3 Ways Writers Get Overwhelmed -- And What To Do About It

04/21/2015 09:07 pm ET | Updated Jun 21, 2015

2015-04-21-1429647039-279228-bigstockDrowningInPaper6538677.jpgThe 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, 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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