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.

Can You See Your Lion?

Recently I read that antelopes in captivity are not only healthier, but more reproductive when they can see and smell lions, their primary predator. I found such an observation fascinating. Does that mean a bit of stress makes an antelope’s life better?

Which of course led me to consider what a completely stress-free life would look like. Heaven? Or . . . boring? Evidently the antelopes are in the second camp. So boring, in fact, they find little reason to live a productive life without a reminder of some of life’s challenges.

As an author, I took some odd comfort in that. What writer, at any stage in their career, lives without stress? Maybe stress, at least in a manageable dose, isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Let’s face it, if getting published—or staying published—was stress-free then everyone would be doing it. But it’s neither easy nor stress-free. While the self-esteem movement wants everyone to be a winner (and undoubtedly there is something good about reminding us of our value) the bottom line is all of us do lose at one time or another. What accomplishment can we celebrate if every time we set out to do something we succeeded? Either our bar is too low or we’re fooling ourselves, because grown ups face disappointment all the time. In fact, overcoming stress and the accompanying feeling of failure make our successes all the sweeter.

All of this has me considering stress in a new light. I’m not saying all stress is good, or too much stress is good. Maybe there’s a difference between good stress and bad stress, although to an antelope I can’t figure out what’s good about having a lion in the neighborhood. Maybe if we don’t have some lions to look at in our distance—a reminder of the challenges that are out there—we might not have a reason to grow and improve. Maybe without those lions looming we might not even want to get up in the morning.

So next time you’re rushing to meet a deadline, or you receive a rejection, a disappointing contest result or a bad review, remind yourself without these lions in your life, living would be too dull to matter. At least that’s what the antelopes think.

What about you? Is there a fine line between good stress and bad? At what point do the lions in your life make you want to try harder, grow and improve before feeling there are too many lions in your life?

Note: Lion Photo compliments of Amanda Neilson, Neilson House Photography

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