The Obsessed Writer’s Guide To Crawling Your Way Back To Sanity

Editor’s note: this is a guest post by Kathleen Pooler of Memoir Writer’s Journey.

“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”                                                                                                                        

– Red Smith

I’m a memoir writer and a retired nurse practitioner. I’ve also been consumed by my writing for the past three years. I’ve taken writing classes, attended numerous writing conferences, workshops, webinars and I’ve also worked non-stop on building my author platform through blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, Goodreading, Google+ing and LinkedIn-ing.

I figured I needed to invest in my craft and learn as much as I could before I attempted to publish my memoir.

But when I started taking my iPad every place I went, checking my smartphone in the middle of the night, and tweeting in my dreams, I realized, this was not me being dedicated to my craft.

This was me having an unhealthy obsession with writing.

Confessions of An Obsessed Writer

I confess I have been possessed, obsessed, and tethered to my iPad, my smartphone, my PC, and my writing space. When I’m not writing, I’m thinking about writing, or tweeting about writing, or posting on Facebook about writing. I jot notes on napkins, old envelopes, the edges of newspapers, anything I can get my hands on if I feel inspired and I’m not at my writing desk.

Have you, like me, ever felt obsessed, possessed, and tethered to your writing?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Sometimes writers develop an unhealthy obsession with writing.

I was an obsessed writer, too. But, recently, I’ve found my way back to sanity, and I’d like to share a few tips that may help you, too.

The Obsessed Writer’s Guide To Crawling Your Way Back To Sanity

  • When I get overly obsessed with writing, I try paying attention to the people in my life who really matter. My husband and I have a date day once a week. I go out to lunch now and then when a girlfriend calls. I jump at the chance to see my grandsons. Lots of hugs every day are good for my soul.
  • I put organizational tools in place to help me focus on the important tasks. For example, I schedule tweets, limit social media time, use Google Reader for my favorite blogs and use Evernote to organize my thoughts and material in one place.
  • I schedule “sacred time” every day to pray, think, journal and write.
  • I exercise daily. I dance Zumba, walk, and lift weights to counteract the deleterious effects that hours of having my butt in a chair can have on my health. (By the way, experts say a sedentary lifestyle can be as deadly as smoking to your health.) 
  • Sometimes, walking away from all the distractions for a short time is the best tip.
  • Finally, I try to take care of myself so I can take care of my writing. Not the other way around.

The “Sane” Writer Pledge

I’m not going to stop writing. The truth is, if you tried to take my writing life away from me, I would hang on to it with the tenacity of a pit bull.

But I am going to modify things a bit.

Even if I slip now and then, I recommit to the plan that works for me so that I can still do what I love to do:  write.

Kathleen Pooler is a writer and a recently retired Family Nurse Practitioner who is working on a memoir about how the power of hope through her faith in God has helped her to transform, heal, and transcend life’s obstacles and disappointments–divorce, single parenting, loving and letting go of an alcoholic son, cancer and heart failure–to live a life of joy and contentment. She believes that hope matters and that we are all strengthened and enlightened when we share our stories. She blogs weekly at Memoir Writer’s Journey and can be found on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

Have you ever had to come to terms with an unhealthy “obsession” with writing? Do you have a plan that works? Please share your wisdom with us in the comments below!

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30 comments on “The Obsessed Writer’s Guide To Crawling Your Way Back To Sanity

  1. MarinaSofia says:

    Yes, I recognise the symptoms. I spent too many years relegating writing to last place after all of my other roles and responsibilities, so now I have gone a bit to the other extreme. I find myself completing one last blog post, tweeting one last fascinating link, tweeking my poem one last time, while running late for appointments or running out of things to eat, or my kids are going hungry… This sane advice is very much needed. Let’s just hope I can put it into practice.

    • Marina,
      Oh, yes, I can easily relate to your very accurate description of the writing life-that rabbit hole that we can fall into once we start on our writing quests. It’s a conscious effort to stick to a plan which will counteract those tendencies to go down each trail. I have found that having a plan to fall back on really helps keep me in line. I appreciate your comments.Best wishes putting your plan into practice. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Zen says:

    I solemnly swear to honour the “sane” writer pledge.

    Great post! =]

    • Thanks,Zen. I’m glad you liked the post. Your comment prompted a thought- maybe we should all wear tee shirts with” I Promise to Honor the Sane Writer’s Pledge today.”
      One day at a time! Thanks for stopping by

  3. Ollin,
    Thanks so much for the opportunity to be a guest poster on Courage2Create. I’m looking forward to hearing how others stay “sane” while pursuing their writing passions!

    • Ollin says:

      Thank you for such a great post! I actually identify with this, too. The key to not becoming so obsessed is shutting of the laptop or comp as soon as you feel worn out. Your body is good at sending you a signal that you’ve had too much. So, I usually just listen to my body, and it tells me I need to go for a run, or go eat. And then, instead of ignoring it, I listen to it!

  4. Ollin,

    I think you may have started something here, a “Sane Writer’s “movement! I couldn’t agree with you more about listening to the wisdom of our own bodies. It is such a simple suggestion and yet has a profound impact on all of us. In our world of constant noise and distractions, listening seems like a huge challenge. When I was undergoing cancer chemotherapy, I learned the the HALT principle.”.when I’m Hungry,I eat, when I’m Angry, I unload, when I’m Lonely, I reach out, when I’m Tired, I rest.” One certainly doesn’t have to have cancer to benefit from this simple principle. I think it is very fitting for our writerly lives as you have described in your comments.

    It is such a pleasure to be here ,Ollin. Thanks again!

  5. Chihuahua0 says:

    My WIP, Manifestation Files, used to dominate my day dreams. Other subjects displaced it, like The Sims 3.

    Personally, I’m in the opposite direction that I need to pay more attention to my writing, instead of only doing 750 words a day, or just using those three pages for something else, but this is a nice list for me to consider.

    In fact, I think your list can also work for people who aren’t organized/motivated enough, as opposed to people who just plain old can’t restrain themselves. Maybe I should plan another scared time, and find more time to walk around the neighborhood and observe what’s going on in life.

    ReTweet, Liked, 1+’d, added to weekly round-up.

    • Dear Chihauhua0,
      Amen, to paying attention to writing! I’m glad you found the list helpful. We all have to find our own way through the maze of distractions and I wish you the best as you move forward. Your comments and “link-love” are very much appreciated. Thanks so much for sharing.

  6. I so appreciated this post, as I have struggled to stay focused on my writing. Organizational skills, who knew? I thought if I just wrote every day, I would create the memoir or piece I envisioned. When I was overcome with the day to day, it seemed forever to get back on track. I haven’t turned back to the project yet, but have joined a writer’s group, blog, try and fail miserably at poetry, and read more books that have nothing to do with what I am trying to do, than I care to admit. Avoidance syndrome. I know I am whining…I have the tools, just need to get back on the wagon!

    • Dear fromevansridge,
      You describe perfectly the writer’s creative,artsy life! We can’t help ourselves. We love to read, write,contemplate,etc so creating a structure that allows us to do this within our own lives is a challenge I can relate to. I don’t think you are whining but rather negotiating with yourself. We all have to find our way through the life we have to get where we want to go. BTW, I think reading any genre is the best way to improve writing. Yes, you have the tools and the awareness of what you need to do. I really appreciate your comments. Thanks so much for stopping by and best wishes on the next chapter in your journey!

  7. I recognize those symptoms. My goodness, that’s me. I’ve been having some of the recovery thoughts, but this looks like a great plan. thanks for sharing.

    • Dear Louise,
      It is amazing how we have to think of a writerly life in recovery terms. But like anything else that is worthwhile, it is what it is and so having a plan does make a difference. I appreciate you stopping by and commenting. Best wishes!

  8. I find that scheduling tweets and other SM to 30-45 mins a day works so that I don’t spiral into the ether. I also impose a weekly ‘unplug day’ from writing, reading blogs, tweets, and all SM, for 24 hours during the weekend, and I have to start the clock by 6 p.m.

    • Dear Alvarado,
      “Spiraling into the ether” says it best! It seems like half the battle is getting in charge of our own schedules and your weekend”unplug day” sounds brilliant. I may have to add that to my list.:-) Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing.

  9. Yvette Carol says:

    Great post Kathleen! Yes I relate. There have been times (usually close to deadlines) when I have forsaken food, rest, and even my children for staying at my desk. I have walked dangerously close to the line separating sanity and insanity. At those times there has been a type of adrenalin that has kicked in that has felt like as if coca cola had been administered intravenously. Luckily I think it is virtually impossible to keep that sort of mania up. And even if you did, it’d soon fry the adrenal system and leave you too sick to continue. Either way, you’re going to burn!
    These days, same as you, I try to spread the load. I exercise, and maintain relationships. One of my big decisions lately, was NOT to blog. I think that was pretty smart. Because if I had gotten on that train as well, I would have been back to doing too much at my desk and not living enough of the rest of my life!
    Yvette Carol

    • Wow, Yvette, well said! Thank you for sharing your definition of that “fine line between sanity and insanity” and how your awareness of its dangers led you to decisions that are working for you. I especially like your statement ,”not living the rest of your life” and how that has motivated you to make changes. In sharing your story , you are sharing hope with all of us. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting.

  10. shirleyhs says:

    I enjoyed this post and confess I have been/sometimes still am obsessed. We have to hold each other accountable.

  11. Divya says:

    Been there, done that! Can totally relate to this post.

  12. […] at Shirley Showalter’s blog discussing “Strategic Tweeting”  on Monday and at Ollin Morales’ blog, Courage2Create discussing “Confessions of an Obsessed Writer” on Wednesday. I hope […]

  13. RD Meyer says:

    I understand the Sane Writer’s Movement, but let’s be honest – if we were sane, would we really be writing? Further, how many “sane” writers do you know that are any good? 😉

    • I have to admit you have a great point here ,RD. Maybe it’s just a matter of degree..maintain some insanity to be creative but enough sanity to be functional? I do believe that writing is definitely something you have to love to be able to tolerate all the insanity that goes with it. And as far as I can tell, we really can’t help ourselves, we have to write. Thanks for stopping by and adding a new twist to the discussion!

  14. Kari Scare says:

    Most of my days are spent in complete silence except for the noises I make as I go through my day. No music. No television. No radion. Just me and the Holy Spirit. Silent days prepare me for time with my family, who is anything but silent. Silent days allow my introverted self to handle the noise of other people’s lives in a calm and helpful way. Silent days help me want to fellowship with others. Love my silent days.

  15. Daniel Meloy says:

    A classic experience of “living to work” rather than “working to live.” The problem is that once the creative vein starts flowing, it’s awfully hard to stop it. And this seems great at first, but soon, like you said, you realize how it’s impeding your personal life. Taking breaks and intentionally separating work and play is healthy and will actually increase your productivity in your writing! Keep an eye on yourself, and do what you need to in order to take care of yourself. Thanks for the share!

  16. Exactly, Daniel. Your comments remind me of the “put the oxygen on yourself first drill” before take-off. We can’t take care of anyone or anything else until we take care of ourselves first. I appreciate your comments. Thanks for stopping by and sharing!

  17. Thanks to Ollin for hosting Kathleen and to Kathleen for sharing her insights on an obsession I’m sure most of us have experienced. I for one intend to take Kathleen’s words and advice to heart . . . I don’t want to lose relationships or health over something I love as much as I love writing!

    • Sherrey,
      Your statement “I don’t want to lose relationships or health over something I love as much as I love writing” really puts it all into perspective. Thanks for sharing! Your comments are greatly appreciated.

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