• Brooke Warner
  • 3 Ways Writers Get Overwhelmed---And What To Do About It
This blog was featured on 08/29/2016
3 Ways Writers Get Overwhelmed---And What To Do About It

The desire to write is a strong pull. Anyone who’s written a book or is currently writing a book knows intimately the power writing can wield over us. And as much as we want it and love it, our writing can start to feel like a “should,” and a bit like a spurned lover when we’re not giving it our full attention. Yes, it’s that intense. You think about your writing when you’re not writing. You feel like you should be spending time with it when you’re doing other things. You start to feel guilty.

Most writers seek me out at the point when they realize they cannot write alone. Deborah Siegel, cofounder of SheWrites.com, notably said, “Writers don’t let writers write alone.” This has since become a mantra in the She Writes community. We all need support. We need champions and cheerleaders and to know that we are not alone in our experiences of frustration, fear, overwhelm, anxiety, and yes, sometimes even nausea. And we need someone to join us in our excitement when we reach important milestones, because sometimes the non-writers in our lives just don’t get it—bless them.

Here are the three primary ways I see writers getting overwhelmed, and ideas for managing that overwhelm. 

1. High Expectations
Authors who start to dig into what it takes to get published may soon start to feel the crushing weight of expectation. You’re expected to have so much in place to get published. Maybe you’ve even had your fears confirmed by an agent or editor who rejected your manuscript and told you that it wasn’t ready, or that you needed to work on your platform. When you open up a Facebook fan page or a new Twitter account and see that your competition has 4,957 Facebook fans and 67,000 Twitter followers, you will feel like a latecomer and a newbie. You will begin to wonder how you’re going to climb that mountain. You’ll start going to bookstores and seeing all the newly published books and you’ll start to feel defeated. The “why bother?” demon will start to make regular appearances.

How to manage high expectations: Take a deep breath. There are good strategic ways to self-educate and to build your platform. (Read my post on getting started here.) You do need to start, but you also need to take it in stride. You must find ways to build support for your writing into your life. Remember that all those published authors started out unpublished. If you’re paralyzed, take a class or find a writing community; if you’re swimming in a sea of expectation, do one new thing (like Twitter) and don’t add another new thing until you’ve mastered it and/or are having fun with it.

2. Fear of Success
I believe that fear of success is a bigger obstacle for most writers than fear of failure. Writers have gumption! We want our work to be read or we wouldn’t be writing. And yes, it’s tough to get published in today’s book publishing climate, but we’re going for it. We want to see our names in print! But then a strange and insidious thing starts to happen. Most of you won’t recognize it for what it is. Finishing your book and meeting deadlines starts to feel very loaded. You want it, you tell yourself. I want it, you tell your friends. But something is holding you back. If you’ve ever mulled over the consequences of getting published, thinking that it might bring even more expectation and demands into your already-busy life, then you most definitely suffer from fear of success.

How to manage fear of success: This one will hold you back, and it’s so surprising once you name it! Fear of success? How is that possible? This is what you really really want. Yes, and your life will change. It’s possible that your friends will be jealous, that other people will start to feed into that whole expectation thing. You might have to start guarding your time even more than you do now and establishing better boundaries. Life will change. Growth is scary. If fear of success rings true for you, the best thing you can do is journal or meditate. You need to understand this fear and get ahold of it before that part of you that is frozen in fear can allow your expansive self to grow into your full and amazing potential.

3. Writer’s ADD
It’s not enough to just be writing a book these days. You’re supposed to be publishing articles or essays, building up a social media empire, getting media exposure, and securing advanced praise for your unwritten book! Figuring it all out and trying to keep up results in our attention getting pulled in a hundred different directions—and it’s hard to focus. You’re suffering from Writer’s ADD—a syndrome whose symptoms include your brain jumping to other ideas and to-do’s while you’re working on the project at hand—if you can no longer sit and focus on your writing during scheduled writing time. And yes, it’s hard to focus when you’re supposed to be working on social media, or writing a blog post, or if you’re following 50 bloggers and trying to keep on top of their updates.

How to manage Writer’s ADD: You do need to shut it off. Stop. I am working on a book now, and I’ve had to seriously reduce the number of blogs I read. I am missing out on things I used to enjoy catching up on, but something had to be sacrificed. For those of you dealing with too much too much too much, spend some time prioritizing. If you have more than one project, choose one to work on first. You need to implement a content strategy. Work with a coach to help you figure out your goals, timelines, and priorities. It’s crucial. If you don’t know what to do first, your attention will constantly be split, and you will be swimming in a sea of unfinished projects with no completion strategy in sight for any of them.


How about you? What strategies work for you in managing your own overwhelm?

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  • Rita Gabis

    Oy.  I identified with writer's ADD.  I have so much on my plate right now that sometimes I forget to be grateful for having a book about to go into print and all who helped make it possible.  I definitely think that fear of failure and fear of success are a see-saw many writers find themselves on.  My solution for that has been to focus as much as possible on my original intention for my book--which, in my case, has mostly to do with the crucial events of the lives of other people who were generous enough to share their stories with me.  In other words, take the focus off my own fears and expectations and just try to show up and get the job done and done and done.  Posts like yours remind me I am not alone.  Gratefully, Rita

  • Michelle Cox

    Marianne, I'm like you.  I need to be writing or editing the very first thing in the morning while my brain is at its sharpest!  As soon as my kids get on the bus at - 6:50 am! - I hurry home, grab my coffee and head up to the computer!  I'm also very type A and scheduled, so I actually have a set amount of time that I write/edit and then a set amount of time that I do what I call "marketing," which really just consists of email, FB forums and trying to figure out how to blog.  So far it's working!  I think...

  • Sherrey Meyer

    Brooke, thanks for this wise and timely advice. It was just what I needed to read.

  • Thanks for all the comments, everyone. Glad it could help. What this shows, of course, is how we are all afflicted by the same overwhelm. My overwhelm in writing my new book is email. :/

  • Marianne C. Bohr

    I so need this post right now as I juggle all the marketing tasks of an about to be published author. So much to do that pulls me away from my keyboard and additional writing. I have a new resolution:  my best time to write, when my creativity is at its sharpest, is the morning. From now on, any time I have in the am will be spent writing. Late afternoons and evenings, when I'm close to brain-dead, will be for reading blogs and marketing stuff. Such a great post, Brooke.

  • Sande Boritz Berger

    As a mother and grandmother of four I learned how to juggle early in life...but there's always that little gnome sitting on my shoulder that wants to pull me away from being mindful and present. I do think it's good to have a mix of writing projects so that when you get stuck you can go to a place where you feel productive. I had the great honor of studying with Frank McCourt some years ago and he figured me out after one class...on all my work, he wrote the word: FOCUS. It's hard, but I am trying. It's about choices and priorities and Thank you Brooke for the clarity...I must say STOP to that annoying gnome.

  • Kate Farrell

    Thanks, Mardith! It's a BIG life change. I'm excited about being able to reach my readers--YA girls and young women! That's a hard market to reach without a traditional publisher. Thanking lucky stars. 

  • Mardith Louisell

    Kate, I hope you won't be felled by fear, now that you have your agent and press! Again, congrats!

  • Kate Farrell

    Boundaries! Thanks for sharing all three tips. Such great advice, that includes the fear of the increased expectations of success. 

  • Joan Z. Rough

    Thanks, Brooke.  This is all great advice. I'll be rereading this often!

  • Thanks! I needed to hear the suggestion about reducing the blog reading. After having cultivated a sizable group of interesting blogging friends, I feel as if I should read everything they write. That seems to take up much of my free time, with less and less time to work on books in progress or even my own blogs. I'll have to try skimming most of what I read online.

  • Thanks for this. So hard to manage Writer's ADD. All that outward-seeking needs to turn inward toward quiet & spaciousness. But sometimes it feels impossible.

  • Thea Constantine

    Great piece--thank you. I seem to have to deal with one or the other of these over and over--it's just nice to see I'm not the only one!

  • Patricia Robertson

    I agree that fear of success can be bigger than fear of failure. It's sneakier and creeps into places we don't expect. It can be a mindset that holds us back. It's wanting to have our books be read, wanting to make money, but not so much that you have to change the cozy life you have developed for yourself. At least that's how it is for me.

  • Diane Wheaton

    Just what I needed to hear today, Brooke. Lately, I've been hanging out in the writer's cavern of "why bother". I need to climb my way out to find my light again. Your article will help. Thank you. 

  • Mardith Louisell

    Lynn, I'm so glad because I submitted!

    it is wise advice, indeed, and I will stop to  finish my project.

  • B. Lynn Goodwin

    You offer some wise advice here. I'm going to get off this page and go back to my project, reading Writer Advice submissions. Thanks!


    Author of You Want Me to Do WHAT? Journaling for Caregivers and

    Talent (forthcoming from Eternal Press)