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Monday, May 22

Can You Be a Writeaholic?

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

As you might imagine, I know a lot of writers—from those just starting to write all the way up to those with dozens of published books. Even though every writer is different in their own way, there are similarities and common ground regardless of career level.

One such area, is writing too much.

If you’re aghast at that statement, wondering how in the world someone could write too much, you might just be one of those writers.

I suspect most of us go through a “too much writing” phase at some point in our journeys, usually early on, after we’ve decided to pursue writing professionally and are trying like mad to sell something. Writing becomes all-encompassing, as we shut everything else in our life down to get that draft/revision/query letter/submission package etc. finished and sent out.

We work like fiends, writing and polishing and researching and networking and doing everything we possibly can to “make it.”

We read every blog, book, and magazine on writing and publishing someone we admire or respect recommends.

We push ourselves to the limit (and beyond) to get this project done, and we promise ourselves when it’s over we’ll start doing all those things we’ve been ignoring while we worked on our writing.

Except it doesn’t happen, because when our current project is done, there’s always that next project, or next step in the process:
  • We finish the draft, but now it needs revising.
  • We finish the revision, but now it needs polishing.
  • We finished polishing, but now we need to find beta readers.
  • We find beta readers, but now we need to research agents or editors to query.
  • We find people to query, but now we need to write the query letter.
  • We write the query letter, but now we need to edit and polish that.
  • We get our critiques back and now we need to revise again.
And it goes on and on.

I totally understand how writers get into this cycle—I’ve been there myself multiple times. We love writing, and publishing is our dream, so we’re willing to do whatever we have to to achieve that dream (because we’ve been doing that to our protagonists for so long we can’t imagine not following the same path, right?). We’re sure that a little push now will pay off later.

Except the pushing never stops, and before we know it, we’re burnt out, we can’t write, we’ve damaged our health or relationships, and we feel like complete failures.

(Here's more on balance vs. burnout)

Red Flags That You Might be a Writeaholic:


You regularly skip or cancel plans with friends and family because you “have to write.”

The only conversations you have are about writing or your current project.

Not writing gives you anxiety and keeps you up at night.

Good news from writer friends leaves you depressed, jealous, or angry.

If you don’t write, you think you’re a terrible person who doesn’t deserve to be published.

You obsess over writing and getting published so much it’s creating trouble in your life. 


Every writer has times when they need to buckle down and get work done, so if you have short bouts of any of these, it might not indicate a problem. But if this pretty much describes your life, it’s likely you’re focusing too much on writing and it’s become damaging.

(Here's more on balancing writing and working without losing your mind)

What to Do if You’re Writing Too Much:


If you realize (or fear), you’re spending too much time writing and not enough time on the other important aspects of your life, try:

Stop writing: I know, this sounds insane, but if you can’t walk away from that keyboard, that’s a major red flag that you really do have a problem. Take a break from writing for a few weeks, or even a month if it's that consuming for you.

Limit writing to specific times of the day:
Cutting cold turkey might be more than you can handle, but cutting back can ease you into healthier habits. Set aside a few hours a day and write only during those hours. Choose a time span that lets you feel productive, but isn’t cutting into the rest of your life. For example, saying you’re going to write eight hours a day isn’t actually helping you cut back, but writing for four hours might be if you usually write six or eight.

Schedule time away from the house or keyboard: If being home means you’ll find your way back to your keyboard, get outside. Visit friends, enjoy the family, run errands, go see a movie—even stay late at work if it helps.

Leave the devices at home: Don’t take that laptop or pad with you when you leave the house. If your laptop isn’t there, you can’t write on it.

(Here's more on challenging yourself vs. setting yourself up to fail)

Schedule time to do non-writing things you enjoy: Instead of writing for four hours, try writing for two and then doing something else. Go garden, or work on a scrapbook, ride a bike, go window shopping—whatever you like to do. If you’re stuck, try picking up an adult coloring book and some markers. They’re fun and just addictive enough to work as a distraction.

Get support:
If it’s too much to do on your own, ask friends and family to keep you away from the keyboard. Let them control when you have access to your laptop or computer, encourage them to stand firm and not let you sit around the house all weekend and write.

Breaking a writing habit might not be easy, but it’s worth the effort if it’s affecting your life and happiness. Writing should enhance your life, not keep you from it, and it certainly shouldn't make you miserable while doing it.

Are you a writeaholic? Have you ever had a “writing too much” period? How did you break the habit?

Looking for tips on planning, writing, or revising your novel? Check out one of my books on writing:  Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and the first book in my bestselling Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).


A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.

Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, your step-by-step guide to revising a novel, and the first book in her Skill Builders Series, Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).  
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6 comments:

  1. I'm going through this right now. For me, it's all aspects of publishing. (I'm an indie author.) Even though I haven't been writing, I'm constantly marketing, speaking, signing, something. And I'm *this close* to burning out.

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    1. I think the business side is more draining than the writing. It takes so much time and energy, and if you're like me, it's not tasks I enjoy doing, which makes it harder.

      What helped me, was to start taking weekends off. I'll do a blog post or two, but I try to avoid working unless I'm on a hard deadline. It was tough to do for a few weeks, but now I feel so much better and I'm actually more productive during the week because I'm not exhausted all the time. (Hey, this might make a god post in and of itself, thanks!)

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  2. "Stop writing: I know, this sounds insane, but if you can’t walk away from that keyboard, that’s a major red flag that you really do have a problem."

    I am reminded of two things:

    1) Tolkien once had his right arm in plaster and was unable to write, you can guess how he felt? "like a hen not allowed to peck" or words to the effect;
    2) your diagnosis seems clearly foreseeable - but then it comes in a certain ideology. Where friendship means slavery and help means ruin.

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    Replies
    1. I do think there's a difference between people who write because they love it and want to do it, and those who feel compelled to push themselves beyond their limits because they feel they "have" to.

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  3. Replies
    1. Oh no! Maybe it's time to schedule a little down time :)

      Delete