The Worst Advice We've All Heard: Writer Edition
Where my overachievers at?! (Because this one’s for you!)
Recently I was scrolling through some old Twitter threads, marveling at how quickly time has flown by. Did you know I was a member of the Kidlit Debut Group The Fourteeners? 2014!!
In a tweet-conversation about writing and finishing drafts, I came across this question more than once.
“How do you celebrate finishing a new manuscript?”
The answer, tweeted by several other authors (including myself!) was this:
Celebrate by writing the next one!
Have you ever heard that advice before in your creative life? Celebrate finishing one project by starting the next? Celebrating working by… working?
So let me be totally honest to you: I listened to this advice for ten years.
Every time I wrapped up a new manuscript, I’d clap my hands together, do a half-second of chair dancing, crack my knuckles and open up a new word doc, ready to get moving on the next one. It felt exhilarating, because I had so many ideas and moving on quickly gave me the impression I was meeting my goals.
In one way, it worked for me. It helped me get more books out into the world!
But in another way, it was a deeply messed up and ill-advised fast track to burnout.
Why? Think about the message you’re sending to your own creative soul.
"You get to celebrate this finished work by working even more!"
Not exactly the healthy framework for sustained creativity I thought it was!
Your celebrations should involve refilling your well, not depleting it more.
Here's why this is a problem for me:
No matter how much you love writing, it’s output. Brainstorming is output. Writing is output. Playing around with ideas is output. Especially when you’re doing these things in hopes that you’ll get a book out of it! No matter how hard we try, as writers, we have the magical ability to picture our drafts as finished works - and that means we have sneaky, ulterior motivations pretty much every time we pick up a pen.
Celebrations should refuel you – not require more of you.
These days, I’m cringing to see old-me share that well-intentioned advice in those earlier tweets. I’m sad that I didn’t allow myself more time to actually celebrate – by creating rituals that felt good and didn’t require more working. I regret not telling myself “it’s okay to take some time to anchor the good stuff you just did, without needing to create even more."
Is this you, too?
You have to wonder: by not truly allowing ourselves to celebrate these big and small moments, are we creating patterns of overwork? Are we setting ourselves up for this kind of hustle because we don’t think we deserve a break?
Hustle is great in the short term. It can get you through the end of a deadline, wrap up a project, and solve some small time-sensitive problems.
But hustle as a way of life? Let’s all bow out, shall we?
If this resonates with you, here are some ways to anchor your success without falling into burnout mode. If none of these fill your own creative well, try to come up with a few options that are suited to you!
• set the bar lower – this means we don’t wait until a project is finished to celebrate, rather we cheer on every stage of the goal. Celebrate the five minutes you spent on that new idea, rather than waiting for the book to be done. (I wrote more about this here!)
• create a structure of check-in for ourselves, so can call out our own B.S. Do you need a post-it note on your desk to remind you to celebrate the smaller stuff? Can you set daily or weekly reminders leading up to a deadline, so you can hit those points without just skimming over them in pursuit of the “big” goal?
• give ourselves some actual input that feels decadent to us, without it needing to apply to our works-in-progress (this means you watch a TV show, read a book, or take in a creative class that feels juicy to you, but not as research for your next project!)
• lean on nature, without expectation. There are mountains of research that show nature can soothe our stress, so if any of the above methods feel meh to you, you might find what you need outside!
So let's hear it.
Have you heard that advice before? Did it cause you to bristle, or did it sound reasonable to you?
Are you guilty of this kind of overwork, too? Do you avoid celebrating, or celebrate by doing more work? You're not alone! If this strikes a chord with you, I'd love to hear: what are you going to do to cheer yourself on? How do you anchor your successes?
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