What are emotional markers for writers?
There’s a tongue-in-cheek video circulating with the theme “Everybody should write a book.” The farcical theory is that it’s not that hard. You don’t really need skills. Anybody can do it. All authors are rich, so why wouldn’t you want to? And a few other hysterical (If you know, you know) myths the content creator used reverse psychology to dispel.
Neither this video’s clever content creator or many other sources address emotional markers for writers. Yes, we’re emotional. If we can’t feel, it’s hard to write anything meaningful and lasting. On any subject. In any genre. Even those who write about the geological clues in ancient rocks have to be passionate about their subject.
But within our emotional realm as writers lie clear markers meant to guide us through questions like:
Am I cut out for this?
Great question. An an important one. Each of us has a different emotional temperament, mental capacity, stress/endurance tolerance. Are you okay with having more rejections than acceptances? If disappointed, do you bounce back very slowly, fairly quickly, or not at all? The Not At All among us will find the writing life emotionally crippling, since disappointment is around every corner.
The highs of the writing life are glorious. But if the lows flatten you, if the hard parts make you cry out, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” you have two options. Go do something else with your life, or exercise the muscles that will allow you to regain your balance after a hard hit.
Writing for yourself–journaling, doodling, creating devotionals or stories for a small circle of friends and family or a support group–may be just what you need. But if you are emotionally fragile, please know that writing for publication won’t make you less fragile.
It may create permanent scars, mess with your relationships, make you difficult to work with, or keep you from the rigors and responsibilities of publishing.
Are the emotional markers for writers asking you to pay close attention?
How can I prepare so I don’t tank emotionally?
That emotional fitness program? It can be as fun as pushing a medicine ball up all 2,744 steps on the Pike’s Peak hiking trail. But it can also be as pleasant and rewarding as a laptop-free trip to a local coffee shop, or a legit nap, or blocking out one day of the week for non-writing activities, or recalibrating your emotional health with sunshine and good friends.
Knowing what to expect (see Debbie Alsdorf’s recent post on Expectations) helps.
The Bible calls it “counting the cost” before embarking on a project, an endeavor, a devotion, or a career. Take a look at Luke 14:28-29 and its context for more on that concept.
How do we prepare so we can weather the emotional storms of the writing life? Some authors develop an emotional health routine like one of these:
- I won’t lay my fingers on the keyboard until I breathe deeply, pray, linger over my favorite tea in my favorite teacup, take the dog for a walk, exercise (like, real, body-moving, sweat-producing exercise)…
- When I receive a hard-to-swallow email–a rejection, editor’s first comments, an agent’s “not right for me,” less than robust royalty statement from my publisher–I will brace myself, allow a pause before responding so my reply can be well-thought-out rather than reactive, grieve if I must but not for long, set the comments aside and keep myself from tackling them until I can do so from a place of emotional health. If that pattern is a routine, our battered emotions don’t have to CREATE that routine in a time of crisis or high-stress.
- The potential emotional trauma of missed deadlines can be all but eliminated with pre-planning. Can we account for or anticipate emergencies, flood, fire, tornado, gall bladder surgery, a death in the family? No. But if we’ve built margin into our writing schedule, deadlines don’t have to collapse us. For some writers, a pressing deadline is a great motivator and creativity stimulant. But if they threaten your mental or emotional health, apply more diligent pre-planning and set yourself an artificial deadline that is a month (or more) before the actual deadline. (FREE BONUS TIP: A deadline from a publisher is not a suggestion. It is a date the publisher carefully slotted to keep their teams on schedule for editing, sales and marketing, cover design, and a plethora of other elements. Professional authors consider a deadline chiseled in stone. It’s not a garden stake that can be moved at will. Do yourself and your agent and editor a favor and honor your deadlines.)
What mental/emotional health issues might mean this particular project needs to wait before I can address it?
Thanks for asking.
When emotions are at their rawest, or mental health at its most strained may seem like the best time to capture those emotions and write a book about it. It’s a good time to take notes, perhaps, but often is not the best time to write the book. You’ll need your energies directed toward surviving the breakup, the miscarriage, the diagnosis, the divorce, the loss and all of its fallout. Perspective is naturally skewed in the middle of the swirling winds. Others–your children, spouse, grandchildren, extended family–may need your attention. Or your soul needs to heal so the book you write doesn’t come across as all agony and no hope.
It’s for your sake that you would ask yourself if your mental and emotional health will suffer too high a price to write that book at this moment. Will others pay a fallout price? Make the observations. Keep the notes. Muse and think and ponder. But realize that you do not have to feel obligated to write the book while in the middle of the fray. It will actually be a better book if you are emotionally and mentally strong when you write it, tapping into the feelings and observations you made earlier.
When in doubt, ask your agent.
Don’t disparage your needs or sensitivities. Do consider them carefully and honestly. Are the rigors of constant deadlines, relentless marketing demands, the ups and downs of reader interest and sales numbers, the battle to wrestle a story into actual words on a page more draining for you than for others? Is it possible that another role might fit you better?
Emotional, spiritual, and relational health do play a role in an agent’s decision about representation. This is a challenging business. Deeply rewarding but as deeply challenging. Have you counted the cost?
What one thing comes to mind as something you can do to better equip yourself for those challenges?
And…with the deadline info said, yes, at times we are blindsided by crises. Your agent is your advocate. The sooner she knows, the better. 🙂
Most think the writer’s soul must go
deep into his poetry,
but what no-one seems to know
is that my sonnets are not me,
but products of a paradigm
that’s made from observation,
and that each and every rhyme
is a thespian occasion,
makeup and costume applied
to tread upon the boards;
please don’t think it’s that I’ve lied,
but only that my words
are tools whose best and vital part
is to let you look within your heart.
Anybody can write a book. Sure.
Writing a book worth reading . . . that’s something different.