Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Cure for Overwhelmed?

Hello. I’m a published author and I've suffered from Author Overwhelmed Syndrome (AOS).

I don’t think I’m alone in this.

When my debut novel, Night Swim, came out in January 2012, I said yes to every invitation, blog request, book event that came my way. It was a thrilling, stimulating time. --My dream realized. But, then, I couldn't stop. I went into overdrive aka "whip-myself-everyday-for-not-not doing-enough" overdrive. Eventually, my inner gears wore down, the ones that run the machine of who I am. I began to malfunction.

Anxiety. Depression. Lack of sleep. Chronic fatigue? Those were the signs. I was speeding downhill, nothing to stop me except a big fat tree at the bottom of the road.



Every profession has its demands.  Every dream has its responsibilities.  Maybe this overwhelmed-ness is an American syndrome.  But I also know that different professions and industries have developed stopgaps, protection measures (or, I like to think so, anyway) for its workers.  We have minimum wage for instance. We have overtime pay for hourly wage employees, we have health benefits—you get the idea—all meant to keep people out of danger zones. What about my industry?

As the publishing world continues to erupt and transform, authors are doing a lot of heavier lifting--maybe more than ever--simultaneously promoting books, hosting and posting on blogs, writing their next books, working second jobs (because most authors do not get advances large enough to cover yearly living expenses), and keeping up on industry changes that impact book sales.

So, I wonder? When is it okay for an author to say:  Enough.

How can authors--how can I--elude the sticky Venus fly trap of AOS?  At what point do these efforts to self-promote produce diminishing mental health and/or insignificant book sales?  What are the signs?

The answer to that is unique to each author. But, here's a few suggestions to consider. 

First, begin by assessing the five big-picture areas of your life: family, health, finances, recreation, creative work.  Do you have time and energy to tend to the needs of your family? (kids? aging parents? spouse or partner?) Are you taking care of your health? What is your current financial picture? Do you need to take on additional work to support your monthly living expenses? Do you have time for play?(Yeh, play. It's important.) Are you getting enough Sleep?  Rest?  Do you have time and, equally important, energy to write?

From there I came up with a few energy re-alignment strategies that have helped me so far.  Maybe they will help you, too.

·         Engage in a non-verbal activity for one hour every day, seven days a week.  I like to take pictures with my smart phone. It works on a different side of my brain and refreshes me.  There’s no pressure to perform or get it right. Gaze out the window. Meditate. Play your guitar. Pray. Do anything that doesn't require pen and paper or computers.

·         Exercise every day - Walk, run, bike, yoga, sex; whatever gets your physical body in gear and is fun. Dance around your living room.

·         Commit to unplugging at least 1 hour before bed every night. Do this for 10 nights straight and it will become a habit you won’t want to give up.  What will you do? Read, of course. Your brain will thank you.

·         Schedule one afternoon or night every week at least (no exceptions) to play.  See friends. Watch movies. Read! Go to the beach. You are not wasting your time. You’re watering your spirit, your creative self. The payback is inspiration and renewed excitement around creative projects.

·         Say no to things. This is most difficult for me.  I want to please.  I don’t want to miss that next opportunity. But saying no has become necessary for my physical, mental and creative health.  

    The essential, ongoing question around all of this is: Are you taking care of  yourself? Nothing more, nothing less. That's the bottom line. 




Jessica Keener’s new collection of stories, Women In Bed, is forthcoming October 1, 2013. A new edition of her debut novel, Night Swim, will be out on September 10. She is recovering from AOS.

31 comments:

  1. This is so comprehensive, insightful, and smart, Jessica. The weird thing is, when one part overwhelms me, I don't allow myself the time for the others. I always think I should be doing something else. I've realigned my priorities lately and am still waiting for it all to fall into place.

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    1. Amy, I know what you mean about one part overwhelming and then another part of your life getting short-changed. I don't have it figured out but I do think it's a process and some kind of commitment and habit that starts to happen over time. It's hard, though.

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  2. What a wonderful post. Thanks so much. I constantly feel attached to my book or books or the next book and it's so hard to let go and just breathe at times. But let go and refuel we must.

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Kwana. Glad to hear from you. Yes. Breathing. And, letting go. Easy to say, hard to do.

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  3. Excellent insights! Thank you for the blog post I really needed today.

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    1. Beth - meant to add my thanks for your comment. I'm glad the post spoke to you today.

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  4. This is brilliant, Jessica--and exactly what I needed to read today. As you know, I've been trying to turn my computer off every night by nine...without much success. Your ten day challenge feels a lot more doable. Thank you!

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    1. Glad to hear you are trying, Patry. The first days feel odd and disorienting. Keep at it! Thanks for weighing in with your thoughts here.

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  5. I needed to read this today. Feeling overwhelmed--with two book events this week, and a bunch of self-imposed August writing goals. But next week? A week of reading and walking and just "being" on the Vineyard. Can't wait.

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    1. I'm glad to hear you are at last taking some kind of break, Maryanne. Your wonderful debut, Cascade, has been in high demand for a year now, at least, yes? Enjoy your time on the Vineyard.

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  6. Yes, yes and yes!!! I needed that today, too. I am going out for lunch with a new friend today--I'm already heeding your sage advice!

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    1. Isn't it easier to heed someone else's advice, Anne? Enjoy your lunch.

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  7. I still have several months until my pub date, but I know my personality type well enough to know that I'll sink into AOS unless I do something now to prevent it. I've tried a few things like taking FB and Twitter off my phone, and charging my phone outside of my bedroom at night, and that's helped, but I love your suggestion to schedule play and do one-hour of non-verbal things a day. We can't get so caught up in fueling our publishing career that we forget to nourish the parts of us that make us writers in the first place. Thanks for this, Jessica!

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    1. Natalia, congratulations on your upcoming pub date.Is this a novel? A debut? I think you're smart to keep electronics out of your bedroom. We have to have one place where those things don't intrude or tempt us and the bedroom is the place to start.I think Feng Shui folks might agree. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here.

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    2. Thanks, Jessica! Yes, this is for my debut novel, Chasing the Sun, which will be out next May! It's been so hard to not be glued to a screen, waiting for any little email from my publisher :)

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    3. Congratualtions, Natalia. A debut year is huge. Thinking back, I'm not sure it would have been possible for me to know or anticipate how much I could take on before hitting my personal overwhelmed point. Know that those feelings are normal. I wish you the best. Enjoy this special time.

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  8. Jessica, I love the idea about engaging in a non-verbal activity like photography, thanks! And it can't hurt to collect photos you can use on your FB and blog pages, either—relaxing AND multi-tasking! Win-win!

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    1. Hi, Kathryn. Thanks. I hope you find something non-verbal that works for you. The picture taking has been a surprise and a pleasure.

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  9. Great post, Jessica. Timely as life begins to ramp up toward my next book next spring. Lately I find myself returning more and more to the belief that a book (like anything) will either find its wings or not...and that doing too much or trying too hard could be detrimental. (Of course, I say that now. Talk to me next April when I'm blogging on 12 sites, flying to seven cities in one day, and Skyping with three reading groups while standing on my head and juggling fire sticks.) :)

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    1. Dear Kristin - You have an exciting year coming up. What's your new book called? I hope you find balance during the process, but I know what you mean. You can always take some time out between those days you are Skyping on your head, right?

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    2. Indeed! The new one is called The Art of Floating...not out until April 2014.

      So looking forward to Women in Bed! Such a provocative title.

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    3. Oh, The Art of Floating--that sounds so apropos to this discussion!

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  10. A brilliant post, and so timely for me, Jessica. I'm gearing up to start promoting novel two--and already dreading the next six months.

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    1. Barbara,what's your pub date? I hope your dread turns to anticipation and excitement.

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  11. Wonderful post, Jessica, and great advice. I think part of it is about control. As authors it feels like we need to do everything we can to make our book a success, but ultimately there is only so much we can do. We have to remember why we write, the joy of it, and never make it a chore. And yes to unplugging and time with friends!

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    1. So true what you say, Erin. The control issue is so damn tricky. And, remembering the joy. Thanks.

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  12. What a smart and timely post, Jessica. Thank you for giving me permission to say no, to play, to unplug... I'm inspired by you--and very grateful!

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  13. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts here, Lori. Much appreciated.

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  14. There's so much great insight here. I'm a writer who hasn't written in ages. I miss it. It was easy to give up when life got busy and plans for my life took a drastic turn, but I actually really miss writing. I'm going back to school in January so I've been studying for the GRE, but that's all I've been doing. Between work and studying, that's all there seems to be time for. But the last few days I've been making an effort to take a little time to read or just sit each day. I need to figure out a way to add writing back into that time. Thanks for all the suggestions you shared here.

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    1. You'll figure it out, Girlseeksplace. I love that you are giving yourself time to "just sit." That's a great start. Best of luck to you!

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