Thursday, January 19, 2017

Coping With Writer Stress: The Reality (Part 1)

Writing is a stressful job. If you haven't felt that stress yet...well, I'm gonna guess you're still in the early, honeymoon phases of being a writer. Pursuing publishing, becoming a debut, and continuing to publish are all hugely stressful things on their own—combine them with high competition, few traditional publishing spots, and a populace who, in general, prefers video to reading and you have a veritable blood bath for your hopes and dreams.

Even success brings a certain amount of stress: To stay successful. To meet your publishers ever-high expectations. To live up to readers' vision of what you should be and should write. To navigate social media in ever-growing hostile territory.

Stress. It's a beast. Do you know what stress can do to you?

This is a list from the MayoClinic:

Common effects of stress on your body

  • Headache
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Change in sex drive
  • Stomach upset
  • Sleep problems

Common effects of stress on your mood

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation or focus
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Irritability or anger
  • Sadness or depression

Common effects of stress on your behavior

  • Overeating or undereating
  • Angry outbursts
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Tobacco use
  • Social withdrawal
  • Exercising less often

Maybe these don't seem like a big deal to you, but take a moment to imagine the impact not over one day or one month but for years. Writing is going to be your career, your life. Imagine facing these everyday for the foreseeable future. Take a moment to think about what this might do to your overall health and happiness. And not just your health, but the health of your relationships as well. Prolonged stress can change you, and as a result is can hurt your spouse, your family, your friends if you aren't careful. 

Spoiler: Stress wears you down. Some people deal with it better than others, but we all deal with it. Make no mistake. You are not immune, and it is unwise to pretend you are.

Writer stress has taken a huge toll on my own life. I can check off almost all those things on that list, which have led to even more health issues. That much stress has killed my immune system and my anxiety breakdown of 2010 was directly related to publishing. I've been medicated for anxiety and depression since then. The MayoClinic says stress can lead to health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Well, guess what? I'm 33 and I was diagnosed with Latent Autoimmune Diabetes this last November, after a year filled with sickness and hospital visits, and a year previous laden with a deep depression. 

This is what a decade of writing and poor stress management can do.

I don't think any of this is coincidence. The stress of my writing life brought out, perhaps accelerated, health issues I was already at risk for. And because of this, I've now become a huge advocate for the importance of managing your health as a writer, both mentally and physically. I can tell you from personal experience that creativity struggles when you're sick. Productivity is crippled entirely when you are suffering from the effects of stress and other health issues. And if you push yourself regardless? Well, you ARE going to pay for it. Somehow, in some way, your body will push back. You really don't want it to push back, because it will show no mercy.

So how does one manage writer stress? I won't pretend I have all the answers, but I have found some I want to share. Because this is important, and I don't want any of you to end up like me. I want writers to be happy and healthy as they create. It is possible. There are general "de-stresser" principles out there, sure, but I want to also talk about writer-specific tactics. Stay tuned over the next few days to finish this four-part series.

To come:
Coping With Writer Stress: For The Aspiring Writer
Coping With Writer Stress: For The Debut Author
Coping With Writer Stress: For The Veteran


  1. Can't wait to see what you have to say in your upcoming posts. This does seem like a big part of having a writing career that's typically overlooked, especially because so many of us writers are introverts and prone to anxiousness. I know I am.

  2. Stress really does have a way of wearing you completely down. I've seen that recently myself.

  3. As someone who's completely neurotic, stress is something I feel almost all the time. I wish I didn't, though; I wish I was someone who was more laid-back and relaxed, so I'm interested in de-stressing techniques.