The Writer’s Survival Guide

I’m assuming you’re here because you’re a writer stuck on a desert island with carnivorous camels. Or perhaps, like Luke Skywalker, you’re hanging upside down in an ice cave wondering how to finish your last novel before the snow beast attacks.

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No?

Here is a more realistic list of struggles common to writers:

  • mental illness
  • anxiety
  • procrastination
  • physical illness
  • family trouble
  • burnout
  • discouragement
  • financial stress
  • imposter syndrome

Not to mention, most writers juggle multiple jobs as busy parents, students, flight attendants, plumbers, nuns, and rebel fighters.

Approximately 90% of people in America say they want to write a book.

Very few complete a novel. Writing is hard, that is all. And that’s why I’ve compiled a cheat sheet with tips to survive this journey. And I hope, THRIVE! To start, if you already wrote a book and feel down, read this from Writers Digest: 7 Reasons Writing a Book Makes You a Badass.

SURVIVAL GUIDE 

  1. Don’t stress. It’s not that easy – I know. Take a deep breath. Do you remember the last time you really breathed in deep? Matthew 6:27 “Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his life span?” You might add an ulcer or some grey hairs, but not time.
  2. Pomodoro. I’m a big fan of the Pomodoro technique for time management. Write for 25 minutes and take a 5-minute break, then repeat. You’ll be amazed how fast time flies and how much easier it is to stay focused.
  3. Panda Planner. If you juggle so many jobs that you wear mismatching socks, this is for you. It’s the most comprehensive planner (but feels simple as if by magic) and helps prioritize your day. But it’s the size of a mac book, so be forewarned.
  4. The Five-Minute Journal. Great for those needing mental and spiritual encouragement. It’s a small commitment, with big dividends and I would recommend it to ANYONE. It helps start the day with positive thinking and realistic expectations. and the best part is, I start the day feeling accomplished for having completed a simple 5-minute task.
  5. 80/20 Rule. Speaking of schedules, this is a helpful rule of thumb. Strive to win 80% of the time. Perfectionists, please go back to Tip #1. If you don’t wash dishes every day, so what? Strive to do it 80% of the time. The same goes for writing. Don’t feel bad if it’s not 100% because no one is perfect. And when you do hit 100% weeks, you’ll feel awesome!
  6. Self-Control. Assume responsibility for yourself. I cannot state this enough. You are responsible for your own success. For your own healing. Own it. Make a choice. As scary as it may sound, it’s incredibly freeing.
  7. Join a Critique Group! Other writers are the reason I’m still writing. Find a community that will support you and offer constructive criticism. I started with my local SCBWI chapter and online Twitter contests. I’m forever grateful for those relationships!
  8. Emergency List. It’s a strategy often employed for people struggling with mental illness, self-harm, or big life-changing decisions. But it can be used on a small scale as well. Instead of telling yourself “I will not eat the whole bag of cookies” tell yourself, “I can eat the cookies if I still want to after doing everything on this list”. And more often than not by the end of the list, you don’t want the cookies.
    • Example 1: Before I run away to become a nun I will…watch every monastery movie in existence, actually read the bible, wear a habit for a day, take a vow of silence.
    • Example 2: Before getting a divorce I will…finish the Love Dare, get counseling, take a personal retreat, find a life coach, forgive.
    • Example 3: Before I allow myself to dwell on negative thoughts I will…go for a run, paint my nails, hold an ice cube, talk to a friend.
    • Example 4: Before giving up on my book I will…query fifty agents, go to a conference, find critique partners, etc.
  9. Wear a tiara. Something that symbolizes you are the boss. As my toddler loves to say “I boss of my emotions.” It feels good to have ownership of something and our emotions and thoughts are a good place to start. Own it, walk in it. Don’t let others dictate who you are. Or what you can do.
  10. Get a break. Have fun. Do something that inspires creativity. Read a book, climb Mount Fuji, go ice skating, you get the idea. Do something that energizes you so you don’t drown in self-pity or that last query rejection.

So I know none of these tips are easy. None are one-step-done. But hopefully, it gives you some hope. A place to pick up again when discouragement has you down. The Emergency List is particularly helpful in this regard. You can make the steps as easy, silly, or rewarding as you like. The point is, keep writing. And keep living fully. Don’t give up. And when you need help, reach out.

I was shocked when my critique partners responded to my request to help me through depression. They asked me how I was doing and swapped pages to keep me going.

I was shocked when a counselor gave me free counseling for two years just because.

I was shocked when friends sent cards or words of encouragement.

I was shocked when people said, “I respect you.” Because being vulnerable and asking for help is hard. But it’s worth it. 

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