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Writing Sanity: Protect Yourself

We've had a few posts lately about the different ways writers struggle to maintain their sanity. When publishing now includes blogs, Twitter, forums, GoodReads, and a million other different ways for authors to see their books and their personal lives open to scrutiny, coping can be tough.

I've been thinking about it a lot lately, and noting that many things I've learned in the process of becoming an "adult"* are applicable here. Namely, the lessons I've learned on how to protect myself from disappointment, from embarrassment, from the criticism of strangers. These are small suggestions that have helped me get to a much more calm and happy place personally, and I hope some or all of them ring true for authors at any point in the publishing journey.

Know, and Respect, What You Love
You have to know yourself before you can protect yourself. In large part, that means knowing what you care about most. And you don't have to wonder what you really love; I guarantee that you show yourself, every day. What gets you off the couch? What makes you reach for the phone to spread the word? What makes you stay up late, inspires you to doodle in the margins, pops into your dreams? That is what you love. Learn to recognize it, and choose to respect it---don't let anyone else marginalize or malign it. Protect what you love, and your right to love it.

Protect Your Creative Side
Inspiration can come from anywhere, sparking something within that grows into a shiny new idea. But while that idea is still forming, give it room to flourish by protecting it from criticism. That could mean holding off on sharing the premise for your new WiP with crit partners until you've gotten a few thousand words down. It could mean doing everything possible to silence the internal critic. But recognize that the creative life inside us is not well-suited to exposure. And there's really no rush.

Protect Yourself From Your Mistakes
Note: this does not mean don't make mistakes. Mistakes are necessary to improvement in writing, and in life. But your mistakes are your own. There is no rule that you have to share them with the people in your life. Think seriously about this point---when you make a mistake, no one has to know. You don't have to share your crappy first draft; you can revise it before you send it to crit partners. You don't have to tell anyone else when you spill wine on an editor at a SCBWI conference. You don't have to forward every query rejection to your spouse. You might feel the urge to share those mistakes in an effort to build camaraderie, or in hopes of finding solace in others' understanding. But when you share something that personally humiliating or upsetting, you open yourself up to feeling something else---judged. And you simply don't have to all the time. Choose your confidants with care, and even then, some things can stay between you and your diary (or your dog).

Don't Do Things You Don't Want to Do
This point is ridiculously simple, but some people need to be given permission. So this is me, personally giving you permission: if doing something you're 'supposed' to do is making you feel bad, stop doing it. If Twitter is exploding with an issue that makes your heart churn, shut it down. If blogging is taking the momentum out of your writing, postpone it. If going to that book conference means you'll miss your grandpa's 85th birthday, trade in your business cards for a party popper. DO NOT count on someone sweeping in and giving you permission to follow your heart every time you need to hear it. You must be able to tell yourself. Start doing that, today.

These are just some things I've implemented in my life that have made me happier overall. But what do you think? Do you have any other tips for how to protect yourself, emotionally and creatively?

*a subjective term, especially in this case
Sarah Enni

Sarah is a young adult author and host of the First Draft podcast. She is represented by Sarah Burnes at The Gernert Company.

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  1. Wow. Great article. Especially the last point...that definitely didn't come naturally to me.

  2. The last point especially resonates with me. In the past year it has become very important to me to follow my heart above all else.

    Bookmarking this.

  3. Thank you for this awesome post, Sarah, especially for #3. I'm an over-sharer, and I never realized before that by oversharing, I'm also opening myself up to judgement. And you're right that that's something I don't need as a writer. :)

  4. Great advice. I have not been doing what I love lately - only what is expected (especially for my real life job, which is taking away much of my time). But I can feel it in my heart. I can feel it in my level of happiness. Somehow there has to be a compromise and I have to have that time to do what I love - write. Thanks! Great entry!

  5. @ Susan and Alexandra---There's so many of us that find it hard to give ourselves permission to relax! Sometimes you just have to, or you'll go crazy!

    @ Emy---that point was a huge thing for me, too. It changed my life in a big way when I just decided to keep quiet about some things. The wounds heal quicker sometimes.

    @ BreiW, I struggle with balancing the day job, too! Compromise is hard to find, but it's worth it! Good luck!

  6. Thank you for this! I'm constantly struggling to turn off the "noise," as I think of it. Can't have too many different volume knobs on that control board. Love this blog, BTW.

  7. This is a very helpful and needed post. Thank you.

    I'd like to also add, that while we might feel like sharing rejections and misfortunes with fellow writers because we think they'll help lift us up, we have to be careful about that. Writers aren't the only ones who understand disappointment, and sometimes writers can make it worse.

  8. Thanks Jennifer! You're so right :)

    And Donelle you make an EXCELLENT point. Sometimes other writers are the only ones that can truly understand publishing frustration. But that isn't always a good thing. Divulge with care!

  9. Great points. I would add: make sure you are living a well-rounded life. What I mean by this is that besides writing, we all need other outlets. Maybe it's a day job, or exercising, or volunteer work, but if all we do is write, submit and wait for approval, and it isn't immediately forthcoming, we're going to start feeling badly about ourselves. Having those other outlets helps put the rejections and wait times in perspective.

    Kim Van Sickler

  10. Love this post, Sarah! I need to work on giving myself permission to take the occasional night off. :)

  11. This article was just what I needed. All writers need to keep a balance and remembering what's important in life will keep you happy. Thanks! :)

  12. Wonderful tips! These are all things I need to implement more in my life. Also, I recognize some of these posters! :)

  13. Great tips Sarah! Like Emy, I have a problem with oversharing as well. It's true, one needs to know. I can deal with those things on my own and then overshare about the successes. :-)

  14. @ Kim, you're so right. A well-rounded life allows you to have something BESIDES writing that you can turn to when things get rough. So important!

    @ Rebecca & Jessica S! Yay! You have my permission to chill once in a while and just be your fabulous selves :)

    @ Krispy LOL Yeah I definitely had too much fun on Etsy finding all these posters... and couldn't help but share! (Loved the ones you found too!)

    @ Jessica L I was such a huge offender of this, even with people in my everyday life. It's a lot more fun to share the highs than the lows, that's for sure.

  15. I really like this. It has given me lots of food for thought as it were. Thank you for sharing.

  16. As a writer, I enjoy playing with words. As such, much of my work is unconventional. For example, one of my pieces personifies negatives emotions and calls them "friends". In another, I write in second person. I love individuality and writing things that are interesting.

    Many of your points resonate with me, as when I share my work I often get half negative, half positive reactions (the negative usually come from those who have been writing for the longest time and hold a large value in the conventional way of doing things). However, as much as it is a negative, I write for others and to make them think. It would defeat the purpose if I don't bring out at least some of my works into the open.

    Learning to walk the line between all of these has been difficult, but by no means hard, though. And I'm still learning.


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