The Happy Writer

Writing, Self-Worth, and Burnout

Some lessons take a long time to sink in. In this case it was years. During one lecture at Viable Paradise, Steven Gould warned that it’s dangerous to tie your self-worth to the success or failure of your writing. This bit didn’t really resonate until I heard an interview with Cindy Crawford. She explained that she never got caught up in the craziness of the modeling world, because modeling was always something she did, but wasn’t who she was. Her sense of self has always been separate from her work.

This can be a fine line to walk when you’re a writer and you’re hoping and hoping for your first sale, your next sale… There’s so much you can’t control and success is fickle, even for established writers. It can be crazy-making if you tie success with sales or publication or good reviews.

But you can still take pleasure in the writing, in the craft, and not how the writing is received. You can choose your milestones, and reward yourself for without waiting for anyone else. I repeat: you don’t need anyone else to reward you. Treat yourself, for finishing a chapter, or reading, or a good scene, whatever you decide. Just make sure it’s something you get to pick, and don’t have to wait for anyone else to give you.

And when writing is what you think about all the time, and what you’ve called yourself your whole life, it can be hard to separate where you begin and the writer ends.

But even if you are a writer, it is not everything you are.

I will still exist even if my writing is never read by anyone but me. And I want to enjoy writing, because that’s why I write.

I’ve been burned out most of my adult life, being totally over-scheduled, working full time and studying, and dancing, and sports, all at once. It took me years to get out of the utter exhaustion, which requires (above all) time to heal. I swore I’d do better at not letting anything eat me up like that, and that I need to control my time, my deadlines, not let my deadlines and commitments control me. It’s a fine difference sometimes. I still get it wrong and overestimate what I can handle, but I’m better at stopping myself from getting too carried away. Maintaining boundaries requires constant refinement. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.

My life still goes on. I don’t want to miss living it, because I have a finite time on this earth. I want writing to enrich my life, not suck it out of me.

Writing is about life. How can you write if you haven’t lived, if you aren’t fully alive?

4 Comments

  1. Very good points, but the last one is really the key. What kind of stories will you write if all you know about is writing?

    Also, whether you’re having success at the business of writing and whether you’re writing well have only a tenuous connection. I thought of this most recently when reading about H. P. Lovecraft — generally ignored during his lifetime, and revered in some circles today.

    1. I think I recently also discovered that Ursula Le Guin has never been on a bestseller’s list, which seems crazy to me.

      But shh… sometimes even though I’m super busy, I think my life is too boring to make good stories from these days. Ahh well.

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