You Know You’re a Dysfunctional Writer When…

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

This week I’m rushing to send out proposals to editors and cross off as many other things as I can on my self-propagating to-do list. So much to do before going on vacation tomorrow for a week. I confess I’m feeling angst that my work and client needs, not to mention submissions to respond to, will multiply out of control during that much time away. My husband hinted that I was becoming dysfunctional.

It isn’t like I’m flippantly neglecting my responsibilities. I’m taking time to be with family. You know, balancing work and family. My husband was right; so much angst over that is dysfunctional. I thought about writers and published authors who have family needs or interruptions that threaten to wreak havoc with looming deadlines. You must deal with a fair amount of angst too.Interruptions_iStock_000018123791Small-236x300

Like the client who had a sudden and unexpected health issue, requiring tests at the hospital and an anxious wait for results. (Prayers are appreciated.) Or the client whose power was out for six days after a storm. Or the client whose computer crashed the day she bought a new one and she had to ask me to send an electronic copy of her proposal while she waited…hoped…for her old hard drive to be retrieved. Yes, these things actually happened to clients in the last two weeks.

If it isn’t these kinds of wrenches in your writing schedule, it’s the call on your time to be with family, friends, ministry, or to take a needed vacation. I decided perhaps it’s time for some tongue-in-cheek relief. A little poking-fun-at-ourselves humor is good for the soul and may even ease stress.

Here it goes.

You Know You’re a Dysfunctional Writer When…

  1. you spend more time griping about your to-do list than getting it done.
  2. you find every excuse possible to avoid your computer when you’re in the middle of a difficult scene you don’t know how to remedy.
  3. you compose the next scene in your sleep.
  4. you wake up in the middle of the night without the alarm, and the solution to your problem chapter is clear in your mind.
  5. your writing day is fueled by chocolate and coffee.
  6. you begin your writing day in the dark and stop writing when it’s dark again.
  7. you touch base with your family via a mass email while you’re scrambling to make a deadline.
  8. you break away from your writing to pick up a frozen lasagna at the store, bake it in one of your own dishes, and serve it to your family as a homemade meal.
  9. you record the next chapter on your voice recorder while on a walk instead of taking time to smell the roses.
  10. you pray there won’t be any more school snow days…
  11. you discover the perfect word you’ve been grappling for and jot it down on your grocery list in the checkout line.
  12. [Insert your own dysfunctional writing specialty.]

Be encouraged . . . you’re in good company!

How many items on the list can you identify with? What is your own dysfunctional writing specialty?


Take time for tongue-in-cheek humor when your writing life feels out of control. Click to Tweet.

Poking-fun-at-ourselves stress relief: You know you’re a dysfunctional writer when… Click to Tweet.


59 Responses

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  1. Michelle Ule says:

    You’re reading this blog post at 3:10 in the morning because after lying in the dark for 90 minutes thinking about it, you figure you might as well get up and return to the novel which will command your attention for the entire, blissful? day.

  2. Sarah Sundin says:

    You know you’re a dysfunctional writer when you smell the distinctive California smell of a grass fire in the distance – and your FIRST thought (after kids/pets) is rescuing your computer, manuscript, notes, and research material. Baby pictures? Family heirlooms? ***Sigh***

  3. When during the power outage, you’re checking your email in a cafe, on your tablet, and your agent reminds you about damage to your computer from power surges, so you go flying home from the cafe (where you and half the town were using their free wifi) leap out of the van (yes, I totally did too put it in park)run across the lawn like Forest Gump in a hurry, wheezing like a psychotic mouth breather being chased by clowns, burst through the door, slide across the wood floor and unplug your laptop.
    Panting and staring at the plug, you almost weep in thanks for your agent’s wisdom. Yet do you unplug your husband’s laptop? The one with all his current research on it? Or the desktop computer with a decade of kid’s photos on it? Nooooo. No you don’t. Because all you can think about when you stare at YOUR laptop is “I saved you, Nez! I saved you!!!”
    Then you look around at your darkened house and wipe the sweat off your brow…because you, YES YOU, saved a fake man, his fake family and his fake horse.

    And to top it off, deep in the middle of the night, I think it was day 4 with no power, you realize you got the age wrong for a character, once again this is a fake person, so once you wake up in the morning, you fire up the laptop, type as fast as you can, then shut it down, knowing you fixed things before the battery ran out.

    And ONLY when the power returns, on Day Six of QUALITY TIME, do you plug it in like a long lost, filthy dirty, scared out of its mind, Disney puppy, returned home to the farm.

    Dysfunctional? Nooooooooooooo.

    Magua was dysfunctional, *I* am cautious and careful.

  4. Mary Keeley says:

    If you say so, Jennifer.

  5. Function dysfunctionally (and my computer is warning me that this is not a proper word … because I’m dysfunctional, I’ll use it anyway)!

    Mary, when I click on “blog” on the home page, your post is not showing up. Only Rachelle’s from yesterday. I looked over on the sidebar and saw Janet’s link to this blog post. That’s how I found it. I may be dysfunctional though. 🙂

    You know you are dysfunctional when you watch Miss Potter with your husband. And he thinks Miss Potter is a quack for talking to her characters. He can’t believe the producers, etc. made her look like a loon. And you find yourself trying to explain that writers really get into their characters. And then you stop yourself because you don’t want to prove that you are dysfunctional, too! 🙂

  6. Jenny Leo says:

    Writers . . . we put the “fun” in “dysfunction”!

  7. Jim Lupis says:

    You know you are dysfunctional when you submit a book proposal to an agent entitled: “How to Overcome being Dysfunctional” and receive a rejection e-mail on the grounds you are too dysfunctional to write it.

    …And also because you use the word “you” too many times. 🙂

  8. Talking to a pet about research or paragraph transitions. Referring to a pet as a co-author. LOL

  9. A friend of mine was robbed in his home – the miscreants broke in whilst he was writing.

    He asked them to wait until he finished a paragraph.

    According to his wife, they were so surprised that they did.

  10. When you’re counting the days until school starts–not because you dislike having your kids home, but because you can’t wait to get back on a normal writing schedule.

    Thanks for these, Mary! I needed that. 🙂

  11. First and foremost, my prayers go out to your client with the health issue.

    God, please grant serenity in the waiting, good news if it’s Thy will, and faithful fortitude if the news is bad.

    Dysfunctional as a writer? No, not really. The dogs, and my current physical profile, keep me pretty well grounded.

    But I WAS dysfunctional, before I started writing…for a few years I worked a 60-hr week, exercised for at least two hours every day (including Christmas!), and spent the bulk of the night working on airplanes as a hobby. I drank 18 cups of coffee every day.

    And I wondered why I couldn’t get a date…

  12. Uh-oh!

  13. Dysfunctional is like the word Normal – which is just a setting on a clothes dryer.

  14. Christine Dorman says:

    Thank you for the much-needed humor, Mary. I definitely do # 3 and 4. I also do a version of # 2: I take out my computer to work on that tough scene then I check my email, go on FB and Twitter, research the Culper Spy Ring and / or herbs that are good for migraines, then I play an online game and somehow never get to that scene that day. 😉

    I hope you have a wonderful, restful vacation.

  15. Sue Harrison says:

    Love this Mary!!

    You know you are a dysfunctional writer when you discuss your characters as if they are real people.

  16. So how dysfunctional am I because I took notes of the many ways to be a dysfunctional writer–for use later? Those were some great ideas!

  17. Mary, my dysfunction has spread to my beta reading husband and daughter. While watching a Miss Marple episode they suddenly stopped and turned around to tell me that they liked my old lady character better because she’s not so annoyingly perfect (understatement).

    That made my day.

    Blessings on your vacation ~ Wendy ❀

  18. Donna Pyle says:

    Mary, I LOVED this post! So true.

    Let’s see: You know you’re a dysfunctional writer when you’re editing your manuscript on your laptop (perched in your lap), glancing at research displayed on your iPad (perched on the left recliner arm), while playing an educational podcast on your iPhone (perched on the right recliner arm). 🙂 True story.

  19. Ashley Artmann says:

    You know you’re a dysfunctional writer when…
    …You get more text messages from yourself with writing notes than texts from friends and family.
    …In the middle of a relaxing yoga session you think of a perfect sentence, then try to remember it through all your downward facing dogs.
    …you link every conversation back to something you are writing about.

    Without a little strangeness none of us would be interesting! 🙂

  20. Heidi Gaul says:

    When friends and family tell you they miss a character from a previous book and you slip into a mild depression, reassuring yourself and them,”She’s not really gone yet.” SHE WAS NEVER HERE. 🙂

  21. You know you’re a dysfunctional writer when your creative process/deadline crisis includes binge eating followed by discouraged napping. This was me yesterday.

  22. You know you’re a dysfunctional writer when you:
    -read street signs in order to see if they would make good character names.
    -organize future story ideas in lists by state and county
    -feel as if you’re somewhat familiar with the goings on of the neighborhood raccoon posse, because you’re up late enough writing to hear them fight near the trash cans, and crunch on snails in the garden below your open window.

    Mary, here’s hoping you have safe travels and many good laughs during your vacation.

  23. Sherry Kyle says:

    You know you’re a dysfunctional writer when you see your characters around town and tell them. Yes, I’ve done that.

    • Sheila King says:

      Sherry, I did that! And the person I stopped had the same first name as my character. She let me take a picture of her!

  24. One of the questions I have on The Call list (you know, the list of questions you should ask an agent when they make The Call to offer representation) is “What day of the week is your day off?”

    I know my agent is going to be more effective if she’s got a day off to rest and recharge her personal batteries.

  25. Mary, these cracked me up! I especially adore #5 and #8. (I really want to know…have you actually done #8???) LOL 🙂

    Happy Vacation!

  26. So I went to bed at 9:45 with the intention of awakening at 4:30am to write (I have 3 little boys…nuff said) and I had to wake up 7 times to give our neighbors dog a swat for barking (don’t worry I had permission) and then I jumped out of bed at 12:40 for the 8th time but it was not for the dog, it was because I thought of this awesome climax scene for a middle grade boy’s fantasy that I had to write down quick. And then my alarm went off at 5:00am…and I still got up to write. Yikes!

  27. So…could you set the blog back to posting earlier in the morning…cause I’m usually reading it between 4:00 and 5:00 is am and I missed this one yesterday because it posted so late. I love to be a part of the comments on the day that they start.

  28. Sondra Kraak says:

    This is all sounding familiar. Yikes! How about, you know you’re dysfunctional when you call your daughter by your heroine’s name? Or, you know you’re dysfunctional when you have several hundred scraps of paper littering your house, piling up, that contain essential conversations for your story–and then you forget about them until months later and worry that you’re story is incomplete without them.

  29. You know you are a dysfunctional writer when you grab a napkin from table while you are eating out to jot down part of a conversation you are eavesdropping on the next booth..thankfully we don’t eat out at nicer restaurants …probably wouldn’t look good to be stopped at the door because of lifting a cloth napkin…however that might be a fun twist..hhhmmmm.

  30. Too funny! I see myself in several of your examples, Mary — especially #1, #3, and #9. 🙂