestions on taking walks out of doors and setting up an "artist's date" with yourself at least monthly to help "refill the well" of your creativity.

If you're out of balance in this area, you're not living fully. And in the end, that's a heck of a lot more important than this business's fleeting bee-stings to the ego or some kind of manic need to out-achieve every hyper-competitive author on the planet. You owe it to yourself to keep in mind that your success or failure as a writer in no way equates to your success or failure as a human being.

So get over yourself, get out of your own way, and try to have a little fun along the way.


Bonnie Vanak said…
Interesting blog post! I'm a B. I don't want to be a B, but I am. The day job combined with contracted deadlines make me a B. I took today off from work to print out ARC's. So I burned a whole day off work for book promo stuff.

I feel guilty for having a day off and not writing. How dumb is that? I need balance but there's not enough time. I need a nice mountaintop where I can sit and stare at nothing, chant and contemplate the universe. Ooooom.

LOVE your new cover Colleen! It rocks! And congrats on your recent contest win!
Kathy Bacus said…
Thought provoking post, Colleen! I'm way more of a 'B' than an 'A', too, while not quite to the extremes indicated. Like Bonnie, I do tend to feel guilty if I have unexpected or unstructured time and I don't spend it solely on writing or related items.

Sometimes it's hard to find time in a day (or month or year) to get everything in without taking on some of those 'B' traits you mentioned. I guess, like everything in life, it's about finding a healthy balance.

Tambra said…
I have more B's than A's. But due to a disability, I have give myself the days/weeks when my productivity will be slow and not stress about it.

I just finished teaching my Creativity Boosters for Writers course a few days ago, so the topic is fresh on my mind.

What I've discovered whether you're an A or B is it comes down to one nasty little word: fear.
But if let to run wild for too long it grows and stops you from producing or makes you like the hamster running on the little wheel in a desperate attempt to get somewhere.

Thanks for the quiz!

Congrats Colleen on the book cover win. It is beautiful.

Angie Fox said…
Great post. I'm coming over here to stand with the B's. Maybe we should order t-shirts. But I think Kathy hit it on the head when she said we all need a little bit of those 'B' traits or we might not get everything done when life interferes.

Heck, I felt guilty this morning for having someone watch my two young kids, and then not using the time to write. The guilt was very real, and pressing, even though I set up the babysitting time so I could meet with a local author and learn more about how to promote my book. Sometimes, the drive doesn't even make sense!

Thanks for putting it out there and letting us take a good, long look at what drives us. And for showing us that we're not alone!

Jo Anne said…
When I was at the Maui Writer's conference in 2003, I remember Dorothy Allison (Bastard Out of Carolina) saying that she worked all day long at her day job, then came home and wrote until 3 am, that she ate junk food, never exercised, and ruined her health - all for her art. Because that's what it took to be successful in this business. I remember having the sinking feeling that she was right.

Balance? Sure, that's the key. But bottom line is unless you've got a rich patron willing to pick up your tab (and my tabs can be mighty hefty), a B personality is what it takes.

Many times I put off calling a friend, don't make a weekend trip to see extended family, miss LOTS of new movies, don't take enough time for myself - because if I did, I wouldn't write. Every vacation turns into a writing workshop or conference. GAK - soon I'll have no perspective whatsoever . . .

But, I'm still having fun - so, it must be okay. :-)
Nice to hear from everyone. Glad you're enjoying the quiz.

I'm more of a B. too (though I often struggle to sit down and start my daily writing). I really do make an effort to find balance, though. 'Cause I'm in this for long haul, so this is my life. :)

Thanks for the cover kudos, Bonnie!
Linda Warren said…
The B's have it. I'm more B's than A's too. Right at this moment I'd love to go see Atonement, Bucklist or Twenty-seven dresses, but if I do I'll get behind with my deadlines. I feel like I'm in race, every second counts.

I also work with a disability and I have to work twice as hard. Or at least that's the way I feel.
Maybe it's just fear - fear that I won't be able to keep up.

I'm glad I'm not the only one living this type of life. We love it though.
Joni Rodgers said…
I'm a B, for sure, but for me, it's not that I feel guilty when I'm not writing, it's that I'm not HAPPY. I'm sure there's some serious pathology involved, but now that my kids are pretty much out of the house, I've joyfully delivered myself to my workaholism.
Christie Craig said…
Great post, Colleen.

I'm a workaholic. Yikes. But I'm really trying to slow down.

Thanks for the reminder that balance is the key to happiness.

uh-oh.. i think i'm in peril :(.

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