Nathan Bransford, Author

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

When Is Writing Unhealthy?

In yesterday's discussion about writers and sensitivity, Gordon Pamplona left a comment that stuck with me:

"...a lot of times the sensitivity about the writing is a stand-in for sensitivity about something else: you spent so much time chasing this pipe dream that you lose your job, your marriage, your kids; your kids don't respect you because you didn't write Harry Potter or Twilight; you charged a lot of money on the credit card for conferences and classes with no tangible results, and now the family is eating beans and rice. For many of us, writing is an addiction, no different from alcohol or drugs or gambling. And maybe people who are angry, bitter, stressed out, or despondent should take a hard look at whether this is something they should be doing--if it's gone from a hobby to something that's ruining their lives and their relationships with others."

As a society, we often celebrate tortured and struggling artists who finally make it big despite their obstacles, and yet we don't often examine the flip side of this, which is that the vast majority of tortured and struggling artists don't actually make it. We tend to encourage everyone to write (Person 1 tells an interesting story, Person 2 says "Wow, you should write a book about that"), and there are very few people out there willing to tell any writer they don't have what it takes and should probably try pursuing something else with their time. I'm guilty of this as well - who am I to say whether or not someone will or won't be published?

But is this the right approach? Is writing, especially when the odds are long and the cost to a personal life is high, sometimes akin to addiction? When does it cross the line from hobby to "habit?" And should we be encouraging everyone to write?


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Julie Weathers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie Weathers said...

Anything done to the detriment of family is too much. I don't know of anyone who has let their family go hungry or live on rice and beans so they could pursue their writing dream, but I'm sure there are some people out there.

Family first, always.

I've given up a lot, but it affected no one but myself, so I'm prepared to make that sacrifice.

neil... said...

There's a difference between encouraging someone to write, and encouraging them to become an author, I think.

It is vital to ensure there is an evironment of opportunity for everyone to explore their ideas and ambitions. But I'm not one for encouraging and praising when it will merely compound the disappointment and disillusionment later. There has been far too much over-encouragement in reccent decades, turning an "I can be successful" attitude into an "I have a right to be successful".

Truth and honesty above all, I say.

Lynn said...

Your timing couldn't be better. After three rejections yesterday (including yours, my darling) I am wondering if I should hang up my keyboard and stick to my day job. Feedback from my writing group is positive, but what do they know - not a single one of us has published anything. I wish someone, whose opinion I respect, who is connected to the industry, would tell me once and for all whether I've got what it takes to be a writer.

Shreds said...

I often find myself fantasizing about being just a writer, not a high school teacher who writes-- just give up the long hours and the grading and the dreaded political bs, embrace even more poverty than I already have in order to do what I long to do. But I lack the courage. Instead, I envy my friend who can teach part time and write full time while his well paid wife brings home the tofurkey.

Still, I am comfortable with my compromise: I get up at 4 am, I turn down many weekend invites, and do what I have to do to stay balanced.

I do know that when I'm not writing OR not paying bills, my body manifests discomfort in rashes, headaches, and shortness of breath. So to stay healthy, I do both.

Natalie Whipple said...

I'm not sure writing itself is the addiction, but perhaps the pursuit of publication.

Before I decided to seek publication, I wrote on whims and just did it for pure enjoyment. Then I decided I wanted to try and be published, and I'll admit that pursuit sucked me in for a while.

It's easy to get caught up in that dream of your book on a shelf. I had to pull back and remember that publishing would be great, but it's not the center of my life.

Charlie Pratt said...

Mr. B.— Great site. A real find. I wrote a piece about this yesterday and it's extremely relevant to your point. Have a quick read.

Anonymous said...

Valid points. Of course everyone wants to be successful. I don't think there's anyone out there that doesn't have fantasies of writing the next 'twilight' success saga. But fortunately, many of us also have a 'beans and rice' reality. I know if I'm published I still need a day job. Success is never guaranteed. Many times success is never realized.
However, to quit writing is almost like quitting smoking. I can't do it. I'm in a funk if I don't write. I'm addicted to the writing, to my characters, to spending that little bit of time in their world regardless of what happens in mine. In many ways, it's probably one of the healthier addictions that I have, and even though the process leaves me mentally drained at the end of a writing session, I feel like I've complished something. No, I'm not finished with my scene. No, I haven't completed this chapter, but I got to live vicariously through my alter ego on the page.
That's better than any drug.

brian_ohio said...

Yeah... I'm afraid it is.

R.J. Anderson said...

Some people just can't imagine a life without writing, and would go on writing even if they knew they would never be professionally published, just to get those ideas out on paper. Some people will spend their lives writing fan fiction, for instance, and thriving on the feedback and friendships they gain from that without receiving a cent of money or a glimpse of wider fame. It's not such a bad thing to be unpublished, if you're wired to be writing anyway.

But of course, most of us would consider being published a special bonus -- and if you go on writing and submitting long enough, there's a good chance you will be. That's when the question of how much time and effort should go into your writing and how much should be set aside for other things REALLY comes into play, I think -- when you're starting to get pressure from editors and agents to turn in a manuscript of a certain length and quality in a certain period of time.

Anonymous said...

Nathan, I have often referred to your ten commandments for a writer.

In my writing group, all the members have a talent of some measure, all have above average skill and background, all love to write.

Two are certain that their writing must be published. Those two are the most ordinary writers and even boring. There is nothing wrong with their writing, but it lacks that certain energy and so who should tell them they might not soon be becoming "rich and famous." It still could happen.

One is exceptional but doesn't know it yet.

One is extremely sensitive and writes only for her own pleasure and the pleasure of sharing it in this safe group.

Two are having so much fun that their writing is infectious.Both could easily have works you would see in a bookstore.

And one is unusual and good, but so unusual that their writing often goes over the tops of others' radar.

The ones I wish would become published may not and the ones I would pass over, might.

We don't stand in each other's ways. We simply try to focus in on the writing.

Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

Um... it's not like writing is similar to drugs or alcohol. some people need to get a grip of themselves.

Whitney said...

There is a point where writing is unhealthy. It overtakes your life and completely alienates everyone. So, yes there is that point.

But on the flip side, writing is what kept me sane when I was going through the ups and downs of hypothyrodism and pre-diabetes without even knowing it. I was literally crying for hours (due to depression) and the only thing I could focus on was writing. In that situation, writing was the healthy thing for me until I was diagnosed five months ago.

Like it's been said, sometimes too much of a good thing leads to a toothache that leads to a cavity which leads to dental surgery. Just use moderation.

Marilynn Byerly said...

The emotionally screwed up writer is more a stereotype of literary fiction than it is a reality. So is the drunk or drug-addicted writer.

Sure, some writers are screwed up, but a vast majority of successful writers I know, particularly in genre, are as sane or saner than the majority of the population.

In this business, the emotionally weak or self-destructive rarely survive the rigors of a difficult business and get out long before they ever hit print.

I have a list of "words of wisdom" I pass along to my writing students at the end of each course. The most important is this one:

"Writing is a hobby, an avocation, or a career, but it is not a life. Real life is what matters most. You will regret it if you look up from your keyboard one day to discover life has passed you by, and the writing wasn't worth the cost."

Kristi said...

Wow, I found Gordon's comment to be sad but don't think it applies to most writers. If someone has an addictive personality, they tend to substitute another addiction when one recedes. For instance, I've seen many people in my practice who used to be alcoholics and are now addicted to pain pills, shopping, food or gambling. The DSM-IV defines something as "unhealthy" if it causes significant interference with social and occupational functioning.

I agree with Julie that family always comes first. Writing is something I love to do and it's fun, but the only thing I'm willing to sacrifice is sleep - and my hubby lets me catch up on that on the weekends.

Rick Daley said...

If your writing shifts from something constructive to something destructive, stop. Some things that can go wrong:

- Too much time at the keyboard (or notebook) alienates friends and family

- Too much time at the keyboard (or notebook) deprives you of exercise, sleep, or proper nutrition. The bag of chips and quart of Ben & Jerry's you ate while staying up all night writing do not a balanced diet make. (I think Yoda said that).

- Your writing becomes argumentative and volatile, rather than informative and/or entertaining

- Your stories take dark turns that have no real audience, and take you to dark places that you have trouble returning from

Adam said...

If you get in debt and start putting your family on beans and rice, you are doing too much. The struggling artist should be some single guy in a basement apartment somewhere, not anyone with a family and other responsibilities. Anyone with such responsibilities who ignores them needs to revisit their priorities.

I think this is where the idea of "don't quit your day job" comes from.

Carol Benedict said...

To succeed in any endeavor requires hard work and sacrifice. Whether the goal is to be a writer, a doctor, a musician, or a mechanic, the only way to achieve our dreams is to keep trying to improve, hope for some luck, and never stop trying. That said, we need to keep our priorities in prespective.

When one goal becomes more important than anything else, it can hurt other areas of our lives. There should be a balance between the important things, like family, friends, and responsibilities, and our writing. When there is a disproportionate focus on writing, it crosses the line between a healthy pursuit and addiction--although I would consider it more of an obsession than an addiction.

Sierra Godfrey said...

The other day, I spent almost two hours watching clips of bad auditions for American Idol on You Tube. I don't watch American Idol on TV, so this was an odd thing for me to do.

What FASCINATED me was how easily Simon Cowell told contestants that they couldn't sing, and that they were the worst singers he'd ever heard, and/or that they should give it up--they were never going to make it.

I wondered for a long time what the point was in saying that to someone. For TV effect? To really "tell it like it is"?

I think everyone has it and can make it in writing--it just takes an extraordinary amount of dedication, drive, and hard work. Self-delusion about this process is not helpful. Being told along the way that you won't make it is not helpful.

L. T. Host said...

Lynn: if your writing is passable enough that your writer's group thinks it's good, then I'm afraid I don't think even an industry professional will be able to give you a solid answer one way or another. A lot of agents say that this industry is subjective, and if you look at the figures, it's true.

There are people who land book deals on their first or second query. There are other people who can send a hundred for the same book before they find an agent and continue to great success.

Don't give up just because you got three nos--- that's not unhealthy, unless you are so invested in getting that "yes" that you're making yourself sick with each rejection before you play the odds. If you have faith in your story, put it out there. You'll know when the time is right to stop, if you don't reach your goal before then.

Ink said...

I'm one of those who think there's a difference between encouraging people to write and encouraging people to publish. Very different things, really. One is internally focused and the other is externally focused.

And it's a tricky question. I don't think it's the place of any one person to tell others whether they will or will not get published - too inaccurate in such a subjective task, particularly when you're ruling on not just how good someone is but how good they might be.

Having said that, though, I think it might help writers to look at themselves honestly, to evaluate their pursuit and its ramifications. What is it costing you, and what are you likely to get out of it? The trick, of course, is trying to find that personal objectivity, which can be a difficult thing indeed. Are you quitting, say, because you've finally seen things clearly... or merely because of a transitory crisis in confidence?

A bit of a tangle, that.

Anonymous said...

...but, if you've got the wisdom to never get married and you don't like kids (so you don't have any)...and your parents are dead...then if you're living lean and trying with no results, it's only you (the author) who's suffering for it. And in that case, it's the author's choice. N'est pas?

-Sarah T.

Bane of Anubis said...

When you start hating it.

mythicagirl said...

It's unhealthy when you involve your family and the world in your scheme of fame, pretending to send your kid up in a balloon just so you can get a reality show...oh, sorry... I forgot we were talking about writing...(but still, the guy planned this out, so things were probably written down)

Anyway, without a balanced life (god, family, friends, employment, hobbies, pets) it can be easy to let one thing mean more to you than another. In all honesty, I think it's more than just writing. People want the sales, the adolation, the good critiques. No sense having half a dream. I'm published, now what?
Its like people who appear on a reality show. I read a study that said after the initial fame wore off (friends and family see on TV, now what?) participants sought to get on Reality TV again...and again.

A craving for recognition. But most want it on their own terms. Not the bad mind you, where they dig up an old arrest or DWI charge, but that you were destined to be the star you now are. It's unrealistic. Dream the dream sure, but don't let it consume your life.
The end doesn't justify the means.

mel said...

I think this is a complex question with many different possible answers.
Myself, I have long a go understood that I have an addictive personality and writing is just another way to quench this never ending thirst.
Done. On to the next one. Done, then on to the next again.
And really, when does it stop ?
I began writing for fun. And it was. Then I finished the novel. Wow. Great. Fantastic.
Next please.
Then I got it published. How thrilling.
That lasted five minutes.
So I wrote another book, and will pitch that one around, and will live off that temporary shot of pride, but soon enough, my mouth will dry up again. And I'll be craving more and more. It never stops. Beware, publishing isn't the cure.
Yes, for me, writing is a form of escapism, and could probably be diagnosed as an addiction. Most of the time, I don't enjoy it.
But tell you what though, take it from me, and I will not last more than a few days without cracking.
I am a writer. That simple word defines my very core. It shapes my existence.
That is the nature of my beast, anyway.

Jacque said...

Well, I may have a different perspective on this because I am part of a religion that encourages everyone to write at least a journal. It is useful for remembrance as well as a therapeutic exercise to see your thoughts and motivations more clearly. It tells you where you where you’re struggling and where you’re excelling in a place where you can be completely honest because no one will read it but you. It is a wonderful tool to evaluate your life and give it meaning.
Though my creative writing is strictly fictional, I see many parallels and symbolism to the struggles I give my characters and the struggles I am currently facing (intentional and unintentional). To me, this is the exact opposite of an addiction. An addiction is something we use to escape real life, where as I use my writing to cope and define my real life. If it never is published, at the end of the day I can at least say it has helped me with my learning and personal growth and that has made all the difference.
I’ve heard a quote that ‘writing stems from dissatisfaction’ and in some ways that is true and it can lead to a very unhappy and unhealthy group of people. It was very true of me when I started writing as an angsty teenager but at this point in my life, I am generally a happy person and I still write. I just do it differently. It is often in celebration of the struggles I’ve overcome and my love for the world I am in (with all the silly, wonderful people in it) and only the occasional angst (tapping into my inner teen) to keep the story going.
While there is going to be problems when any part your life gets out of balance, being able to create (by writing or a myriad of other activities) is a blessing and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. :)

Marilyn Peake said...

I think people should follow their passion, whatever that is – whether it’s writing or something else. However, I think the deeper goal should be self-fulfillment in a balanced life, not money or approval from others because both of those can be quite elusive. Family and friends should never be abandoned for the pursuit. If a person writes in this day and age, they can definitely get published, even if that only involves self-publishing on a website. For those who perfect their craft, more of the big literature prizes are now being awarded to indie press. For the second year in a row, the Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to small press books. There are so many ways to succeed at writing today, it really isn’t necessary to ruin one’s life over it.

Anonymous said...

I wrote only for myself and my own satisfaction for a very long time.
That was/is personal writing. It is important (to me anyway) to know the difference.
Then I wrote only for/to a lover. (That was fun too.)
Now, I find I am invested in stories I would like to tell more widely.
Seems I will tell them as widely as I can and that may or may not mean I am published one day. But the stories drive me. And completing (even with all the work of that)them brings a satisfaction and joy I cannot describe.

But I realize the value of learning that even Nathan is keeping his day job, his wife and friends close, and taking time to watch tv and even travel to exotic orphanages in South America.

One *can* strive for balance.
One can live their life the fullest and best they can.

And also, always, the motto:
"Do no harm."

Alicia A said...

Most of us have healthy obsessions with writing and/or getting published. However, it takes the loving honesty of those closest to you when the line gets crossed into the unhealthy. Otherwise, your the writing equivalent of the guy getting bashed by Simon Cowell because "all of your friends tell you your good." Sing in the shower. Write for fun. Put yourself out there but don't quit your day job.

Laura said...

What Neil said. And I think a lot of others have nailed it as well.

Is it ever a bad thing to write? No. As a writing teacher, I think every person should set aside at least 10-15 minutes to write, keep a journal, just jot down frustrations, joys, etc. It's healthy, tangible, and satisfying.

Just make sure it's not taking the place of something else important-- like bills and kids. But there's always time to write.

However, is it ever a bad thing for a person to believe they will be published and to trash everything for that dream? Nearly always... The nice thing about writing is being able to do it while you work.

Don't quit your day job until you're Stephen King. That's my personal measuring stick. ;)

jjdebenedictis said...

When I did my master's degree, it became apparent I didn't have what it took to be a research scientist. I had reached my abilities' limit; I was trying my hardest, working my ass off, and could barely keep up with my peers.

There may be writers like that, but how can you tell who they are? What someone wrote today is not representative of what they'll be capable of writing someday. You can't divine where their limit is.

And they won't know where it is until they hit it.

P. Grier said...

Everyone should write, but not everyone should try and be paid for it.

And yes, there are many people who can write and not be obsessed by it or about it, but if you look at the lives of the authors and artists whose works have proven themselves over time, many were/are somewhat maniac. I think the "tortured soul" cliche is being replaced by more understanding that some incredibly creative people have a certain set of commonalities that we have learned to identify and recognize:

Encouraging people to write or not write won't change obsessive behavior. Encouraging them to find ways to deal with the obsession, as well as live a balanced life seems more the issue.

Aimee States said...

When I hear someone say "I'm thinking about writing a book", I tell them everything that absolutely s*cks about it. If they still want to do it, more power to them.

Anonymous said...

Remembering, of course, that writers do NOT have a monopoly on being workaholics. I've known many workaholics that could barely string together words into a coherent bit of prose if their life depending on it.

I think there needs to be a distinction between an obsessive quest for publication (the quitting the day job to live off writing when you can't afford to, the spend oodles of money attending conferences, etc.) and an obsession with writing.

If there is such a thing, then I am a functioning Write-aholic. I write all day for my real job, then go home at night and write more. I write across the spectrum of fiction and non-fiction. When I haven't had a chance to write much, I don't care WHAT I write as long as I get to write something. But that isn't ruining my life - it IS my life. It's my job, my passion, and it pays my bills.

But when other parts of life call, I'm not so obsessed that I'm incapable of shutting my lap-top and going to watch the school play.

Paul Neuhardt said...

Like anything else, when it is done to the detriment of the other important things in life. If your relationships, your paying job, and/or your health suffer then you are engaging in unhealthy behavior.

It's not any different than other behavioral addictions such as gambling or sex. A little doesn't necessarily hurt, but there can be too much.

Where is that line? It depends on the person.

As for the concept that a tortured soul is required to be a good artist, I have always thought that was utter bunk. I was glad to see someone agree with me.

Christy Pinheiro, EA ABA said...

When I start a project, I love it. I whistle while I work.

By the time I get to the third round of edits, I want to trample the manuscript with my feet and throw it out of a moving car.

It was like that when I used to paint, too. We all want our ripples to make a mark upon the world.

Some of us have kids-- some of us create, and some of us try to do both.

Marsha Sigman said...

I would say writing becomes unhealty when it effects your life in a negative way, such as losing your job or alienating family. I think following your dreams should be a positive thing.

My husband would say it became unhealthy when I stopped cleaning every day and began ordering pizza at least once a week. I'm not listening to him...he can be such a whiner.

Sarah W said...

I think if one's emphasis shifts too far from writing well to being published, then things can quickly go downhill. It's an admirable goal, but it can get in the way of, well, itself.

I object to the all-to-common assumption that unpublished writers are "failed writers." Writing can be an intrinsically valuable act, even if the words never see the inside of a binding.

Which isn't to say I don't want my work to be published--I do, enough to work hard at writing and revisions--but even if it never happens, I will still have written.

And if\when one of my manuscripts is published, my friends and family will still be around to see it.

Anonymous said...

Pursuit of Happyness.

Liesl said...

I agree that writing is unhealthy when it's detrimental to the family, however that doesn't mean the family can't make sacrifices for your goals. My family is very supportive and they put up with less than stellar housekeeping and other nonsense in the name of letting mom get in her writing time. But if something is really out of sync or our relationships are suffering then I'll drop everything.

I also think writing is unhealthy if you feel like crap because of it. Writing is hard work but it still makes me happy. Why do people torture themselves just to prove something? That's dumb.

Cat Moleski said...

I don't think people should be discouraged from writing. Even a really bad writer can improve with work and time. For me, seeing an improvement in my work is what keeps me going since writing and art are what give meaning to my life.

Anonymous said...

'When does it cross the line from hobby to "habit?"'

When you become a professional.

AM said...

I don't believe the act of writing is the real issue here.

I am sure that many of us have been overly dedicated to our craft - to the exclusion of all else - at some point. In fact, if we didn’t consciously carve something out of our lives, none of us would have time to write.

However, if a parent is neglecting their children’s welfare for any reason, then they must adjust their priorities. If they can’t do that by themselves because they feel compelled to write, then they need to seek professional help.

But I think that the larger issues arise when a writer wants to prove something with their writing or when they need others to validate their writing and therefore, themselves. When the writer’s self-worth and entire identity becomes about their writing, then there is no doubt that the writer must step away and regain their perspective.

Nathan said...

I really liked Marilynn Byerly's statement in quotes on her post. That's a great caution for writers, and one that definately caught my attention.

If you are in a position as provider to others in any degree, then that is priority. That means financially or emotionally.

For me, writing is the dream that I nurture on the side of real life. I work on my craft as I work toward a more stable, sure career. But if the point comes where this dream of writing touches real life and real possibility, then I will commit more time to it. Until then, I am only justified so far in what could easily become a selfish pursuit.

LJCohen said...

There are plenty of writers and published authors who follow their passion to create and don't destroy family and friends in their wake.

I don't think one necessarily leads to the other.

Maybe the tortured artiste is some sort of romantic ideal, but it's not one I aspire to. I'm happy with my ordinary family and ordinary life. I also happen to write.

HWPetty said...

If you can't balance your writing and life before you are published, being published and having contracted deadlines isn't going to make that better.

And, to be honest, I think people who become that obsessive will do it no matter who encourages or discourages them.

It's not about being a writer or artist, it's about not having appropriate priorities or taking responsibility for your life.

Dara said...

As many others have said, when it becomes an obsession and takes over your life to the detriment of losing jobs and alienating yourself from family, it's gone too far.

Of course there will be times when writing will take you away from family--like any job or passion--but it should never be placed higher than family.

Like all good things, there needs to be a balance. Unfortunately for many writers, it can be difficult to find that happy medium.

Lydia Sharp said...

I didn't have time to read all the comments ahead of me, so I apologize if I repeat anything.

I've seen writing compared to addictions such as drugs and alcohol many times before and I DISAGREE. Not going to bother explaining all the details of why I feel that way in a blog comment, other than that I have a background in medicine and pharmacology and I'm also a published author, so I'd like to believe that I know the difference.

Many people who quit have a problem with stick-to-it-ive-ness in other areas of life, not just writing.

Many people who go to extremes and shut out their family, their friends, their job (?...see below), and basically, their LIFE, have a problem with being balanced in other areas of their life as well. I guarantee it.

I'm not quite understanding how writing causes you to lose your JOB. Family and social things I can understand. Lord knows I spend way too much time at my keyboard and even when I'm away from it, my mind is still structuring sentences down to the letter and arguing with characters, debating who to mangle up next.

But your job? How? Are you quitting a paying job to spend time writing? If so, DON'T. Novels can be written while working another job. A GOOD PERCENTAGE OF US WHO ARE PUBLISHED DO THAT VERY THING. And, not to be taken lightly, we still have loving families that we don't ignore (at least, not all the time). AND, if someone tells us we totally missed the mark on a certain something or other, we get back to work and try to make it better.


Here's what has helped me:
Applying the advice of those more experienced in the field
Kicking yourself in the ass

(Yeah. Especially that last one.)

If something else was meant by that "losing your job" comment, then please correct me.

Cat said...

Yes, for me, it is an addiction. After having been addicted to books written by others I changed sides and now, I can't stop. Fortunately, it seems I got what it takes because I am agented (in Germany not the US). I try hard to make up for the time I spent writing by dedicating the rest of the day to my family and my dog. The only thing that falls a bit short is the household but I'm working on that.

Carpy said...

I have been writing years for fun and profit and a lot of beans and rice. I love the connection between writers, characters and readers. It is only unhealthy if I'm not getting enough of it, like not getting enough vegetables. Sometimes I substitute the writing for periods of reading, but the muse or critic is always there, comparing and learning. I've tried giving it up, but finally decided "forget it. A writer is who I am." I am inspired by everything that crosses my path. If anything (except my children) gets in the way, those negative and stifling habits or people have to go. Yes, writing is addictive, so much that I often rearrange my life to accomodate my writing. Just like being a writer is a given, so is being a parent with responsibilities. What's wrong with beans and rice?

Kate said...

Writing is my work--just not fiction writing. The temptation to work on the novel and the necessity to work on projects that bring in money now are constantly at war in my head. It got to the point where I had to put the novel on the back burner. Husband and bills first. Then novel. The process is slower. But as Julie said, family first, always.

Also, I've always thought that writing has cathartic properties. I have a new prospective on that now. One of my clients is a trauma specialist (psychologist) and he said that when his patients start writing about their experiences, he knows they're in trouble in their treatment. He said that writing can be part of a healing process. But that writing about traumatic experiences--even under the guise of "fiction"--can feed the pain and bring treatment to a standstill.

Granted, this is only his opinion. But it does come from 40 years experience in the field. I think fiction is almost always influenced by real life in some way or another. But it's important to keep tabs on your own emotional state as you go through the process. Food for thought.

Polenth said...

People tend to assume that artists who destroy themselves, but produce great things beforehand, only produced the great things because they destroyed themselves. I tend to think they still would have produced great things... just over a longer time period and without the icky end.

I wouldn't tell someone to stop writing entirely if they liked writing, but there are times when people need to tone it down. You can't really write about life if you're never living it because your whole life consists of writing.

Ainsley said...

It's an addiction with no rehab.

Anonymous said...

I am one of the people who get encouraged to write. Apparently I can tell a decent story. Even when I built my house, my interior decorator told me the kept all of my emails so that she could re read them because she thought they were funny. ?? Paint colors and what not? Seemed strange to me, but at every corner, people say to me, "You TOTALLY should write!"
But I really don't have a story to tell. And when I DO try to write, it doesn't keep the casual funny nature. Instead it turns all formal and proper english. And boring. So, maybe I should write, but not seek publishing. Apparently I'll just keep writing emails about carpet and such and call it good.

Josin L. McQuein said...

I'm not sure addiction is the right word, but obsession might be. Sure, a person can get addicted to praise - which is why so many people post fanfiction on fanboards to get the positive feedback - but I think the pursuit of publication is more obsessive itself.

Anonymous said...

The willingness to sacrifice everything in pursuit of a dream is human nature. Sometimes the outcome is good, sometimes not. You can lose everything to write, finally make it, win the Nobel Prize for literature, and still end up blowing out your brains in Idaho. Would the world have been better had Hemingway been discouraged from writing?

L. W. said...

I agree with Marilyn Byerly who said that "emotionally weak or self-destructive people don't last long." You can still write, but if you're going to seek publication, best to be emotionally healthy. Somewhere on Editorial Anonymous' blog is a great post on the writer's need to prove they're not bats**t crazy.

On writing as identity: I took care of a writer who developed Alzheimer's and no longer had the focus to read or write. Those two things had been her WHOLE life. She'd dropped friends, family,everything but her unfinished book, and then her mind failed her. Writing is a beautiful thing, but being a writer can't be all you are, all you do.

Travis Erwin said...

I've gotta say I think the responsibility falls on the individual person. Knowing when to quit has to come from within a person.

Rarely do addicts of any kind kick their habit just because some well-meaning outsider tells them they need to.

L... said...

My house is a mess, my son is thriving on hamburger helper and ramen, and there's probably a stack of bills in the mailbox, but who cares? I'm half way through novel number two. And this one might actually be good.

Seriously, I write at the expense of other tasks, I know that. But I usually can tell when I need to step back and take a day off to live in the real world. You know, to visit with the kid and the husband again and let them know I remember their names.

Ted said...

Writing becomes unhealthy for me when I focus on getting published as the fantasy or goal, since that means I'm dependent on intermediaries like agents and editors to reach my goal, and that I'm competing for their limited mindshare with thousands of other aspiring writers. Someone else's gain is my loss, and vice versa.

That's a recipe for frustration, and the last thing the world needs is another frustrated writer.

Writing works best for me when I focus on producing something I feel good about. A big part of that involves re-reading my writing and assessing where/why it doesn't measure up to the work of published authors. Then I can revise it until it's as good as I can make it. At that point I can offer the MS to friends or post it online.

If readers like it, maybe it acquires a life of its own and I can sell it some day.

If not, I know I've done my best, and can move on to the next project.

Anonymous said...

Off Topic:

I tried to sign up a Google Account, but I have to provide a cell phone number. I am hesitant to do this, I do not like giving my cell phone number online. Last time I did that, I received weird calls and they were charged to me.

I don't have AIM and have no idea what the other things mean. I'm very basic when it comes to technology. LOL

Any suggestions?


Cin said...

Writing, like any avocation, is unhealthy when you an no longer tell the difference between your characters and reality, your dreams and you life.
I choose to spend long hours every day at the keyboard because I believe in myself. If anything, writing makes me healthier. If I start to neglect my spouse or my cat, then I am becoming unhealthy. Does skipping the gym once in awhile to finish a chapter mean I'm addicted to my writing? No, but skipping the gym permanently and never finishing the chapter does.
Writing is unhealthy when it becomes so obsessive that you do nothing else--but that goes for just about anything. Even time spent with your family can be unhealthy if you never spend time away from them.

a kelly said...

I like my day job. I love my hobby of writing. I'm ok with the status quo even though so many say to me "You should by published"
I got a good reality check early on by a full time writer/restaurant critic who sometimes feels like he has sold out his art to pay the bills. He's too busy writing wine and food reviews to get back to fiction. The grass is not always greener.

Karma & Adam said...

I think it all depends on what you, and your family, can stomach. I am in awe of those who eat beans and rice in the pursuit of publication. I also never want to be that person. I survived cancer at 30, and life has a clarity now it didn't before. Life is to be enjoyed, so I write because I enjoy how I feel when I'm doing it - it's cathartic for me, creative, and if I never get published, so be it. I will keep my day job.

Laurel said...

Any healthy behavior can become unhealthy. Some people exercise too much, some become so rigid with diet that they can't go out to eat or to someone else's dinner party.

Writing is the same way. If there is no joy in it or some other part of your life gets trashed in the process, you have a problem.

Lynn said...

To T.L. Host:
Woo hoo! Someone read my work - even if it is just a post on a blog. I'm far from making myself sick with rejection, but I'm in that territory of 'am I good enough?' I love writing, and can't see myself giving it up for good, but I don't yet know if I should bury my dreams and simply enjoy it as a hobby without the pressure of trying to get published.

JEM said...

I would say the most unhealthy reason to write is because you are seeking validation as a human being. Many people search for fame and glory because they're not happy with who they are or where they are in life. That's dangerous because it often leads to too much daydreaming and not enough realism. It's great to have goals, but if you're not willing to work for them, and you're not willing to accept that we can't all be Stephen Kings and JK Rowlings, then this is probably not the right job path. Not that I ever suffer from delusions of grandeur...

Jim_Wisneski said...

My thing is simple - if you are writing to become big, famous, wealthy, have a big house, a limo waiting for you at the snap of a finger. . . don't write.

Build a balloon and set your kid off in it so you can get on the news or get a reality TV show deal! :) (I'm kidding with that one.)

I write because I love to. Sure, I take my moments when I imagine waking up and my job for the day is to write, have lunch with my wife and kid, write some more, eat dinner, play with my son, and then write. . . and not worry if the bills will get paid or not.

Bottom line for me is that I write because I enjoy it and as long as I have stories to tell, I will tell them. Even if my family are the only ones who read them.

BUT - you have to have boundaries and limits. You can't give up time with your family or friends - they should serve as inspiration.

Anonymous said...

"I tried to sign up a Google Account, but I have to provide a cell phone number. I am hesitant to do this, I do not like giving my cell phone number online. Last time I did that, I received weird calls and they were charged to me."

I just now set up two Google blogger accounts (first time ever) and Google Profiles. I left the cell phone field blank.

Daniel Allen said...

There's absolutely nothing wrong with encouraging someone to write!! It would be akin to telling someone they can't sing in the shower if they're not good enough to get a record deal!

Arts of any kind are addictive, plain and simple. They relieve our stress, open our minds and hearts, and share a part of ourselves that we otherwise hide from the world. That feeling can easily be more addictive than any drug--illegal or otherwise.

Unfortunately, like any addictive behavior, it has the potential to be all-consuming, the power to destroy all else.

As much as I hate to say it, my writing (right now) is only a hobby. Sure, I probably spend WAY too much time on it, but it never interferes with work or family time.

Would I like to write full time? Of course! Though often the stress of being forced to do something we love sucks all the enjoyment out of it's hard to tell. Either way, I'm not naive (anymore): I don't expect to be able to live off royalties from book sales. That being said, I have to make sure that I strike a balance between all aspects of my life.

That balance can be hard to see for some people and is often the sign of addictive personality types. Their focus and devotion is both a blessing and a curse. Hopefully their eyes open before they destroy their lives.

Keith Popely said...

Nathan, it sounds like you really took a beating from some of the folks who didn't win the paragraph contest. I'm sorry this is the case because you are the most valuable resource on the web for all writers, but especially for the unpublished masses. You should be thanked and celebrated for running what is the single most informative and helpful writing website. I can't seem to recall William Morris hosting a paragraph contest that offers a chance to share work with a 2500+ community of fellow writers, or regularly posting helpful tips, insight and entire articles on how to pursue a career as an author. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that you have put more effort into helping unpublished authors than any other agent in the entire industry. If someone is upset over not winning the paragraph contest or making the list of finalists (as I did not), he or she should probably not be pursuing writing as a career. Being a professional writer (as I was in Hollywood and now am in advertising) is an existence of constant criticism. There are small victories peppered in, but mostly there are just notes for revisions eventually leading to "good enough." The truth is, nobody is Shakespeare. He's dead. There will never be another guy whose every word is golden. The only way to pursue professional writing is to accept that your work (A) will not be perfect, (B) will need work until the day it's published, and even when you've gotten it to the absolute best it can be, (C) will not appeal to everyone. Neil Gaiman is brilliant, but I don't like his work. But other people do. Neil Gaiman will simply have to live out the rest of his days without the pleasure of having me as a fan. And you, dear reader, will have to accept that Nathan just didn't like your paragraph. Grow up. Get over it. Revise it or move on and start working on the next thing.

Anonymous said...

although some people argue writing can be "taught" (hence, conferences, classes ... agent blogs, etc.) what's left out is the reading element. If you're not willing or interested in reading - a lot, often, as a part of your life - writing becomes an idea.

This topic is interesting because it points to how narrative succumbed to the defining element of American culture: gambling. All you need are some chips and a willingness to risk, hey you might "win" big.

But where is the work in this? If people truly believe writing is all about the big "win," wouldn't they be better off starving their children overseas, working as missionaires?

Recently, I clicked on a link to a post by a writer who broke down his e-book sales vs. his publisher's (Hachette.) The former eclipsed the latter & he predicted something like the end of the book business based on this. He then went onto enthuse about writing four - 4! - books a year and how much revenue that could generate and and and ... it was exhausting (and more than a little depressing) to read about his aspirations. Because, in his world - & it sounds like many others share this sentiment - books are widgets - screws, hammers, nails. The goal being to sell AS MANY as possible without any regard for their purpose or craft.

This discourse saddens me. It reduces the written word -which I happen to love - to this interchangeable thing. The point isn't so much what people read - or, if they even do read - but the marketplace. And that, to me, is more indicative of the 'end of literature' than the Kindle, discount chain price battles, and e-Books.

So why do I, Mr. Anon, read? To know myself, to see how others do it, to laugh - at you and myself, to get lost ...

Which is maybe not so different from the writer-gambler person put forth in this post. Except what's lost in that journey is, in my opinion, the pleasure of the word.

Robert McGuire said...

I argue in an essay on The Millions that sometimes writers actively build up unhealthy ways of thinking in order to create.

wishy the writer said...

We're *all* hollering into the abyss, trying to matter just a little bit... to someone, anyone. Some of us holler through writing, some through youtube, others through golf, others through flying saucer hoaxes involving our vulnerable six-year-old. What I try to remember is that mattering to even one person matters enough. If anyone reads my writing, critically or otherwise, I'm truly grateful. I'm trying to communicate something and my reader is trying to understand me. That's enough because that's precisely what humans have done ever since a group of us first agreed that a particular grunt meant "fire" and another one meant "I love you." We're just trying to communicate and to matter. When we go so far as to need attention from such a large number of people that we require publication or international news coverage, however, then we're seriously missing the point. Sure, I enjoy publishing. But I don't enjoy it more than seeing my husband crack a smile when he reads, yet again, another one of my stories I wrote because I'm trying to impress him.

I'm encouraged by blogs and twitter and the ease with which we can all put our voice out there today. Sure, the collective babble is deafening. But it always has been. We have always wanted to matter. Each and every one of us. A step away from planet Earth has always heard the reverberation of countless clucking human tongues. I'm certain of that. And perhaps when we're *all* publishing on blogs or books or what have you, we'll finally see with whom it *really* matters that we communicate: our loved ones. Increasingly, I'm choosing to direct my megaphone away from the abyss and toward my family in the form of my love poems, stories and novels. I want *them* to hear me most.

Seed Magazine comments thought provokingly on universal authorship here:

Matilda McCloud said...

I never think of writing as an addiction. As to whether we should be encouraged to keep going or to quit? I wish I knew the answer to that. If I ever publish fiction, I will be able to say to my family, well, you see, all the sacrifices (mainly of time) have been worthwhile! If not, I'm just another delusional writer. But unfortunately that's something I don't much control over. Just gotta keep doing it and see what happens and keep my life as balanced as possible.

Giles said...

For me, personally, I grew up in a family where my dad almost obsessed over the company he was trying to start, and for a long time, our entire family wondered if we would get kicked out of our home because we couldn't pay off the 1.5 million dollars of debt on the business. Granted, the business is stable, now, and it pays MY bills as well as several people not related to me.

As a result of that upbringing, though, I vowed never to drag my wife down into that pit of "where is our next meal coming from?" just because my ego demands that I attempt to make up stories and sell them to the masses. As much as it kills me to get up and go to work every day when I could be working on my novel, I'm not selfish enough to ignore the responsibility that I took on when I said, "I do".

D. G. Hudson said...

Writing is unhealthy when it consumes everything else. Balance should be achieved in one's life, or the inner spirit will wither and die.

I tend to like the discipline approach to fitting writing in at a particular time each day.

T. Anne said...

What a great introspective Pamplona shared. I can too easily see writers slipping into the nether world of their imaginations. But each writer has to strike his/her own balance. I have four kids and a great husband, so my writing is on my own time which isn't much but I make it happen. Some mom's scrapbook or knit, I write. I never miss a family outing or movie night. I do get creative with my time, but only because I want to get the most of my day. I wish writing was my day job and perhaps someday it will be but for now, I take it when I can get it.

Other Lisa said...

Hmmm...when I was younger I might have agreed that writing is an addiction. Now I look on writing as a job. It's a great job and one that I'm better at than most other things. But writing is work, the kind of thing I have to do even when I don't necessarily feel like doing it.

Kate said...

I submit that this has nothing to do with writing or "writer personality", but with the lifestyles often associated with writers.

For most, writing is a second and unpaid job. Just like with single working parents or people working full time while going to school full time, burning the candle at both ends makes us less likely to take care of ourselves and more likely to suffer stress-related physical and mental health issues.

Even if writing is a full time job, working from home (and in some case constant travel) often has the same pitfalls: not enough exercise, poor diet, and not enough social interaction - all of which are bad for mental health. (In fact I just blogged about this last night.)

Noelle said...

This post gave me a bitter sort of chuckle. I spent the last year (and then some) running around to doctors and getting tests done, because basically, my marathon writing tendencies actually injured me. It was very unpleasant, nerve-wracking, and at times terrifying (neurologists are good for that). After I realized the connection between writing and my problem (and realized it wasn't as dramatic as I was lead to believe it might be), my biggest fear was that when I was finally diagnosed, the doctor would tell me that I couldn't write anymore.

That isn't the case, for which I'm very glad. I will however, have to do phyiscal therapy excersizes for my entire life--at least, if I want to write. I haven't even considered giving up writing. I worry how I can maintain a successful writing career under my circumstances. So, I bought dictation software, which I absolutely loath, but will force myself to use.

Unhealthy attitude? Obession? Addiction? Maybe. But, for me, far better than resigning myself to my day job. Writing is my outlet, it's what brings me alive, and giving that up, for me, would be unhealthy.

Now, if I hurt someone else in the process, well, then I'd have to reconsider. There's being dedicated and then there's being irresponsible. When you have a family to support, they should be your first priority. That's what a day job is for.

The Happy Hooker (rug hooking that is) said...

As others have said, moderation is key and knowing your own boundaries. There have been people who traipse their families across North American, living in cars to chase a Tiger Woods destiny. Parents who force feed a sport on their kid, hoping they'll be their retirement ticket a la Gretzky. Parents who (this really sickens me) plaster make-up and seductive clothing on toddlers, to get them a crown. That is obsession and unhealthy. If writers get to that point, then that also is not healthy.

Writers are no different from other artisans who have a deep passion for their art, and we are the only ones that can measure whether it's getting out of hand (or at least someone close to us giving us a reality check).

I started to write when I was caring for my ailing dad, who was dying of cancer. Sitting by his bedside, I used to read to him a lot, and one day, we ran out of books, he said, "just tell me a story you made up." So I did. I always wrote short stories and told tall tales, so he knew I had it in me. That was the day I started my first book, I finished it and I received an offer the day he died, but I know in my heart, he saw the results of our time together and me writing with pen and paper that story.

I'm getting off topic. lol Basically, as with anything, food, gambling, sports, acting, modeling, there has to be a realistic approach that not everyone is going to make it and rejection is part of that realism.

Bloggin and internet reading is also addictive! lol

Renee Pinner said...

I don’t think the negative tendencies of writers described equate addictions, but more obsessions. It is still not good, and definitely something that should require professional help. Unfortunately, too many individuals let their mental health suffer in various endeavors, not just writing, and likely it speaks to a deeper problem than just wanting to be published.
That said the previous commenter(s) who said writing isn’t life are on point. No vocation should be your entire life, or even the definition of you. We’re the sum of all of our roles, and writer, even among the best of us, is only one.

S. Melville said...

That sensitivity sounds like bitterness and immature jealousy. And it sounds like someone who took themselves too seriously, got way way too close to their work and became hugely self-important in their role as 'writer' -- exactly the sort of thing we should be avoiding. We have to learn how to step back and watch the story crumble and accept it and move on. If we're sensitive we're too close to our work and we're quickly on our way to becoming an unbearable person.

So yes, for some people it's an addiction. But it's like anything else you could possibly become addicted to; for different reasons some of us know how to distance ourselves and some of us can do nothing but be completely wrapped up in it.

Anonymous said...

The potential for every writer to be published is greater than ever before. In the digital age there's room for everyone. Some will rise to the top, for sure, but everybody's got an equal shot. You can self-publish your first novel out of the gate and sell it on for christ's sakes! It's easier to get it available for download than it is to write it.

Anyone who's squandering their life savings and destroying their personal life trying to get published, is simply not paying attention. If there's a problem, it's unrealistic expectations. Everyone starts at the bottom and works their way up. The odds of a major publishing picking up an unknown author are pretty slim these days, and the truth is that you just might make more money selling it yourself. And you've definitely got a broader audience if you just go straight to download.

In other words, there are lots of good books that aren't published because of the logistics of publishing. Your manuscript may not be worth the risk of a 40,000 copy print run. However, it's almost certain that someone out there will take a chance and pay a few bucks to download it.

They Happy Hooker (Rug Hooking) said...

I think every writer will feel sensitive about a bad review or rejection letter. It's only human to feel despondent over something you've worked extremely hard on. It's the same as if you got a bad review at work, after working on a project for a few years.

It's how one handles the bad review or rejection that shows what type of writer this person will become.

For myself, when I got a bad review, my knee jerk reaction was to feel hurt and take it personally. That lasted a few seconds and then I thought....why am I giving this one bad review so much power, when I received many positive reviews. I shake it off and move on, same goes with rejection letters.

However, I think if we're all honest, our first reaction is one of either frustration or upset. But I think for most writers who take their craft seriously and want to turn this into a career, they take a few moments to wallow and move on and do better with the next project. Dwelling on anything is not healthy.

Susan Quinn said...

I'm not sure you should ask the addicts this question.

(I'm kidding, people!)

To achieve publicly recognizable success in any field you have to work hard at it. And there will be sacrifices. This kind of striving is not a bad thing, as long as your life doesn't go tilt in the process.

And I have to disagree (sort of) with you Nathan - the odds are not long in writing, they are only long in publishing (I know, that's what you meant). Today, anyone who wants to self-publish to the accolades of their friends and family can easily do so. And the stigma of that is slipping away . . .

I write because I love it, and I work hard at things I love to do. Maybe that means I'll be one of the lucky published few. Maybe not. But the journey is worth the price of admission.

Kait Nolan said...

Should we be encouraging everyone to write? I have to say no. I'm one of those people who hold the fairly unpopular opinion that NOT everyone can write--that it takes both a talent and a good grasp of the English language and grammar. Hey, I teach college students. They've amply proved the theory that the average Joe can barely SPEAK in proper English, and they sure as heck can't write it.

Which is not to say that someone can't improve. Sure they can. If it means enough to them, they can learn the grammar and the English and punctuation. They can study story structure and character motivation and every other academic aspect of craft. But the ability to synthesize all of that into something more than mere words on a page is NOT something that can be learned (in my opinion) but is, rather, innate.

If publication and fame (as it were) are not their goal, if they simply want to write to cultivate ideas, record their thoughts, tell a story for its own sake--then go for it. But it's a simple truth that a whole lot of people are not cut out for the truth of the difficulty of life as a writer. It's not all six figure advances and instant Best Seller success. So I think the kindest thing to do is be sure that if someone wants to write, they're going into it with eyes open, aware of what they're facing--to shift the attitude of entitlement (mentioned by neil up top) toward one of capability.

Gina said...

I don´t think it valid to compare writing, or the pursuit of any form of art, to addiction, as some here have done.

In the pursuit of greatness (artistic, scientific, athletic etc.) humankind fulfils its potential. Sacrifices have to be made, and suffering has to be done, mostly by the artist.

Unfortunately sometimes situations arise where the environment of the artist suffers also, but the alternative is mediocrity, complacency and downright catharginism.

The Happy Hooker (Rug Hooking) said...

I agree with you, Kait. We are bombarded with "based on a true story" type of movies, that show people against all odds achieve remarkable success in a chosen field.

Self help gurus and books, tell us over and over -- if you want it, you can have it. If you work hard at it, it will happen.

Well, as much as I want to be a singer, or think positive and wish it, it will never happen, I cannot carry a tune. If I wanted to be an accountant real bad, no dice, I just don't understand number crunching, math, etc.

I've seen parents tell their children, of course you can be an all star baseball player when you grow up, and that kid cannot handle a ball. Not that I think one should discourage their kids or other people from following their dream, but sometimes you have to give people a reality check.

I remember taking golfing lessons and the instructor kindly said, maybe you would prefer tennis lessons? LOL Quite obvious, I was never going to master golfing.

The Happy Hooker (Rug Hooking) said...

I attended a conference once where Nora Roberts spoke. She is a generous person with advice and very interesting lady.

She talked about how when she first started writing, she would lock herself in her office and told her two boys, unless one of you is bleeding, do not disturb me. lol

She talked about how she ate, slept, breathed her plot and characters and that she worked 20 hours a day for months on end. That's dedication and obviously it has paid off. I think she still works just as hard.

She says in interviews that she doesn't want to travel, she loves to stay home and write. I don't think that's obsession, I think it's dedication to her craft and her family hasn't suffered, she's given them a wonderful life.

She also stated in an interview that if she were submitting today, she'd probably never get published, so writers should not try to emulate her. lol

She's one of the high profile authors I admire, because she does not come across as a Diva or drama queen, she does her thing and counting the books she's sold worldwide, she does it very well.

The Pollinatrix said...

I have a problem with absolutes, and I think we're too health-obsessed in western industrialized countries.

I'm a lifelong writer who wasn't writing because I was "putting family first," but that wasn't ultimately "healthy," for me or for my family. One of the reasons I avoided writing is because of how quickly I become obsessed with it. But that's the nature of the beast, isn't it?

I've managed now to devise an order for my day that allows me to indulge that obsession but also care for my family and everything else that needs caring for in my life. But, as Liesl pointed out, sometimes sacrifices will be asked of family members to accommodate a writing project. And, for that matter, other kinds of projects that don't revolve around them.

I agree that it's all about balance, but, this world being what it is, that balance will not be static. Sometimes there will be more weight on one side of the scale, and sometimes more on the other. And there are fine distinctions to be made when evaluating the worth of an activity. Writing something off as an addiction and therefore bad is not always the way to go.

The truly important thing to me is to be as mindful as possible of what I'm doing, why I'm doing it, and how it's affecting me and my environment. To ask myself, "What is it really worth?"

I'd like eventually to publish some books, but I write because I love to, and because I need to. I'm just more myself when I'm writing.

What I've recently realized is that what I want more than to be published is to have readers, to be engaged in dialog through my writing. Blogging satisfies that desire rather well.

Anonymous said...

Everything's good in moderation.

DG said...

I'm lucky to have a well paying full-time job. Writing for me is still at a hobby level, although I do have a dream of writing for a living.

I was taken over by the story that became my first novel. When I began writing I did so only during my lunch hour while at work. This minimized the impact on my family. It also put less pressure on me to perform. Now my lunch hour is sacred to me. If I don't write during lunch I get cranky, and anxious that my WIP isn't moving forward.

The pressure now that it is finished is when will it be published. I've talked about the project for so long, have spent so much time, have shared my dreams, that others have come to expect success.

Because there has been essentially no financial impact to my family, I can enjoy the peace that comes with knowing I set out to write a novel and did it. That alone is an incredible feeling.

Mira said...

Great comments here. I really like people's distinction between writing and publishing.

In terms of your last question, Nathan, should we be encouraging everyone to write? Well, I think definitely. While also encouraging them to care for themselves.

But I think the underlying question is: should we encourage everyone one's dream to be published?

Well, I can say that if I were an agent, I'd stay very neutral on that question.

I'll tell you why - it's unfair to place anyone in the role of 'dream-killer.' It's beyond a job description, it's just not fair.

Also, people need to come to that by themselves. It's their path, and I wouldn't want to cut it short, although I might ask them the question: "what do you think?" If I thought they had potential and talent, I might say that, but I would still let it be up to them.

But lastly, I wouldn't say it because I could be wrong either way. I work with substance abusers. It's always surprising to me who actually recovers. It's not always the bright, motivated person with tons of social support. It can be. But sometimes, it's the one that comes into my office and I secretly think to myself: "that one's a lost cause." Then one day, that 'lost cause' pops into my office, tells me they are getting clean and never uses drugs again.

You can't predict someone's path.

In terms of friends, I encourage them to follow their dream. If I think their dream is off-track abit, and/or their single-minded pursuit of it is hurting them, I might venture an obvseration or a kind word. But mostly, I support people's dreams.

For one thing, it's not always the attainment of the dream that's important. It can be the striving for it. Also, dreams can morph into other, far better dreams. Sometimes the more natural process is the best one.

Of course, I might be wrong. There could be a compelling argument for saving people time and energy. But I think I would save that for a mentor who had an intimate knowledge of the student's work.

Josin L. McQuein said...

You can attribute some of the assumptions about fame and wealth coming easy to writers with the TV-series version of what a writer is.

You've got several shows where at least one character is a full time writer/full time - anthropologist/federal agent/crime fighter/Medical Examiner/whatever. And every time one of those characters puts pen to paper, they become instant smash hits with obsessed fans and more money than they can burn.

You have people with serious personality disorders, who can barely hold a conversation because she doesn't relate to anyone... yet somehow manages to write novels with deep and engaging characters that appeal to the everyman.

You have people who write and submit typed pages on manual typewriters (or better, in pen!) and refuse to use a computer for their writing because the "muse" doesn't work that way.

You have million dollar advances being tossed around left and right with the plot of the story being the risk of repayment if the book tanks.

You have publishers sitting down with the writer to "design" the book, layout, and cover in person over lunch.

Then, you add in an economical slump, layoffs, and people with no experience in the industry, no investment of time looking up how the industry works, and zero interest in writing a book beyond having it in their "to do" list for "someday, and you get a bunch of desperate people who believe the hype and think it's as simple as firing off 90,000 words (or even 20,000 for those who don't know better) and choosing who gets the pleasure of publishing them.

They don't take the time to see how much real writers make or how most of them live. They think if they can just get that one book done and "out there", then the cash will pour in while they sit back and wait for the royalty checks and movie options.

Things like craft and editing never enter into the equation because the goal was a quick (and sometimes very much needed) buck.

Visit some writer centric sites and see how many people ask questions about those big advances, and how long the average advance will keep them afloat if they quit their job. Or those who want to know how to deal with rabid fans before the book is even out on query (Should I wear a disguise the day my book hits shelves just in case someone recognizes me?) See how many people expect a book sold today, and then to see it on shelves and best seller lists within a matter of months. Read the rants about how cruel and mean agents and editors are for not snapping up their brilliance first thing. Or the ones who dissect every form rejection like gospel and try to find hidden meaning behind "not for me" and "no thank you".

Nett Robbens said...

Like any writer, we want to see our words in print and our thoughts shared with others. I enjoy seeing my byline on a completed article (during the day, I write for a newspaper) for a couple of reasons—it pays the bills and allows me to do what I love.

My pursuit to become a published novelist is a dream that I finally have time to work on, and I do so every day. However, I won’t allow my dream to interfere with my reality, which currently puts food on the table. Nathan, as always, I enjoy your blogs. I learn something new every day.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

I think it's about focusing on the journey. People have stories to tell. Whether they have the know-how to tell them well is a different thing. And whether they have the drive to learn what it takes is a whole other thing, too.

One of the reasons I'm so exciting about the coming changes in the industry is that one won't necessarily have to have a book on the shelf to be "successful" or even make a decent amount of money.

Addiction is a loaded word, and I think the people who view it that way need to take a tough look at why they're writing and what their achievement level is. I used to think of writing that way, to a degree. When I gave up thinking of writing as an addiction, I approached it in a healthier manner, thought of it as a journey, and then I finally started to learn and improve.

Bethany Mattingly said...

As many other writers out there, I write for the enjoyment I receive in doing so. I find joy in writing because it balances out the other parts of me. If those other bits were abandoned, I don't think that I would feel the same way about writing…its all about finding priorities and balance in life.

Malanie Wolfe said...

Anything can be made "unhealthy."

Yes, everyone who enjoys writing should be encouraged to write. It is a subjective/creative expression just like painting - it comes from the heart.

What is ugly to one person is beautiful to another.

Christopher Ing said...

Writing becomes unhealthy when it becomes the only thing that defines you.

Anonymous said...

When is writing unhealthy?

When you let it define you, which is something I've always worked hard not to do.

I'm posting anon for two reasons. I don't want it to look like I'm hocking books, and I don't want my readers or my agent to know that my work doesn't define me. Just as long as I know it, is all that matters.

ryan field said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sex scenes at starbucks said...

Another thing, I wholeheartedly agree that no one should discourage a writer to write. Who are we to make that call? But moreover, I liken this very conversation (sorry Nathan) to when my kids tattle.

I always ask them, "Who are you in charge of?"

"Just myself," they say.

Anonymous said...

Writing is a hard industry to break into. Even with a great book or idea (non-fiction) that doesn't guarantee you won't receive more rejections than a pimply teenage boy approaching the prom queen.
For many writers, ridiculous time spent writing then rewriting and then all the last minute proofreads, attending conferences, trying to network on Twitter or Facebook where many authors and agents don't want to chat with you unless you can boost their own careers, are the prices we have to pay into order to strike gold. There are those who should never attempt to pick up a pen, but who's going to take the time out of their own busy schedule to read it and then break the hard news that they suck, therefore crushing their dreams? I don't think anyone should put their writing career or any other career for that matter in front of their own family and health, but aspiring authors have a tough initiation to get through if they ever want to play with the big dogs.

Terry said...

Not my place to discourage anyone from their dreams. It's too subjective.

Ficiton writing is an art, not a science. I think of all the stories about actors and writers, who were told time and again they were gargage and to quit. Then they became huge successes. I wouldn't want to chance discouraging any one.

As far as ruining their lives over writing, I don't know anyone who comes even close to that. It can't be typical.

Jason said...

Great question Nathan...I don't claim to have any answers to this (other than you should NEVER let anything threaten your family), but I was thinking about this the other night when I was watching a 60 Min segment about Drew Barrymore.

She said that she believes that all the probs she had in her childhood and teen years were actually good because of how she's overcome them. It's hard to argue that she's overcome a LOT to become a huge hit, but I'm not convinced that she needed to experience a complete meltdown to achieve her current success. Personally I lean toward the idea that she always had the potential for greatness, but did not live up to it until she started doing things that make sense.

Anyway, that's my pop psychology lesson for today... :)

Thermocline said...

A stack of journals holds a quiet place in a closet near my bedroom. Writing, forcing unkempt emotions to solidify into still words, helped when I've needed clarity throughout my life.

Should everyone be encouraged to write?


Encouraging others to write with the goal of being published is not nearly as therapeutic.

Jennifer Leeland said...

I've always believed the difference between the unsuccessful author and the successful one is that the the unsuccessful author gave up.
In a business that can be a vacuum, dog eat dog, brutal, a time sucking vortex of depression and downright crappy, it's easy to hang it up.
It's NOT easy to keep going, keep improving, keep AT IT.
Now, having said that, I'm one who has become convinced that writing can stale, stressful and unhealthy. That means I need a break.
It's WAY too easy to listen to the voices out there of "what sells", "what's good" and "what's next".
When I spend too much of my time listening to those voices instead of my characters, I'm in trouble.
Yes, this profession takes sacrifice. But every job does.
The trick is to balance it all.....which is a blog post all by itself.

abc said...

This is interesting (as Larry David might say). Artist types are tricky. I agree with many other commenters, any time you do anything to the detriment of your family than you have a problem. (Hello there, Mr. Heeme, Goslins, Randy "The Ram"). And I don't think you can just blame being a writer or being an artist but a larger, much deeper problem.

I take Paxil so I can lead a mentally healthy life and highly recommend it to those who can't get out of bed in the morning. If you have a personality disorder there isn't much that can be done, I'm afraid. And people with personality disorders love to make explosive comments on websites, it seems.

Rejection hurts but I can move on. I only write when I'm enjoying it. And I kinda like beans and rice (vegetarian, that's me).

I don't think I've answered the question. Ah well. Ritalin?

Kristin Laughtin said...

I think there's a difference between encouraging someone to write, and encouraging someone to write to the exclusion of all else. Whether you write as a habit or as a job (primary or secondary), I firmly believe there are ways to balance your life so that writing doesn't cost you your family/job/health/sanity. When I hear about those tortured artists who sacrificed everything but made it big, I don't celebrate that. It makes me sad that they had to do it, and makes me question whether such an extreme approach was really necessary. And it infuriates me when I see other writers, agents, publicists, editors, or people who think they know more than they do harp on writers for not spending enough time on writing, for spending time with their families or getting sick or enjoying anything besides writing.

Yes, writing, especially with an eye toward publication, is hard work. It likely includes some sacrifices: less time to watch TV, more time at the computer or hunched over a stack of paper, less time for other activities. But I firmly believe that if you spend all your time writing (or pursuing any one thing, really), you're either going to burn out, run out of things to write about because you're not experiencing anything, or turn to unhealthy behaviors to keep going. I also think wrapping your identity up in one thing is dangerous, especially if it's something that most people aren't going to be able to achieve. Yes, writing can be an addiction, and that's not good. Anything taken to the extreme can be an addiction.

I think we can encourage people to write, but we should also encourage them to be reasonable. A little restructuring of one's life is fine, but if it starts taking a toll on one's relationships, health, happiness, or sanity, it should be seen as OK to step back and re-evaluate whether this hobby or career is really worth it. For some people, this might mean giving up writing entirely, and that doesn't mean they're bad people. But I think the majority can find a healthy balance, even if it means it takes them a bit longer to write that book.

StrugglingSerpent said...

You don't have to be Michael Jordan to play playground basketball. You don't have to be Pavarotti or Mick Jagger to sing in the shower. When is writing unhealthy? When it kills you.

Anonymous said...

Great post. Although I haven't jeopardized my job or my family and never would, I seem to be over doing it right now. My house is a mess and even though I say I'm going to workout everyday, I keep sitting at the computer. I’ve got to start turning this thing off after two and a half hours and do some other stuff!

Natasha Fondren said...

I think it's none of our business whether someone decides to write or not. They are an adult, it is their life, and I'm sure they have their reasons. If they've made the decision, then our job is to respect that and, unless we're their enemy and our life's dream is to butt into other people's business, we should support and encourage them.

Our society spends too much time judging others.

*Rice and beans is FAR HEALTHIER than what most Americans serve their kids.

Shannon said...

Writing does not need to be done to the exclusion of all other activities. I've always had a job, I've been married 14 years, I have a 3 year old child, they all come first. The thing is, my other responsibilities don't detract from my writing. They feed and inform it. It may take me a really long time to finish something but I am able to bring to it a richness that I would not have if I only lived, breathed and ate writing and reading every day. I am also very much a "backburner" writer. I do not write every day and I do not try, unless I am motivated to do so. Sometimes a thing has to be left alone to work itself out. It's been my experience that when the writing comes to me on its own, when my subconscious has worked it all out while I am doing other things, then it's better writing than anything that I might force out. So I'm comfortable with the idea that I am "working" on my novel even when I'm not sitting at the computer, punching keys.

David Kubicek said...

I have a long-standing policy never to tell anyone that they can't write and would be better off looking at other career options. After all, one of William Faulkner's professors advised him to quit writing because he wasn't very good at it. And I can remember what utter dreck I wrote when I was beginning. Writers who persist will learn to write well, and writers who write well will be published (This assumes, of course, that they know the market for which they are writing).

Solvang Sherrie said...

Does lack of sleep count as unhealthy?

I've been revising the last two nights and got a total of four hours sleep. For two nights. I'm running on adrenaline over here, but damn that book is better now! M

y cooking, cleaning, driving...I can't really speak for. I guess it could be quite dangerous...

Scott said...

I don't think being passionate about writing and a writing career causes problems in any way. It's like blaming the gun for the crime.

Some people have a propensity for self-destruction and they'll crash and burn on their "drug" of choice as a matter of dark course, but I don't see how writing, or a dogged adherence to the rigorous road of authorship, is inherently connected in the least.

I'm sure most aspiring authors are covering their butts while they pursue their dreams.

Terry said...

Well said, Natasha Fondren! I agree. We've become a society of meddlers and scolds.

I like sex scenes at starbucks' anecdote about her kids too. Good mom.

JDuncan said...

Writing is a solitary pursuit. To this end, it's a fairly selfish endeavor. It's by us and for us. Family, job, cleaning, outdoor activities, they all get shelved to pursue it. It's not a full time pursuit, unless of course you are making your primary living with it. You may dream that it will become that, but to pursue it as though it is would be a great disservice to yourself and those around you. In my opinion one should not be willing to write without first being willing to do it without ever making money at it. Because odds are, you won't. Even if you do sell, the odds are you won't make a living at it. Don't get into this with the idea of generating your primary income through writing. Don't encourage people to pursue writing without telling them the realities.

I've sold a book. I hope to develop this into a career that makes my primary income. There's a good chance this won't happen. I'm fully aware of this, and will not drop my other responsibilities in life to pursue this dream. I can't afford to, and also, I'm just not that selfish a person.

Chris Bates said...

You're in trouble if you're a gambler.

Anyone who is sitting at their table tapping away with the hope of writing a bestseller that makes them some big bucks may as well head over to the roulette wheel - your chances are much better over there.

I'm not just talking about beginners either, I'm talking mid-list writers who are trying to build a back-list that one day pays the bills. Honestly, there are easier ways to make money.

My guess is that anyone who sacrifices family time, interaction with friends, healthy exercise and community engagement for endless keyboard time will inevitably show all the hallmarks of depression. Reclusive desires, sensitivity, low self-esteem, angst-ridden or highly emotional writing. You know, the 'woe is me' thing ... we've all been there.

Of course, these may be the personal traits of many legendary writers, but they are also an indicator of unbalanced personalities.

Put it in perspective. Books are just ink on paper (mostly), the 'I REALLY NEED to write' defense is a construct of wealthy western advantage. The easiest cure to this kind of thinking is to stop reading literary/publishing/agent blogs for a couple of weeks. You'll soon discover how unimportant books are to most of the world.

So, by all means, spend some time knocking out a novel, starting a business, building a cult... whatever. But do it whilst being involved with normal life that is sprinkled with kids, family, friends, career.

Or don't. Feel free to ante up. Maybe you'll be a huge bestseller. All the power to you if that happens.

Anonymous said...

When I take a coffee break at work and spend 2 hours writing in my office instead of doing the necessary paper work, it is risky behavior. When that becomes a habit it is unhealthy.

Charlie said...

Using your own blood could be downright detrimental to your health. You need to sterilize the knife before you cut and clean the wound afterwards. Using someone else’s blood is so much easier. Why bother with your own?

Oh! Silly me. I misunderstood the question.

Never write while your driving. Unless you’re dictating.

I love being helpful! :)

Chris Bates said...

@ Charlie:

I'm a constant dictator whilst driving.

"If you bloody kids don't shut the hell up and do what I tell you, I swear to god that I'm gonna stop the friggin' car and make you both walk to the playground naked."

Lis Garrett said...

I've got three kids and a husband, so it's a no-brainer (for me) that they come before anything. I just finished the first revision of my YA book today and will hand it off to my group of friends who've been reading it from the beginning for them to edit. Then I will devote even more time to polishing it so that I can spend 2010 trying to find an agent and publisher. And if that doesn't work out, at least I'll know I gave it my best shot.

The only money I've invested has been for a creative writing course, and it's something my husband urged me to pursue. Once you cross over that line where other priorities are suffering, you need to put down the pen and step away from the keyboard. As long as my family isn't complaining or going hungry, I'll continue to write.

If I can't make this work in another year or two once all my kids are in school, though, then I might have to get a "real" job. ;-)

Oh, and everyone should be encouraged to write, but not everyone should be published (and perhaps I'm one of those people).

Bron said...

As others have said, everything in moderation. Writing to the exclusion of family, friends and day job is unhealthy, but so is spending all your waking moments at your day job, or all your time hanging out with friends.

Writing will require sacrifices, and there will be periods where you can't spend as much time with family and friends, but these periods shouldn't be all the time.

Encouraging people to write is fine. Encouraging people to publish is another thing. But I don't think you can really tell someone that they'll never be published, because people can work on their craft and get better over time. But I think it's ok to say, 'This particular piece isn't ready to be published. Maybe you should work on something else.'

Matty Byloos said...

Seems to me this is pretty clear -- As a creator of things, I've had a pretty solid foothold in both the art world (as a painter) and in the literary world (as a published author only of late). That being said, I've NEVER managed to find happiness in anything even remotely resembling "chasing the dream." I write and make art because I want to, because there is pleasure to be found in the activity of doing either, and because in terms of my identity, that's how I define myself. As a younger version of the current me, I definitely had expectations of what was going to happen career-wise. And that was how I managed to be unhappy doing what I was doing.

The world owes every one of us exactly nothing. To set up the game for yourself on the foundation that you deserve certain successes, such as getting anything published, is simply a recipe for disaster.

I recommend finding the reward in the love of your own evolution as a maker of things. Take the extra energy if you have any, and develop a community of trusted fellow writers or whatever, around you. Give to others in a similar spot, instead of looking for what you can get out of the world. And really think about whether what you make is more important than the fellow human beings who surround you.

That's my two cents...

Anonymous said...

I agree with Gina.

For me at least, the 'real world' holds little to no value. I don't have many friends; I'm not interested in romance; study bores me, and I have no career aspirations.

The prospect of a mediocre life seems pointless to me. Marriage, kids, job? I just don't care. Becoming a writer is probably less than a 0.00000001% chance for me, but I would rather spend my life failing at the one thing I enjoy than waste it doing something I have a 99% chance of doing well in, but being miserable about it.

I only have to look around the subway every morning to see that people out there in the 'real world' are pretty damn gloomy.

lora96 said...


That's just disturbing.

My opinion of telling writers they are not cut out for it is this: If the style and plot are that abysmal, please please tell me not to quit my day job. I will take a hard look at the writing and either be galvanized to "prove you wrong" by improving, or else I'll quit. Well before anyone has to live on rice and beans. Honestly.

Carl Selby said...

I personally set my alarm for 05:25am; write for two hours; go to work and manage a care home for eight hours; then go to university for two hours in the evening!

I think it's really important to make sure your family are behind you BEFORE you start on your writing journey - this could mean the difference between success and failure. I am fortunate enough to have a wonderful fiance who understands my need to be me.

Why not visit my blog at to follow my journey to publication. Add me by RSS, leave a post with your details, and I'll return the favour and follow you.


Carl Selby

Joann said...

Anon 2:30 - it's amazing how the day-to-day mundane can become so much sweeter when you get to spend a little time each day doing something you truly love. Without the balance, life (for me) becomes quickly unsatisfying. I feel guilt-ridden and wallow in more self-doubt when I spend too much time writing. If I didn't have my brilliant husband, three spoiled cats, and my 8-5 job, I wouldn't enjoy writing half as much. Writing is my reward for working my butt off on everything else. As Stephen King so eloquently put it, "If you can do it for the joy, you can do it forever." My joy includes the mundane.

Word verification: cincing. I'm sure this has an especially deep meaning, but my work-mode brain is missing it. Damn!

Linda Godfrey said...

I think it's fine to encourage everybody to write -- but not to engender belief that everyone will be published or be able to live off their writing. So much of the general public believes anyone who writes a book will probably get rich from it. It's sadly astonishing. And I do know people whose lives have been negatively impacted because they expected to "hit the big one" from publishing a small press or self-published book. I also know a writer whose first book was a megahit and so went crazy buying homes and luxuries which later had to be sold when the next books didn't measure up.

I think there should be much more education on the business end of writing so that people will go in with eyes at least half open.

And rice and beans can be very delicious.

Larry Muse said...

I would hope that I could rely on the honesty of the professionals. If in the opinion of a professional agent my writing has no hope of ever being published I for one would like to have that information, even if I decided to ignore it and continued to write. If I received many (three or more.) of these answers I would sit in a corner and cry for thirty seconds and then try some other endeavor and only write for my friends and myself.

Perhaps it would also be to the benefit of the agents as I would most likely not send my detractors any more of my work; therefore cutting down on their work load.

Regan Leigh said...

I agree with Kristi. - "Wow, I found Gordon's comment to be sad but don't think it applies to most writers. If someone has an addictive personality, they tend to substitute another addiction when one recedes."

Writing is a healthy passion for most writers. Even if they never succeed in the publishing end of things, they reap rewards in other areas of their life. It's all about balance and self-awareness to ones own priorities.

Maureen said...

I don't think there is anything unhealthy in a daily writing habit. It's just that in our culture we have a star mentality. We worship all stars -- sports, music, movie, TV and authors. And some writers don't feel like a true writer unless they are pursuing publication. They forget that a writer is someone who writes and not just a blockbuster author. It was suggested in an earlier post, the problem may be the pursuit of publication that gets out of hand. As with anything we choose to do with our lives, there has to be balance.

sex scenes at starbucks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
wickerman said...

Not to be a big let down after all the posts trying to explain some of the causes and ramifications for obsessive writers, but I have a bit of a twisted take.

If you look at musicians, artists, writers etc, you will find that those activities tend to provide a screen for assholes who want to hide their brand of stupid/crazy/anti-social/pathetic/brooding/anger or whatever else behind the label of 'tortured artist'.

Now I'm sure there are a few otherwise normal folks who let their writing (or whatever else) go to far, but the real nutjobs are likely imbeciles who tried to slap the 'I'm really creative' label on the fact that they need a kick in the head.

Just saying is all :)

Paula said...

I don't think writing is different from any other pursuit that harms relationships or wreaks havoc on finances. The problem is with the individual, not writing per se.

LCS249 said...

There's almost no danger/unhealthiness that I can think of ... except getting too much into one's own head.

Writing is a lonely, cerebral activity. It requires almost shutting out contact and intrusions of any kind in order to truly focus.

For myself, I can sense a point when I've actually been at it too long, to the point of having some difficulty re-engaging.

Quite different than being a musician, a potter, a painter ...

Anonymous said...

Writers write because they have to. Hobbyists hang it up or write when they feel "inspired."

Artists don't have to be nice guys; they have to feed their art. Would you have wanted to be friends with Proust or Picasso, Tolstoi or Van Gogh or Beethoven? Probably not. Is the world a better place because they fed their art? Indeed.

Bonnie Ferron said...

Our society doesn't validate anything but success. No one wants to be stamped with the label "Loser," and yet you can't achieve without trying and sometimes falling flat on your face. The secret is, I think, to let go of the result. Do your best, send it out, and move on to the next story.

Trish said...

I don’t need any encouragement to write, I’m already addicted. It’s become part of my life and I can’t stop. I’d never give up even if somebody did suggest I would never get published, ‘cause I know I will!

Personally, I would never tell another writer that they’d never get published. If they’re passionate enough, they’ll just keep learning how to write better.

‘Naughty Stories for Good Boys and Girls’ is a best seller and the author, Christopher Milne, was turned down by many publishers and agents. He self published in the year 2000and his first book was the winner of the Young Australian Best Book of the Year Award. He now has thirteen books in one great volume and it’s still on the best seller shelf in book shops.

Pete Pescatore said...

Trouble is, as they say about people in Hollywood, 'nobody knows anything', meaning nobody can predict what's going to be a hit, what people will like, what's even good - at least before it's out there and able to be judged. In any case there's always a cost to making art, and often it's the family who pays, along with the artist/writer. Like addicts who don't know when to stop or can't when they know they should, writers keep going, even to the point of self-destruction. It's always a matter of negotiation, how much or little you're prepared to give up, how self-absorbed you are, how determined to make it, how (un)lucky you are, how willing you are to fight for what you want/need, and how much your loved ones are willing/able to put up with. You have to wonder why everybody wants to be a writer, and everybody thinks they can write. What's so great about being a writer? You're alone most of the time with only your dreams for company, the people you make up, and with what possible reward? Somebody who says, ten years down the road, 'oh, I read your book. What was it about again?' Or, if you're lucky, 'oh, I read that. Weird. Is is autobiographical?' In short, a gazillion reasons to give up, go cold turkey and get a real job. But no... here we all are, writing, dreaming, waiting like so many Cinderellas for Prince Nathan to appear at the door.

Gordon Pamplona said...

Thank you, Nathan, for highlighting my question for discussion, and for everything else you do on behalf of writers at all stages. And thanks to all of the people who have contributed their thoughtful comments to this discussion.

Jeffrey said...

You should almost always support someone's enthusiasm when they express it (unless they are just insulting you, as Nathan described a few days ago). Later, or sometime after you support them, you can, helpfully, and if they want it, let them know about the resources you know about and give them a clue that there are standard and what it might take. But there is no saying that a person won't gather the skills and resources they need if they are passionate about their idea.

If they are just fantasizing about writing without any connection to reality (as in, I want to be surgeon, maybe I can start tomorrow), they will find out when you direct them to the resources. In any case, people can enjoy writing even if they don't get far in the published world.

You can organize an intervention if it starts to ruin their life. The chances are so small for that though that you are better off supporting their enthusiasm. It could always change to golf tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

It's the agony and the ecstasy.

Kristi said...

Is writing an addiction or an inspired passion? Who's to say? We humans are wired to receive a jolt from instant gratification triggers.

Why would writing be any different?

Perhaps the difference, as with drinking, is found in the person. Some may be doing it to polish a craft while others are doing it for the thrill of the feedback, thus when they don't get the kind of feedback they're looking for they become inappropriately irate.

Carolyn B said...

I don't think writing itself can ever be unhealthy. The whole argument reminds me of the one about money - is it the root of all evil? NO. The PURSUIT of money is the evil. The relentless pursuit of publication and/or recognition may be unhealthy. I know one young man who claims he is a writer and has a miserable life, but his problems go way beyond any writing "addiction" he may have.

C.D. Reimer said...

When your eyeballs are bloodshot and you can't explain how you got red ink on your nose while editing your novel for the nth time.

Scott said...

I'll say this, too: addiction is often a response to having experienced a high and wanting it back. Sorry, but I'm chasing no highs with my writing. I haven't had any!

However, I do feel a certain euphoria when I've completed a book and look forward to feeling it again. So I work and I get better and I work some more. Feels healthy to me.

Anonymous said...

A balanced life makes for a better, balanced writer. Where else can you get all your ideas for plots, characters, dialogue, etc? Frankly, I get bored sitting alone for hours so I don't write enough, but when I'm on a roll and excited, I can make progress.
If I don't force myself to write, it can still be fun.

Diamond said...

I teach in the field of adult education and run a creative writing workshop for people with mental disabilities. Also completed an MA in History last year and along the way I've had a couple of novels published and three of my plays performed on the professional stage. BUT I am not self-supporting. No way could I look after our 2 kids et al on the money I've made - either from writing and/or teaching. When people ask me how I do so much, I've always quipped: "I have a husband who supports my habit!"
I take it as read that this writing I do is an addiction. And I have a source, a supplier. Or I could see it as having a patron - my partner in the role of Lorenzo de Medici to my Michelangelo (which implies a level of wealth on his part and talent on mine that might be somewhat exaggerated; but bear with me.)
I don't know what I'd do if I didn't have him. I suspect I'd find a way to keep writing because if I don't write I'm only half alive. (I wrote long before I knew him).
But the question of encouraging EVERYbody to write? Perhaps people who do that could be seen as the enablers to the addicts, but ultimately each addict, each writer, each artist, is accountable for his/her own life decisions. Because someone tells me I can or I should write, because someone holds out the drug as I pass by, doesn't oblige me to accept it. But if I do, I need to understand it's because they're offering something I want (or saying words I really want to hear about my'talent' or 'ability' etc.) So ultimately it's nobody's responsibility - and certainly nobody's fault - but my own.

Colette said...

Well I may sound like a broken record. Yesterday I said it wasn't just writers and artists that can be sensitive. Today I'm here to tell you that writers and artists aren't the only careers where not everyone makes it. Writers and artists aren't the only ones who are workaholics and eat beans and lose their wives and families. Every industry has a pyramid where only a few reach the top. As a cross-over who spend many years in the corporate world, I can tell you -- without reservation -- there are people who feel this way everywhere.

Diana said...

An interesting question. I think if one is doing anything whether it is writing or some other hobby to such an extent that their children, their spouse, their friends, etc. never see them or they're going way into debt to pursue that hobby, then there is a problem.

Becoming a Best Selling Author will not solve your personal problems. It will make you happy for a little while, but you'll still have to deal with the reality of your life, whatever that may be. So, yes, writing to avoid dealing with personal problems isn't healthy.

Literary Cowgirl said...

I find myself so guilty. For over 1 1/2 years, I've been writing my heart out, trying to please the publisher who showed interest in my story.I revised through a major surgery, and my wedding (to give some more extreme examples). Not long ago, I finally signed the contract! My husband was away, so I went home, fed my children and pulled up the latest revisions from my editor. No celebrating what so ever. By the end of last week, I was lucky to have my agent talk me down off the ledge, because I was ready to blow from the pressure.

Then I stopped and took a minute. I played Little People with my children. We baked cookies and made blanket forts. I took them to see Where The Wild Things are, and afterward, we went for rootbeer floats. I did absolutely nothing that was writing related.

Today, I dug in on the latest round and finished after four hours. I didn't accomplish half as much in the past two weeks I had been pecking away constantly at it. And, I had some really strong new elements to add that never occurred to me before.

Lesson learned. Get out and enjoy life. An hour in a blanket fort will earn you three or four in front of your computer. And, your kids will be much happier, too.

Gabriella said...

Substitute any one passion for “writing” and the question is the same. We want the success but need to be noticed. What grander way than to be published? Who doesn’t want to win the blue ribbon, get the gold star or grab the brass ring? It’s what separates us from others. We need to be the spotted zebra.

Hobbies and habits can be good things; what messes it up is the attitude. I write whenever I can. I think about writing and characters and watch what people say and the odd things they do and how they dress and wonder why. I also get up at 5:00, go to work, cook, clean, shop, read, and plop down on the couch and watch The Big Bang Theory, if I don’t fall asleep first. I would love to be published and think I could be but will it happen? I don’t know. Right now it’s enough for me to write it all down.

Should we encourage everyone to write? I’m not a crusader but there are times when I have suggested to people they write – a note to a teen they can’t seem to talk to, a letter to a friend they may not send, a journal to help get over a bad relationship or sort out thoughts after a layoff. Writing is very personal and it doesn’t help unless you aren’t afraid to let it all hang out. Writing isn’t for everyone, neither is running, boat building, sewing, gardening, or kick-boxing. You have to do your own thing with an even attitude. Moderation with a splash of obsession won’t hurt anyone. But you also have to remember to feed the cat.

Dawn Maria said...

The agent hunt left me without my mojo for most of the summer and well into the fall. I'm almost out of my malaise, and look forward to enjoying writing again. (have a conference coming that will fire me up.)

As difficult as this has been so far, I'm glad I'm here trying to make it happen. I'm learning a lot about myself, meeting great people and going to sleep every night knowing I'm doing everything possible to make a dream come true.

I do neglect things at times, but I believe the cost of not trying would be greater than having the housework and laundry caught up on.

Nikole Hahn said...

Be gentle. Be realistic. Not everyone who picks up a pen is a writer. Writing, I agree, can be an addiction. This is why I space everything out to accomplish my goals without sacraficing my marriage, my friendships, or my beliefs. Hey, maybe someday when I die my unpublished work will be worth millions??? lol.

J. R. McLemore said...

I don't feel that everyone has what it takes to be a writer. Although I write everyday, I sometimes doubt my own aptitude to be a successful writer. I lost my job at the end of January of this year. I've gone through a horrible divorce (not as a result of my writing), but I have since remarried, to an awesome individual (an English professor that supports my endeavor). I told her that I want to wait until the beginning of next year to begin looking for a job.

I was a computer programmer before my year-long quest to finish my first novel and begin my second. I have submerged myself in my writing and the pursuit of learning more about honing my writing craft in order to get published. I read agents' blogs, writers' blogs, etc., with the hope of learning all that I can to make my MS the best it can be and to shape myself into the best writer I can be. I realize, however, that becoming a published novelist takes more than a year. This is just time I've set aside for myself to learn all that I can.

While reading other writers' work, I've learned that some people do not have what it takes. I probably don't have what it takes, but I'm committed to at least try to learn while I'm at it. I plan to be published one day.

I realize there are some people out there that put writing before everything else and this is a bit disheartening. There have been countless writers who have made it while writing their novels between working day jobs. I'm grateful that I'm in a situation where my wife works and supports me while I chase a dream, but I also realize that I will soon have to get a day job to help support the dream that I'm chasing.

It's sad to think that some people will put their family's security at stake to see this dream through. I've realized that there are many hurdles along the way and still there is no guarantee that the author will be published.

I guess the main thing to keep in mind is that while you're chasing the dream of selling that first book, you have to keep your priorities in check. Family first, work on the book second. If it's meant to be, it will.

Ryan Thomas Riddle said...

"Keith Popely said...
Nathan, it sounds like you really took a beating from some of the folks who didn't win the paragraph contest. I'm sorry this is the case because you are the most valuable resource on the web for all writers, but especially for the unpublished masses. You should be thanked and celebrated for running what is the single most informative and helpful writing website."

I too want to echo Keith's statement. This is the best resource for writers at any career stage.

Writing is detrimental when it becomes a quest solely for ultimate fame and fortune, and when it transfigures into jealousy over another person's success.

Laura Martone said...

I can't speak for anyone else, but as with any "addiction" (yes, I used quotes, so sue me) - the act of writing and the desire to be published should never overshadow all else in a writer's life - from family to health. But who am I to tell someone that he/she shouldn't pursue the one thing he/she has always wanted? What sort of spark might that extinguish?

I'll admit - my writing goals have often come between me and my family, who worry about my well-being. But I have a supportive hubby who knows I must at least try to see this goal through. I feel blessed to have such an understanding spouse - and a kitty who's willing to get her quality time with me while sitting on my desk, watching me type.

Mary said...

Writing becomes unhealthy when it consumes all your time and energy and you find no time for family or friends.When writing is a part of your life,no matter what the reason;it should be just that, a part of your life. Not your whole life. Consider balance so that you may be refreshed when you sit down again to write of your experiences or imaginations. Hope this helps. Mary W.

Thomas Dean said...

I am one of the lucky ones because I do not have to work because my wife has done an amazing job of giving me a chance to chase a dream, actually several at once. So I have not allowed my job to suffer or to give up things for my family.

However, I do have to say I almost lost my way a couple of times. My characters became so real to me that I was starting to have very dark and detailed feelings about each of them. Some I loved so deeply that I could imagine a relationship with them, while others I wanted nothing more than to destroy them. I would get so worked up over them that I could feel myself spiraling out of control. These were the moments that I knew I had to take a break, one break came at the point of our 4 year old knocking a glass of water into the keyboard of my laptop. But each time I came back stronger and more resolved to push the book to the next level.

So when is writing unhealthy? I am going to go with when you become some obsessed you find yourself in love with a character or to the point where you want to kill them because you are so attached to the work you are having a hard time separating it from reality.

Marva said...

Just follow the rule that money comes to the writer. That's why I don't waste my money on lots of conferences and classes. I don't think the expenditure of time and money makes a whit of difference. You either have talent or not. Why spend hundreds of dollars to find out you don't?

Jo said...

If doing it doesn't make you happy (most of the time).

Whirlochre said...

Anything that "[ruins your life and your relationship with others]" isn't necessarily the fault of the thing itself.

Might be the manner of your doing of the thing.

Journaling Woman said...

The passion for writing can't be ignored. It's a mind and heart thing. It saves me from a bad day. I can write anytime- anywhere.

Yes we should encourage others to write. Anyone can learn to write well, not everyone has a talent for writing. Sometimes that matters.

Kimberly Loomis said...

So many subjective terms here... let me first say that my definition of "unhealthy" is the point where, if the author previously had one (i.e. mentally unhealthy don't fit into this definition), a person looses their grounding; perception of reality, of what needs to be done, fall by the wayside. If it becomes a form of necessary escape and not an exercise of the mind and heart then, I think, it is unhealthy- just like any other activity that does this.

The difficulty with telling people they shouldn't write, or pursue publishing, is that whoever is doing the telling is making that person submissive to someone else's opinion. I, generally, don't think that's a healthy thing for a person to do with their craft. I also am not comfortable in that role of telling people to give up, that requires assuming a responsibility that is no one's but that artist's. Honestly- so much *stuff* gets published these days who would I be to judge anyway? If someone came to me with "Twilight" I never would have thought it would be published, never mind the phenomenon it is; "Ahab's Wife" I would have sworn should win all kinds of accolades and awards; "Not without My Daughter" I would have passed over for the Pulitzer. Perhaps it's fair to say (as an industry professional mind you- and I am not she) "you should hang up your hat" but instead "the market isn't interested in this kind of book right now" or other comments along the lines critiquing that brings attention to the very subjectivity being presented.

Just my $1.50 (pro-rated for inflation).

Avida Novitatis said...

It's funny - I was just thinking about this question. I finished my first novel not long ago, and found it to be a really fun process - it was fun to find myself thinking about my characters like they were friends and even getting crushes on them.

So then I decided to start on another book, a memoir, or maybe fictionalized memoir, that I've been thinking about doing for a long time. I went back and starting reading old journals as research. I wasn't at all prepared for what an emotional punch there would be for me in reading about my thoughts and experiences from 20 years ago. It's made me kind of depressed and confused, and I can see that if I carry this project through, it's going to be difficult for me. I still want to do it, but I'm a bit scared of what it might do to me, and indirectly to my family if it ends up getting me depressed.

I think I'm going to keep going with it, but I actually asked my husband to monitor me for signs of depression. If he thinks I'm getting too depressed, I will back off and get some distance from it for a while.

wendy said...

As one nears the end of one's life and looks back and reviews, the spiritual things become more important. Success seems just a transient, ephemeral thing and a 'so what?'. If writing is something we've enjoyed and got a thrill from doing, then not a second of doing it was wasted - whatever the outcome. It was totally worth while. It's the enjoyment and the discoveries made along the way that are important.

ryan field said...

"As one nears the end of one's life and looks back and reviews, the spiritual things become more important. Success seems just a transient, ephemeral thing and a 'so what?'. If writing is something we've enjoyed and got a thrill from doing, then not a second of doing it was wasted - whatever the outcome. It was totally worth while. It's the enjoyment and the discoveries made along the way that are important."

I love this...thanks for posting it.

Cheree said...

I, for one, haven't had the pleasure of being a starving artist, but I can't picture me doing anything else but writing, it's my solace after work, and the only time I've gone hungry is when I've forgotten to eat because I'm so wrapped up in a scene that I lose track of time.

Writing is only unhealthy when one forgets about their obligations. It is a reality that writers do need day jobs, but as long as the writer can find a balance between work, family and writing, it can be a pleasant escape at the end of a stressful day.

wendy said...

But to relate more to the question, if one writes for sheer enjoyment and to develop skills without ambition or expectations, then I think they are less likely to become too driven and obsessive. Do what you love first and then consider sharing it with others.

wendy said...

Thank you, Ryan. :)

Leslie Garrett said...

Very interesting post. I used to guest lecture at a "writing for children" course and there wasn't a single manuscript that I thought was anything above mediocre. My friend, who taught the course, was a positive, cheerleader type who really encouraged all of them but it felt disingenuous to me. I consoled myself with the knowledge that, as a book reviewer, I saw PUBLISHED books that were barely above mediocre (some worse...) so what the heck did I know? But I tried my hardest to disenchant the students about the writing dream.

Lorel Clayton said...

I've always been the follow your dream type. I agree that family and surviving comes first, but if you're a writer you have to write. I put it on the back burner for ten years and grew miserable. I no longer had a goal for my life and was simply being a good little worker bee. That's not living. Now that I've taken it up again (and very seriously this time)I have more energy than before. The ideas flow and the writing gets easier the more I do. If you give up on it entirely (and maybe it never was the right thing for you to begin with, so its ok) then you better find a new dream or risk spending your old age bitter and regretful.

Timothy Nies said...

Writers aren't happy people. The act of writing in itself is unhealthy. The crafts requires you to constantly go inward, and alienate yourself from the world around you. You have to force yourself to go ever deeper into your conscious, and mine for hours in the hopes of finding that tiny nugget of gold.
Its frustrating, unrewarding and bares a toll on you. And even if you do make it big, think to yourself, when was the last time you saw a picture of a successful author looking giddy.
They all bare the same expression, look for the puffed rings under their eyes. Those are trophies they have earned, from when they confront their darkest selves. Yet, they still are able to come through relatively sane. If you want a happy life don't become an author. Well wait that's not completely true, the only happy writers I have ever met are the ones that write books for very young children.

Fawn Neun said...

My observation is that anyone who turns writing, or any other creative endeavor, into a have-all, be-all struggle for identity probably had problems to begin with.

The process of writing makes you sensitive. If you haven't grounded your ego in reality first, you might slip a little when you first start writing.

It's something to be passionate about. When does going to church become unhealthy? When does volunteer work become unhealthy?

When I'm not writing, I'm editing. When I'm not editing, I'm promoting other writers. When I'm at rest, I'm reading other writers or talking to them. It's a passion, not an addiction.

I would never dare tell anyone to give up. That's why I use a form letter to reject. Art is subjective.

Annie Reynolds said...

If you try your best and you don't succeed, you will never lament what could have been.
By allowing myself the indulgence to write, I am hopefully demonstrating to my children that it is ok to follow your dreams, no matter what the outcome.
A soul that is not nurtured by the things that drive us will surely wither and die.
No I don't believe in blowing sunshine into nether regions, but I also do not think that my opinion is the only one. If mine was the only opinion that counted half the music on the radio would never have been aired, musicals would rule in their place, and my daughter would probably implode.
What I believe is crap, has frequently won awards, so who am I to tell another author to stick to their day jobs?

Victoria said...

I haven't finished reading the comments yet, but I wanted to remark on the quote from Marilynn Byerly before I got so far along I couldn't find it again;

"Writing is a hobby, an avocation, or a career, but it is not a life. Real life is what matters most. You will regret it if you look up from your keyboard one day to discover life has passed you by, and the writing wasn't worth the cost."

Yes, this. This is good, sound advice and I really like it.

For me, I was signed with an agent about a week before my first child arrived. (I'm now two weeks away from my fourth!)

I was operating under the theory that life would be easy... I would write, stay at home with the kids, raise a family, write, and enjoy a career as a published author.

And at first it was easy - feedback from editors was encouraging. Though my agent never made a sale we went through acquisitions twice and my writing improved every time.

But now, though I have an two editors who have requested to see my next novel, it is getting harder. Harder to keep my head down while my children need me.

I think most of the angst we go through is the battle we wage between allocating our time to what we should do versus what we want to do. Since writing is largely still unpaid work, it is hard to justify the time I need to devote to it, when so much else needs my attention.

Macie said...

Anything can become an addiction and unhealthy--even exercise. As with everything, balance is the key.

I do believe that everyone should be encouraged to write, everyone has a story to tell, but not everyone should share it.

I don't like being told I'm good at something when I'm not. I want an honest opinion. If my work is good, please tell me, but also tell me if it needs a lot of work or if it would be better left in private. I'm more self-conscious if I don't know where I stand. And I can tell if someone is feeding me a line or schmoozing.

C.S. Gomez said...

To answer the question: "When does writing cross the line from hobby to 'habit'?"...I think it's the wrong question.

For some, writing is something done on the side of the regular job. But for others it is the job. Writing is their career, their only way of earning income. Maybe it isn't as common as I sometimes like to think it is, but it happens.

So I don't think it's so appropriate to refer to writing strictly by the term 'hobby', especially for someone (like me) who is shooting for the moon and wants it to be their actual profession. Has it become unhealthy if the writer wants that? Maybe, but I don't think so. It's uncertain, it's scary, and not very pragmatic. But if it's your real, true dream, your Heart's Desire, then why wouldn't you try to pursue it?

So if you think of writing as less a hobby and more a profession I think it becomes unhealthy at about the same point that workaholism emerges in other jobs. It can happen with any work, and it can happen with writing. But I don't think making writing your profession should be considered an unhealthy choice in and of itself.

Paul Michael Murphy said...

What's wrong with beans and rice?

Kaitlyne said...

I think dedication and hard work are important, and in writing probably the most important thing. But there is also a point where dedication becomes unhealthy, I think. If writing is destroying your marriage or causing you to miss important events in your child's life or interfering with your day job, then there is a serious problem.

I'm not quite sure I'd compare it to an addiction, however. The effects might be similar, but I think people are more likely to use writing as an escape from problems they already have, or view writing as the solution. "If I can only get published I'll be happy."

I don't think anything is worth ruining relationships with the people we love.

Lucinda said...

Interesting topic and interesting comments as well.

Below is a short that I wrote once trying to get a grip on writing...

"Writing books is quite an adventure. First, it is a daydream, an entertainment of our imagination. Then it transforms into an idea which grows until it consumes us like a nightmare. We can either shiver with fear of the imaginary monster growing in our head, or slay the dragon with the sword of publishing."

Success and priorities are personal aspects of our lives of which no one else can define for us.

If we don't have a solid definition of success and fail to get our priorities straight, any over-zealous ambition will lead to misery and destruction, not just in writing.

After reading many of these comments, I have to say that as many times as I have heard or read that writing is an addiction equal to drugs or alcohol, I disagree.

Once we are addicted to something, we no longer have control.

But, an obsession of the mind, although at times can be overwhelming, can be changed easier than an addiction.

Some people are obsessed with television, work, games, or any number of activities that lead them away from their families and life.

Define success honestly and discover what you hope to achieve by writing. "Fame and fortune" is not all that.

word ver: micksh - what we say when we "mix" one too many

Nick said...

Should we encourage everyone to write? Yes and no. I think when people are young, like my age (18 this upcoming January) or younger, should be encouraged, see who has potential, and those who do, IF they like it, should carry on.

When is writing too much? I would say never. But I also have many personal reasons as to why I will very probably never marry or bear children, and thus only have myself to be concerned with, and while I don't deny I would like a roof over my head, if it comes down to it, I'd rather be eating scraps out of a dumpster and writing on my arm with half-dead pens living in a cardboard box than stuck in a monotonous, poisonous work environment I loathe with little or no time to write.

I've more than likely said it before: Since I was in the third grade, writing is the one and only thing I've ever wanted to do with my life. The only feasible thing anyway. I have, ever since kindergarten, wanted to be a pirate, and frankly that is my only back up plan. Alas it's just not as realistic an option as 250-odd years ago.

As for other people, people like my friend Megan who's getting married this spring, it becomes too much if it starts adversely affecting home life. In some cases. In some cases, the partner may not be understanding, and if that's the case, I say get out ASAP. But if your partner is fine and dandy with you writing and understands that, and it's still negatively affecting your relationship and your life, stop and think.

Is it akin to addiction? Yes. I am at my happiest in my home life when I am writing. I am at my very happiest when I am visiting my friends who live in the UK, but here at home...well, my family is very dysfunctional, and the only time I really get any peace of mind is when no one else is around, so writing is a bit of a catharsis for me. Even if I'm writing something totally unrelated to my home troubles, it distracts me, it keeps me happy. So I suppose it's not much different than a heroin addict or some other sort of druggie, now that I think on it. Will I stop writing though? Not if I can help it. And if I lose the physical ability to write somehow, I will continue to craft stories in my mind.

Is this unhealthy? Most certainly. But like I said, not stopping. It is the one thing I've ever shown any degree of talent in, and it's the only thing I've wanted to do with my life that I can conceivably do. So long as we live in a society which demands I get a job to make money to maintain the basic things needed for life, I will never stop writing.

/end rant

Chris Bates said...

@ Wendy:

"If writing is something we've enjoyed and got a thrill from doing, then not a second of doing it was wasted - whatever the outcome."

I gotta disagree with you, Wendy. Not to be argumentative, just that I think that there are degrees of self-involvement with writing.

I enjoy the writing process too, but the outcome of me getting my kicks can be excessive time spent writing or 'inhabiting' the work. Such focus can be detrimental to those who depend upon me for simple things like "Daddy, talk about when you were a little boy."

I hate to admit, there have been times that I have responded to such requests with an offhand, "Daddy has to go do some work, Sweetheart." That's real waste.

Nick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
alexonthenet said...

Yes we should encourage people to write since this group is the one who will buy the unknown author's books and who will attend seminars and leave reviews on their blogs promoting your short story.

I feel like the whole small publishing house world depends on the wanna-be writers. Encourage them at all cost.

J. Wolf said...

I think the answer to this is in your ten commandments for writers. I refer to it whenever I wonder if writing is taking up too much of my life. Luckily I have four kids and a husband who are (almost always) amazingly supportive. They are okay with eating out and a messy house sometimes because they know this makes me happy. BUT I keep reminding myself, I only have a few years with my children before I have to let them out in the world. I have my whole life to write. Writing is my therapy, so when it makes me crazy instead of making me sane, I know its time to pull back.

Victoria said...

Back to your other question... should we be encouraging everyone to write?

I'm torn on this one. On one hand, who am I to be setting myself up as guardian to the world of writing? It isn't for me to say whether anyone can or will make it as a published author. I believe it isn't for anyone to say, because even if someone's current work isn't ready, who is to say their next won't be perfect? Dedication and hard work will get even the most talentless writer published evenetually, I think. Most of writing is about the perspiration, not the inspiration. (Though talent helps it is a stepping stone forward, not a free-pass to success.)

On the other hand, I have found myself in situation where I am called to express my opinion as to whether someone's WIP is working or not. I have been known to deliver brutal feedback and I've also had critiquing partners do the same for me.

But I welcome this; I have been in the situation of submitting to my agent work my writing partners have raved over, only to find that indeed, it may have been more helpful if they'd been more ruthlessly honest about the suckability of the work in question.

In general, my point is that honesty is vastly under-rated in general in our society today, and it is easy to understand why - honest feedback is almost always delivered via sting. But if we were all a little more honest with each other about how much some of our work really does suck, we might all move toward publication a lot faster.

So, in a roundabout way, my answer is that we shouldn't tell anyone whether they can or can't write, but perhaps more honesty when they are on the journey to publication might be helpful.

wendy said...

Yes, Ryan, that's a good point. I admit I was speaking from my own point of view where I've not had the responsibilities of children, etc. Of course these responbilities must come first. But I meant more in terms of worrying about outcomes such as success, fame, fortune. These things are not important compared to spending time doing what enjoy and love and learn so much from.

Jessie Oliveros said...

Even if a writer does make it, if they sacrifice all the real stuff (family, relationships, self-respect) it is still not worth it. I like to consider what I will take with me to heaven when I die. Not a bestseller.

wendy said...

Sorry, Chris, I meant to address my post to you. :)

Susanne said...

Wow -- that's quite a comment from your reader, Nathan. I guess I don't know anyone who fits that bill. Never met anyone who destroyed their life over writing, although I have met people who destroyed their lives over sex or drugs or rock n roll or ponzy schemes.

I lament not having enough time to write, as I am a full-time employee and wife, mother, homeowner with all the responsibilities that go along with each role. This means I have to carve out time to write after the most important responsibilities are taken care of -- children (because they are the most important) and paid work (since it allows me to care for the children). Next comes writing, and then, sadly, husband and housework. You read that right -- we've been married for 18 years. :) That's all right -- I come in about fourth or fifth on his list too. :D Somewhere after kids and paid work, then either football or guitar.

I still have managed to write several yet-unpublished novels and a dozen short stories (with two small sales). I figure since I have been able to keep everything else going on in my life, I am not spending too much time writing. But oh how i wish I could write full-time and envy those who do.

People are sensitive about writing and comments about their work because it feels very personal. You bleed when you write, you mine your brain, and if people dismiss your work, it feels as if you are being dismissed. Scar tissue takes a while to form and in the interim, the wound is very sensitive. I'm starting to develop a writer's thick skin, but I still hurt.

Susanne said...

Oh, and as to the question of whether we should encourage everyone to write -- I say that if you love to write, if you can't stop writing even if you don't sell it, and if you are able to keep it in perspective, then yes, yes, yes! Write for the sheer joy of it if it brings you joy. Life is too short to give up writing merely because you can't sell what you write.

Now, if you destroy your life and your family because of an obsession with selling a novel then you've got to step back and get some perspective.

A said...

Are you kidding me?

Is Life unhealthy?
What's healthy?
Who's healthy?

Are you saying we're all nut-jobs, or just *potentially* nut-jobs?

Writing is a craft.

It requires practice. Patience. And a certain amount of confidence.

Don't rain on writing. Don't poison my well. Or...OR, I won't read your blog anymore! WAH!

Love the parade, and keep up the good work!

Donna Hole said...

I'd have to say that your opening comment on this is as good a description of "too far" as any I could write.

What can I say; I'm a workaholic who hopes someday my hobby will become my income. Maybe I just don't have the drive to give up everything it takes.


anne said...

Who's encouraging everybody to write? All I see is perfunctory disclaimers ("We all know writing's great, BUT...") and discussions implying that the chances of an unpublished writer turning into a published one are roughly the same as the chances of the American Medical Association endorsing socialized medicine.

I work with surgeons, who share many of the characteristics of writers as you describe them in your post, and nobody tells them to stop doing surgery and get real and spend time with their families. If established surgeons talked with medical students leaning toward a surgical career the way people on the web talk to aspiring writers, we'd have a huge surgeon shortage.

Even you, Nathan, who are better than most, still focus much of your blog on things like query letter wording, first paragraphs, and the like, leaving the impression that the chances of anyone getting a first book published are right up there with the chance the American Medical Association will embrace socialized medicine.

I think the advice to new writers people are popping their seed corn and munching it on DVD night with Slim Jims and cheap beer. I've been reading the new Cheever biography, and the early correspondence with his New Yorker editor is luminous. That can't have completely disappeared, can it have?

Mira said...

Anne - wow, great point! Thanks.

I have to say the comments on this thread are just great. Really enjoying reading them.

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