Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday the 13th: Writing Tips, Tricks and Terrors

by Cat Woods

Friday the 13th has me in its clutches. I feel washed up, worn out and utterly brain dead. I'm terrified I won't write another good word—so much so, that Freddy could schlep on by with a hockey mask and a chainsaw and I wouldn't even flinch.

We writers spend all kinds of time biting our nails, pulling our hair, pickling ourselves with tequila and smashing our heads against our desks. We put oodles of pressure on ourselves to write better, faster and smarter. We fear the worst: that our words will never be seen past our crit groups and over-accommodating parents. That we will never have anything publishable. That if published, nobody will ever read our novels. Or love them. Or say good things about them. Or ... (insert 1001 ways we face our keyboard in terror every day) ...

Yet, we fail to realize that simply living the life of a writer is its very own Friday the 13th.
  1. We don't back up our work properly and it gets eaten by the cyber monster.
  2. We unwittingly spill coffee on our keyboards, attach cookies to our hard drives and open the door to viruses.
  3. We forget to eat, drink or otherwise take care of ourselves, often being caught in our jammies and bed-head long after it's prudent.
  4. We forget to feed, clothe and bathe our children/pets/significant others.
  5. We neglect ourselves physically, allowing writer's spread to ooze off our chairs as we nibble chocolate and sip java.
  6. We impose on our friends, neighbors and neighbors' friends to read our rough gems and can't understand why we get a) mindless back-pats, or b) dirty looks anytime we venture out in public.
  7. We lose touch with reality and can't understand why nobody else has met our friends. Not to mention, it's kind of hard to teach our kids not to cavort with strangers when we've never met a single one of our writing buddies in person.
  8. We edit too much, sucking the life out of our characters and the magic out of our stories.
  9. We edit too little, leaving gaping plot holes for potential readers to fall through, never to be seen again.
  10. We don't edit at all and believe our first drafts are magnificent. You poor editors and agents. Bless you and the work you do in wading through our delusions.
  11. We wait for our muses to karate chop our writer's block instead of taking control and digging our own way out of Alcatraz with a plastic spork.
  12. We wine ... er, whine ... all the dang time. Writers have it rough and we want everyone and their grandmas to know about it. And when whining doesn't work, we resort to wining.
Being a writer is terrifying. Honestly, it is.

Writers traditionally have a higher incidence of mental health issues. We spend time alone, in our made-up worlds, and garner little support from those around us. We sit for hours at a time in less than stellar settings. This wears on the body and the soul.

Don't believe me? Peruse the list of creative people who have suffered from some form of mental illness/mood disorder.

Patty Duke, Connie Francis, Peter Gabriel, Charles Haley, Kristy McNichols, Spike Mulligan, Abigail Padgett, Charley Pride, James Taylor, Mike Wallace, Kurt Cobain, Elton John, Sheryl Crow, Axl Rose, Ted Turner, Robin Williams, Winston Churchill, Princess Diana, Edgar Allan Poe, Hans Christian Andersen, Charles Dickens, Michelangelo, Vincent van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Margaux Hemingway, Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Drew Carey, Judy Garland, Jim Bakker, Abraham Lincoln, Richard Nixon, and Virginia Woolf.

If that's not enough, consider the physical risks writers take every day. Deep Vein Thrombosis can occur in the lower extremities when individuals are inactive for long periods of time such as travel or sitting at a desk. Studies have shown that women who sit for extended periods of time are two to three times more likely to suffer from a pulmonary embolism than their more active peers.

And that's just the beginning of a long list.

So, the mother in me has a few words of advice for the writer in you.
  1. Drink lots of water—tap water, occasionally, if you can stomach it. Filtered water and bottled water don't have fluoride. Likewise, sodas and creamers are high in sugar. When sipped all day, these sweet drinks add oodles of calories and lots of cavity potential.
  2. Get up and stretch. Every hour or so, you should walk around. This will help keep your circulation going and minimize your risk of blood clots. It will also help alleviate muscle fatigue in your hands, wrists and back and keep your mind more alert.
  3. Get out of the writing closet. Tell your family and friends. Share your blog and your progress. Don't bore peeps to tears with your every little writing drama, but be open to answering questions about your writing and don't be afraid to proudly proclaim, "I am a writer." It does wonders for the psyche and minimizes feelings of isolation.
  4. Find a group of writerly types to learn from, support and be supported by. Learning insider info goes a long way in keeping us from making those premature submission mistakes. It also provides us with the know-how to be smarter, faster and better writers.
  5. Take yourself seriously. You are a writer. You will write. You will research. You will edit. You will learn. You will query and query and query some more until you succeed. Maybe not with your first or third project, but that's okay. Writing is a process. You are the master.
So how about it, dear readers? Do you believe mental and physical health impact your ability to succeed as a writer? Conversely, in what ways does writing impact your health? How do you keep yourself in balance? What tips do you have for keeping your Friday the 13th writing terrors at bay?

Grab a spork and join the fun.


JeffO said...

I definitely need to exercise more, for sure. I also know that, when I'm active physically, I tend to get more active mentally. Walking, running, etc., is a great way to open up the brain.

The mental illness thing is a tough one. I looked into this for a blog post I did a ways back, particularly with regards to drug and alcohol abuse in artistic types. There are no clear cut answers, but there's definitely higher incidences of this among artists. Exactly why that's the case is not clear, however.

Cat Woods said...


Exactly why we artistic types need to take care of ourselves--mentally and physically. It will be nice when psychologists/scientists can pinpoint the reasons why artists are predisposed to certain mood disorders. Until then, however, it is up to us to safeguard against them as much as possible.

You are so right that exercise is a great way to keep the body and mind healthy. Positive and consistent interpersonal relationships are important as well.

Thanks for your great input. May your spork be mighty and your will to persevere be strong.


Suzanne Payne said...

Cat-Great post. Since I went down your list and said, 'yep..that's me'..over and over again, I think I can truly call myself a writer now. lol I still have a hard time accepting that I'm 'good enough' to be placed in that category. I agree with you about the tolls it takes on your body. Recently, I've had trouble with my whole right arm hurting and have had to back off from typing so much because of the pain. This has slowed down my progress considerably, which then depresses me that I'm never going to get anywhere. I'm so thankful for 'writer friends' and their support. It really keeps me going. :) I need to set a timer when I sit down. I think that would help a lot.
Once again...great post!

Suzanne Payne said...

Oops..forgot something...*holds up spork to click with yours* Happy writing! :)

K Stepp said...

Fantastic post Cat!
There are times I sit at my laptop writing for too long, trying to get as much done while the kids are at school/or asleep. I have been finding myself stepping away from the computer more often-and it is helping. I don't ever think about blood clots, which is not good since I have Lupus and am at risk for them.
Thanks for the advice...and again, great post.
This is why I absolutely love what you all do here on this blog :)

Kay said...

I used to have a business that was at 13 East 13th St. The phone # was xxx-xxx-1313. We loved Friday the 13th!

I read recently in AARP (yes, I get it!) sitting is the new smoking. Ouch! Double ouch for writers who still smoke.

I try to get up and walk around during the day but I'm more likely to think it's 10 a.m. when my husband calls to say he's heading home at 5. Oops. No dinner prep done. No errands run. If I have an appointment, I literally have to set an alarm and lately have found I can work through it. Maybe two alarms???

Good post, Cat.

Christopher Hudson said...

If the idea that I could make a living as an indie author isn't proof of insanity ... well, then I'm not.

LD Masterson said...

This is so right on so many points I think I hurt my neck nodding in agreement. (Is that considered exercise.) I'm printing it out for my wall.

Yvonne Osborne said...

Cat, this is SO good and I didn't even realize it was Friday the
13th!!! I do all those things: 1-12 and now I have to worry about Thrombosis too?? Thanks a lot!

Sitting too long, is probably my main problem. I need to get up more and walk, though it's hard now that winter has hit. I wouldn't mind the mental/physical disorders if I could be half as successful as any of those people listed. It would be nice, however, to achieve that while one is alive.

Thanks for the reminder that I'm not alone with my writing terrors.

J. Lea Lopez said...

number seveeeen! haha if I had a nickel for every time my husband rolled his eyes when I mentioned my "friends" in reference to twitter, AQC or other online writing buddies, I could quit the day job and write all day haha.

I also forget to eat/drink properly when I'm in writing mode. I'm trying to work on that this year, though. Great post, Cat!

Matt Sinclair said...

I like how "pickling ourselves in Tequila" came before banging our heads against the table or wall.

catwoods said...

Susan--I think it's easy to get disheartened when things go wrong with our writing and our bodies. Chronic pain can be...well, a pain. Take breaks to ease your muscle use. It helps with my elbows.

KStepp--Sometimes we get so busy doing that we forget what we are doing. Often our bodies suffer. It's nice every once in a while to get a gentle reminder that the things we do so routinely can, in fact, impact us in ways we don't want to consider.

Wishing you both years of comfortable and safe writing!

catwoods said...

Kay~ sitting is the new smoking?!?!? Yikes. I'm going to start standing when I write.

Yep, just stood up. LOL.

Christopher~ I love your take on insanity. Just consider yourself as brave, resilient and innovative. That might help you better accept your self-diagnosis!

LD~ According to my calculations, neck-nodding is indeed an exercise. It releases shoulder tension and lightens the spirit!

Onward, fellow sporkers!

catwoods said...

Yvonne~ It's always nice to receive validation that we are not alone in this world. Now get up and take a stroll in your new snow.

Jlea~ forgetting to eat is my middle name. It's so easy to do, but so not healthy. Maybe we should text each other throughout the day with food intake reminders. : )

Matt~ Aaah, tequila pickling creates the head-desk phenomenon. At least in my case. It's why I never drink and write. No guarantees what my nose would type as it smashed into the keyboard!

Happy imbibing!

efjace said...

Number 7 all the way! Pretty much my only friends are my 'writing buddies' that I'm always sharing some tweet or comment left by them with my family members, and I've never met one of them!

It's hard, the whole process and the time we devote to it all, it's really hard. I KNOW being a writer is seriously affecting my touch with reality, I just can't figure out which came first, the weak grasp thus the inclination to write or the story-telling which shredded the ties. And that's not considering, like you said, the physical issues. Sitting at a desk all day, staring at a screen all day. That can't be good for the retinas by any stretch.

I also love and appreciate your word of encouragement on being confident in the fact that you're a writer. Too often, especially if the editing/querying process is taking longer than you'd like, or longer than people who aren't writers think it should take, we start to feel a little ashamed of doing what we love! And that's just silly. I know I'm guilty of not fessing up to being a writer when I meet new people, because their next question is if I have anything published, and if the answer is 'no' for some reason you've fallen several notches on the respectability totem. So yes, we need to take our selves seriously and be confident, finding writer groups is amazing for that.

Finally, I think while getting up to exercise, stretch, move around and drink water are all good suggestions for exercising yourself physically, there should be some mention of exercising your mind. We get stuck trying to 'perfect' this one scene that we're editing and editing and eventually over-editing. Working on a different scene, or even a different story altogether, can help. Or, find a hobby. Writing, for us, is not a hobby. But we should find one so that we have something to turn to when we're in desperate need of a breather. Preferably something that doesn't involve looking at a computer screen (says the person whose one of many hobbies involves digital art). Another suggestion would be to pick up a pen, pencil, crayon, digital recorder, anything other than a keyboard to get your ideas out of your head. I've learned that sometimes opening up a notepad instead of a word document can affect, and sometimes increase, the flow of writing for me. I just got a digital recorder for Christmas and I've been using that to 'jot down' ideas that come to me rather than scrambling for a pen and paper or a keyboard. It's surprising but sometimes the simplest of things can make the biggest differences.

Great post and thanks for sharing!

Jemi Fraser said...

Fabulous post, Cat! #7 totally cracked me up! My kids are always saying if we get murdered in our beds, it's because one of my online "friends" has finally come to get us! Too funny :)

efjace said...

@Jemi - LOL!

Leslie Rose said...

This was great! I admit to being an over-editor. I think my pickin' at the work sometimes takes some of the shine off. One of my friends at work asked me if "blogger friends" was a euphemism for "imaginary friends."

catwoods said...

efjace~ great point on the hobbies outside of writing. Sometimes our brains need a serious break.

Also, it's easy to stay in the writing closet. To this day, none of my relatives have ever read any of my published articles, short stories, poetry, etc. They don't even know I've pubbed it, as I'm now focused on my kids stuff. I'm not sure if I'm still a chicken and don't really want to know if they approve or not, or if being focused on something else has just let me set aside that other stuff. It can be tough, stepping out of the closet.

Jemi~ So funny. I think that's a similar sentiment that all SO's have regarding our writer friends. Just repeat after me: We are not crazy. Our friends really exist.

Leslie~ you wouldn't be the only one to pick away at your writing. Often, it's hard to find the balance between just enough and too much. And then, it's not always easy to go back and fix what we broke.

Best luck with future projects!

martin alen said...

Interesting article. I think, sometimes, people are afraid to answer the questions that are put to them. Or they try to out-think the person asking them.
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Cat Woods said...


So true. Asking questions can be the hardest thing we ever have to do.