A 12 Step Program for Addicted Writers
By Stephanie Green
Copyright © 2008 by Stephanie Green, All Rights Reserved
stressful. The all-consuming beast gobbles your free time, invades your
every thought, and turns your family and friends into monstrous
distractions keeping you from your muse. We writers tend to be an
intense bunch, diving headlong into each project and not moving from our
computer unless beckoned by fire, theft or act of God (sometimes, not
But the writer
by nature deals poorly with stress. If you're stressed or your health is
suffering, the urge to create disappears. If you're a writer sinking
into the peat bog of insanity, perhaps its time to put your writing life
through the 12 Steps for Addicted Writers.
1. Keep Sight of Your Goals
anything like me you have a hundred writing projects on the go at once;
novels in progress, novels making the rounds of agents and editors,
short stories and poems, freelance articles to be written, article
queries to be written and sent, ebooks to write, website content to
write, a blog to update and other work for clients to complete.
you're overwhelmed! Your energy is spread so thin you won't do any of
these projects well.
I'm not saying
you should pick one thing and stick to it, because one of the joys of
writing is experimenting with different forms. But if the writing is no
longer fun, you have to remember why you're doing this in the first
place. Where does your real passion lie?
My passion is
writing fiction. But my goal is to use writing to provide my family with
a second income so my husband can quit his awful job and begin his home
business manufacturing custom drum kits. At the moment, this goal is
most important to me, so my non-fiction is my first priority because it
can finiance this goal. When I've finished everything I need to do for
non-fiction that day, I write 1000 words on my novel, or do some
editing. Although I have ideas for short stories and poems, I leave
these alone because they don't directly relate to my two immediate
What are your
writing goals? Are you wearing yourself out for little gain? Can some of
your writing give a little?
2. Establish a Routine
thrives on routine. If your writing is a job – full-time or part-time –
you need to treat it like one. Set yourself work hours and make yourself
an 'office' space that you arrive at. Write a to-do list. Keep a
calendar of your deadlines and goals. Schedule phone calls with your
editor and agent the way you would schedule meetings.
phone and internet while you write, these are 'timewasters' that sap
your workflow. Your boss doesn't approve of timewasters..
By the way,
your boss is you.
to stick to the routine. Within a few weeks you'll naturally fall into
the same pattern. By scheduling specific work hours you establish your
writing as an important part of your life and teach your brain to shut
off non-writing concerns until your free time.
3. Embrace a Hobby
professional writers started off writing as a hobby. Now writing is my
(second) job. When I'm not at work or writing, I'm indulging my hobbies;
reading, painting, travelling and archery. It's important to embrace an
activity purely for relaxation with no goal other than to enjoy
your writing. If your character is a potter, why not take a pottery
class? Go to the firing range if your character is a cop. Whether it's
cooking, painting, martial arts or fossil hunting, hobbies keep your
writing fresh and your mind calm.
4. Remember What's Important
deadline, furiously tapping away in your room. Your toddler screams from
the bedroom and you just CAN'T HANDLE THIS RIGHT NOW, it's seriously
time to sit back and think about what's really important in your life.
should be the centre of your universe and your mad desire to write
should stem from the inspiration and support they bring you. I wouldn't
be the writer I am today without my husband. And I will leave my
computer every time he needs me, because he's my husband and I love him.
Why would I be doing this crazy writing thing if he wasn't there
Spend time with
your family. They love you, bestseller or not. And one day, when the
writing income dries up and this fickle business spits you out, they'll
still love you. Remember that.
5. Make Time for Friends
Every once in
awhile, take time to sit at a coffee shop, on your porch, or curl up on
the phone with a trusted friend. You're not going to talk about
writing, so your weekly call to your crit partner or writing buddy
does not count.
there to keep you sane. Hanging out with them and sharing their
laughter, tears and adventures enrich your spirit. Value them for their
ability to bring you back to earth again, and let them take you out for
crazy adventures occasionally. Don't become so wrapped up in writing
that you forget to live.
produces endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people are…well,
happy. You want to be happy, right? I know exercise sucks. I know you
hate it, but…you don't really hate it, do you?
It's hard to
motivate yourself to get up and do the exercise, but once you
start, it's great. I love pumping weights at the gym with my Judas
Priest CDs on full volume, or taking a walk through the park and
breathing in semi-fresh (I live in the city) air. You'll be healthier,
work off that stress-induced chocolate belly and have more energy to
fuel those writing binges.
your writing in other ways. On weekends I do sword fighting with my
husband. Not only is this heaps of fun, but I have a wide knowledge base
to draw from whenever I need information about swords or other arcane
weapons for my novels. And being able to train with those weapons myself
(I've done two-handed sword, competitive fencing, basket hilt, poleaxe,
archery and mace) I understand the situations and problems my characters
encounter on an intimate level.
7. Celebrate Your Success
financially stretched when I first began making money from writing. I
wanted to put away every cent of my first check to make sure the bills
got paid and we had enough food for the week. I always remember my
beautiful husband shoving that $50 check back into my fist, saying, 'No,
Steff. You're spending this money on yourself. And that's final.'
myself a new outfit I'd been admiring for awhile, and every time I wear
it I think how I earnt it with my writing money. I feel so proud of
myself. I look at myself in the mirror and think 'I'm a writer. I buy
things with my writing income.'
yourself every time you have a success. It doesn't have to be big. My
new clothes didn't break the bank. You could spend $2 on a chocolate bar
when you finish your first novel draft, or treat your spouse to dinner
out when you sign your first contract. Celebrating success helps you to
stay focused on achieving your goals and enjoying the writing process.
8. Learn to say No
"Can you come
over and help me move house?"
"Do you want to
run a stall at the garage sale this weekend? It's for a good cause!"
"Can you finish
this report by Monday?"
I'm terrible at
saying no. I'm getting gradually better, but I still give in and say yes
more often then I should.
constantly have to juggle their writing around everyday life. If you're
at home writing, friends and family assume you have all the time in the
world to do their chores and run errands and watch wayward children.
Learn to say no. Writing time is work time. If you don't write, you
don't get paid.
If you can't
say no, but you know you should, have someone else say no. Sometimes I
send my husband in to say no for me. He's a strong personality, whereas
I am a pushover. And when I do say no, I feel guilty. Husband doesn't
feel guilty. Problem solved.
If you have
someone to help you do this, good for you. If you don't, learn to say
no. Learn really quickly.
9. Listen to music
Music plays an
immense role in my life. It's defined every moment of my existence, from
the albums my dad used to play when I was a girl, to the angry lyrics
I'd belt out in my room as a teenager, to the songs my husband and I
fall in love with together.
listening to music makes any activity – no matter how loathsome –
enjoyable. On housework days I crank up the stereo and dance while I
clean (for anyone curious, my favourite housework albums are Manowar –
Kings of Metal and Iron Fire – On the Edge).
Writing is no
different. Most of the time I love writing. Sometimes I hate it. If I
hate it, but I have a deadline, putting on some music can really power
find lyrics distracting and only listen to instrumental music while they
write. Many cannot listen to music at all. I'm not one of them. Music
isn't a distraction to me, it's a driving force. I infuse the energy of
whatever I'm listening to into my prose. For adventures, it's Manowar,
for dark novels I love Burzum, Skepticism or Satyricon. For young adult,
it's Avril Lavigne.
On the music
page of my website you'll find recommendations of my favourite writing
music. However, it's up to you to find the music that inspires you.
10. Change scenery
After more than
six hours slogging away at my desk I have to get out. I go for a drive
(with my husband, of course. I don't condone reckless driving by blind
people) or a walk, accompany my flatmate on the food shop, reorganise
the garage, anything to avoid my desk. A week of long writing
hours and I'm frothing at the mouth to go away on the weekend, to never
touch that computer again…
anything like me, you need regular breaks away from your desk. Make sure
you schedule writing-free vacations, so you always have a break to look
I've hit a slump, moving my computer gives me a new burst of life. Write
at the kitchen table for a week and see if your writing feels different.
Pack your laptop off to the nearest Starbucks and write in the corner
with a steady supply of caffeine. Visit your in-laws for the weekend and
write at their coffee table. Sometimes the change is all you need to
kick-start your muse.
You don't have
to subscribe to a new religion or learn any complicated breathing. Just
sit in the quiet for a few minutes and take deep breaths through your
nose, breathing out through your mouth. Concentrate on thinking
nothing. This is more difficult then it sounds. Every time you feel
a thought or worry creep in, push it away.
myself included, find this easier to do with music playing in the
background. Use soft, instrumental music. My favourite is Beethoven.
practise yoga. I took a class once, and many of the single exercises and
breathing techniques remain part of my relaxation practise.
of meditation is to attend church. Whatever faith you embrace, spending
an hour or two in your god's house listening to words of wisdom or
serene choirs clears the head of negativity. Have you ever been to your
local chapel outside of regular service times? I love sitting in our
city cathedral during the day and embracing the solitude of that
cavernous hall. It's the perfect place to enjoy meditative prayer.
12. Inspire yourself with art
If I feel
stifled or my creative brain takes a holiday for Timbuktu, I refresh
myself with a visit to a local art gallery, play or concert. By admiring
someone else's art for a few hours, I feel inspired to return to my own.
I subscribe to
a free 'What's On in the Arts' email newsletter in my local community,
so I have a source on hand if I need creative stimulation. Local
galleries, museums and theatre often have their own mailing lists.
if you don't want to leave the house, grab a stack of your favourite old
novels or some new books you can't wait to read. Make yourself a
delicious snack and settle in to some guilt-free reading. I promise by
the end of the first book you'll be itching to start writing again.