The Writer’s Life: On the Edge of the Cliffs of Insanity

BeingThe Cliffs of Insanity a writer can make you crazy.

Think about it:

  • Your literary heritage? A long line of creative alcoholics and drug users: Ernest Hemingway. O. Henry. Tennessee Williams. Dorothy Parker. Edgar Allen Poe.
  • Betting your life on a maybe, dependent on the kindness of others–agents, editors, publishers–for your success. And, really, their decisions have nothing to do with kindness.
  • Balancing your hopes on the seesaw of contradiction: Write your passion. Write what the market wants.
  • Hearing voices. The fictitious ones in your head that you tell what to do–and then you wreak havoc on them when they don’t. Meanwhile, the ever-present voices in the real world–your boss, your spouse, your kids–demand you focus on the here and now. The business meeting. The bills. The moody pre-teen inhabiting your daughter’s body.
  • Facing unending emotional upheaval. Waiting. Rejections. The mixture of joy and jealousy when a friend earns “the call.” (Not that you’d ever admit to even a passing acquaintance with the green-eyed monster. Inconceivable.)

Being a writer can push you to consider changing your name to Poe or Hemingway. The craziest part? You chose this life. You’re committed to this insanity. Here are a few suggestions for managing the madness:

  • Pick your mentors wisely. Just because writing drove others to indulge in mind-altering escapes doesn’t mean you must. I admire my mentors for their lifestyle choices, not just their writing skills.
  • Don’t let all your dreams be based on maybes. I have limited control over my success as a writer. Writing, however, is not all of my life. I’m pursuing other dreams with both short and long-term goals.
  • Choose between your passion and writing for the market. Or not. Maybe you’ll be the lucky author who hits the market when your passions collide with what “they” want. (Romantic-Amish-Vampire-Time-Travel-Steampunk-with-a-moral, anyone?)
  • Jump off the seesaw. The whole “balancing the writing world with the real world” challenge? I may never master that. Sometimes my mind seems full of shrieking eels, all screaming, “If only these people (husband, kids, friends) would leave me alone, I could accomplish the more important goals!” Then I know it’s time to shut down my computer and connect with family.
  • Admit you experience emotions. If emotions are good for our fictional characters, why are they bad for us? Sometimes we’re conflicted: over-the-moon-happy for our friend who landed a contract and also disappointed we’re not the one signing on the dotted line. That’s reality.

I’m curious: Am I the only writer pushed to the edge of the Cliffs of Insanity? How do you keep yourself from leaping off? (And can anyone tell me where the Cliffs of Insanity exist?)  ;o)

Post Author: Beth K. Vogt

Beth K. Vogt is a non-fiction author and editor who said she’d never write fiction. She’s the wife of an air force physician (now in solo practice) who said she’d never marry a doctor—or anyone in the military. She’s a mom of four who said she’d never have kids. She’s discovered that God’s best often waits behind the doors marked “Never.” She writes contemporary romance because she believes there’s more to happily ever after than the fairy tales tell us.

110 Replies to “The Writer’s Life: On the Edge of the Cliffs of Insanity”

  1. Great advice with a fun flair. Love that! I don’t think I’ve mentally thought about choosing writing mentors. After reading that advise I realize that the writers I admire the most are the ones that have a balanced life-style…people who are writing and caring for their family. I’ve gleaned tips from them on balance (not that I have it figured out or anything). And, yeah, the “shrieking eels” tend to alert me to the fact that I’ve not been all that balanced.

    1. Sounds like you’ve focused on an excellent goal in your writing life: balance. Managing the seesaw can be tricksy, but it often depends on who’s riding the other side!

  2. “Hearing voices. The fictitious ones in your head that you tell what to do–and then you wreak havoc on them when they don’t. Meanwhile, the ever-present voices in the real world…”

    Wow! You read my mind!

  3. On a related topic…

    You referenced the mixture of joy and jealousy when a friend earns “the call.” To me, both “jealous” and “envious” seem to imply, “It shouldn’t have been you; it should have been me INSTEAD.” So what’s the word that conveys, “I’m really happy for you. I wish it could be me, too. But I’m still really happy for you.”


    1. Good question, especially for wordsmiths.
      So, looking at the word envy–yes, it can imply a begrudging attitude or a resentful attitude–but not necessarily. It’s more a longing to want something that’s been awarded to someone else, or something someone else has.
      Jealousy seems to be more hostile, so perhaps I used the wrong word there.
      I should probably rework that sentence, Michael. I’ve never had an “it should have been you INSTEAD” response to another’s success … more of an “I’d like to experience that moment too.”
      Any other takes on this question?

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