Before we get to that, I want to give you a bit more information on what chronic stress does to your body and mind. While small episodes of stress can be handled by the body just fine—this is what stress hormones were designed for—prolonged exposure to "stress hormones" has a negative impact on your body.
There are three stress hormones: Adrenaline, Norepinephrine, and Cortisol. Adrenaline is that "flight or fight" hormone that is your first line of defense in a dangerous situation. It's the hormone that gets released when you're crossing a street and a car almost hits you but you jump out of the way in time. Norepinephrine is basically that backup to adrenaline, with similar function should adrenal glands not do their job. In small spurts these hormones are great—they heighten your awareness and reflexes and focus so that you can survive a situation. In the long term? They fray your nerves because you're in a constant state of overdrive. This is where insomnia and anxiety/depression can come in.
And then there's the last stress hormone: Cortisol. You have probably heard of this one. It acts slower than the other two, but it released within minutes instead of fractions of seconds. Ideal amounts of cortisol help you maintain blood pressure and fluid balance and other non-immediate body functions in a stressful situation. But prolonged release, thus too much Cortisol, can cause a whole slew of trouble—suppressed immune system, high blood pressure and sugar (both of which contribute to a risk of obesity and diabetes), decreased libido, and even acne can be increased by excess cortisol.
It's like your body is stuck at top speed. Imagine if you always drove your car with the petal to the metal. And then you'd have to break hard at every stop. That stress on your car would run it into the ground. That's sorta how chronic stress runs your body into the ground.
For writers, this starts the moment we decide we want to publish.
If that stress goes unmanaged, it will continue until our bodies or minds or both give out and force us to slow down.
Sources Of Stress For Aspiring Writers:
So let's talk about where Aspiring Writers may find extra stress being added to their lives. Some of these sources are different from Debuts or Veterans, but that doesn't mean they aren't significant and hard to face. *Activate List Mode*
• Learning how to write a novel. It's hard! It never stops being hard, but those first finished novels are a huge, stressful, wonderful deal.
• Learning how to edit a novel. This might be more stressful than writing, because as a newer author you may not know the rules. You have to learn the rules.
• Learning how to take criticism and employ it in your work. You've tried so hard. You are proud of what you've done but also a bit terrified because deep down inside you know it's not good. Criticism hurts. Trying to accept it can be a struggle. It's stressful to admit that your work is flawed and you might not even know how to fix it.
• Queries. Everything about that process is stressful. The end.
• Rejections. While there's rejection at every phase of publishing, it's new and especially stressful for the aspiring writer. And you can get pummeled with it. I once got 10 agent rejections in a day. Talk about a mental beating.
• Figuring out Indie Publishing. While Traditional Publishing is stressful, that doesn't make Indie any less. If you've chosen that route, your first time is not just trying to figure out the writing but the printing and editing and marketing and taxes and it's A LOT. And you don't have any idea if it'll pay off or not. Maybe you're not getting agent rejections, but you're bracing yourself to be rejected by readers and even by those who still look down on indies.
• Establishing a writing schedule. It can be hard to find time and rhythm at first, especially with a family, job, friends, etc.
• Facing new social situations. Maybe you're going to your first conferences. First book signings. First writing classes. While exciting, it can also be stressful for writers who tend to skew introvert.
• Jealousy and wanting and waiting. You've made writing friends you love! ...but then one gets an agent way before you and another sells in days while you're being rejected left and right. When will it be your turn? With it ever be? That prolonged wait of torture is the very definition of chronic stress.
• Social media. You might be new to it. You might be using it as a writer more than before and it feels weird. Either way, you'll see All The Things and why don't you have that? And why is that thing so awful and sad? And there's this huge fight in the writing community. And omg do I need to weigh in on all this?
Results Of All These New Stressors:
Whew, writing all that down made me stressed! The most difficult part of Aspiring Writer stress is this: You can't really get rid of most of these stressors. If you want to be published, you MUST improve your writing and take criticism and finish novels and query/indie and face rejection and get involved in the community. That's part of being a writer! So it's like you're trying to stuff all this into your life, which I imagine is already pretty busy. That is a recipe for stress.
Now, I need to be clear here, that I'm not saying writing is a horrible thing. Some of this you might LOVE. Not all of these things are stressors to everyone. Some will eat up criticism but struggle in the writing of a first draft. Some will stress over the query where others will find it easy. These are all possible stressors, and all these new tasks combined add up to additional tasks and thus additional stress in your life. You can love being a writer and still be stressed by it.
Got it? Okay. Good.
So if you're adding all this new stuff that comes with being a writer, the next logical step is this: Other stuff in your life might start taking a back seat. It's a natural result because humans can only do so much (despite what many a woman has been told, you cannot actually do it all and not suffer the consequences).
Here's where I caution you that this can be dangerous if you're not aware of what you're doing.
It's one thing to stop watching so much TV because now you're writing. It's another thing to stop paying attention to your spouse or children because you're writing. Ignoring cleaning the house might not be so bad here and there, but ignoring that exercise routine you once had could actually contribute to even more stress. Skipping dinner in favor of fast food here and there doesn't hurt, but if it's instant food everyday because you're so busy writing...that will change your health. Skipping a date with a friend once might be okay, but ignoring your friends for weeks on end because you've fallen into the wonder of the writing community will hurt people in your life.
Take a pause. Assess your priorities. Evaluate how your actions are impacting your life.
Writing (or anything really) shouldn't be hurting the rest of your life. Publishing is great, but I promise you it is not worth losing friendships over. It's not worth losing your family over. And it's most definitely not worth losing your health over.
Some Aspiring Writers run the risk of rushing. Wanting publishing so much they put the rest of their lives on hold. They ignore all the stress warning signs and brute force through the pain. They end up paying the piper later if they're not careful.
Reducing Aspiring Writer Stress:
So what do you do to stop this dangerous spiral? Well, a lot of that depends on what you're specifically struggling with. If social media is causing you tons of stress, that one is relatively easy to turn off and reduce that stress. But if it's drafting that is killer for you? You will need a fully different coping plan, such as timed writing sessions or alpha readers to cheer you on or working on your "it's okay to write crap" chant.
We can talk about specifics in the comments if you'd like. Here are some general question to assess in this phase:
• What in your life can go without dire consequences? Maybe it's your afternoon nap. Maybe it's that TV show you can watch on weekends instead. Maybe it has to be that part time job or hitting every PTA meeting or even skipping picking up the living room. I don't know what yours are, but something has to go. Me? I stopped quilting. Yeah, I quilted a lot before I wrote books. But I was poor and it was expensive so writing came first. I miss sewing, but I could not do both.
• What might you need to keep in your life to reduce stress? I highly suggest not giving up that exercise routine or your healthier eating habits. If you go for a walk each day, keep doing that! Studies have shown that there is a link between physical activity and creativity. If you love that nightly Kdrama, for the love, watch an episode or two! (Maybe not five and sleep deprive yourself oil 3AM.) For me, I need to do yoga consistently. Sometimes I stop and I become a huge ball of stress though nothing else in my life has changed.
• Are you feeling rushed to publish? Rushing, feeling like you're running out of time, feeling like if you don't publish NOW you NEVER will...all of this is a huge stressor. There is no rush. The rush is in your head and it will suck the joy out of writing so fast. Try to figure out why you're rushing it. Try to find a way to slow down.
• How is The Long Wait impacting your life? For me, that was the silent killer of my mentality. The extra stress of hoping for that email everyday wore down my heart and body until I had a mental breakdown. But if I had been wiser I would have used that time more positively. I obsessed over the wait, made it my whole life. Everything else in my life? I acted like it all sucked and didn't matter because I couldn't get published. Tip: DO NOT DO THAT. Tip: Find positive things to do that aren't writing to do during these long waits. I bake, draw, play video games, yoga, garden, etc. Having a full list of things that bring you joy—combined with an acceptance that you can't control when publication will happen—eases that waiting stress a lot.
• Are You Ignoring Warning Signs? Anger. Despair. Outbursts or wallowing. These are signs of stress—they're "fight or flight" reactions triggered by chronic stress. I was so angry when I was trying to get published...I just didn't realize how bad it was until I saw fear in my kids' eyes. I was sad and constantly wallowing in my failure and eating my feelings and having epic pity parties. Sleepless nights. Lack of motivation for things you previously enjoyed. No desire to connect with friends or family or spouse. That is not actually normal. You are experiencing the effects of prolonged stress. You need to take a step back and reevaluate how you can reduce stress.
There Is Light At The End Of The Tunnel. Sorta.
Eventually, you will figure out how to be a writer and also be a person who isn't a writer. It takes time to find the balance. It also takes time to learn how to adapt when things go off kilter again. But you will learn, and you will get used to writing and publishing being part of your life. The rejections will start to hurt less. Your writing will improve and you will grow accustomed to criticism. The stressors will lessen, though they won't entirely go away. And new ones will come.
It's essential that you find your ways to cope with stress in this phase, because, I'm afraid, it only get more stressful as you sell a book and become published. If you haven't established stress management now, your risks for health complications only increases. So why not take it seriously now? I wish I had. It would have made the last five years a lot easier if I had made stress management a priority.
Questions? Need help with stress? Feel free to ask in comments or email me if it's personal. I'm happy to listen and help where I can.