On Balance & Writing & Breaks & Anxiety & Hobbies

I love writing.

It’s always been the thing that’s made me feel most like ME. I lose hours and afternoons at it. I am so, so lucky to be making a job out of the thing I love.

But sometimes, it complicates things. My deadlines have been very fast – a little less so now that STAR CURSED has been pushed back to June instead of February, but things were crazy with BORN WICKED. It’s really common for books to take 18 months or more from sale to publication. I had 11 months. I was finishing edits before many authors would even get their first edit letter. I’m grateful for it, because I am awful at waiting. But Editor Ari’s amazing lightning-fast turn-arounds has meant I rarely have more than a few days off. I’ve been working on STAR CURSED for over a year, and I haven’t had more than two weeks away from it (when I was on tour). Soon I’ll be starting book 3. But in the meantime…

…I’m a little bit lost. I’m anxious. I have anxiety disorder, which means it doesn’t take much for my brain’s faulty wiring to start shrieking Something is wrong here! A deviation from routine will totally do it. An absence of a to-do list, of orderly goals for the day, of…stress. When I don’t feel stressed, my brain starts looking for something to worry about, and it is not above making shit up. It makes finding balance particularly hard, I think. I don’t want to be constantly go-go-go because I’m afraid of the anxiety that results from the silence. Sometimes rest is really important for creativity.

But I also feel like I’ve started scheduling my life around writing and deadlines, and embracing that stress, in a way that is maybe not optimal. Writing has always been so much of me that Writer Jess is a huge part of my identity. But now that the thing I do for fun is my job…what do I do for fun? I read, I tweet, I meet up with writing friends. Those things are all amazing and wonderful but…still kind of work-related.

So, I’ve decided that this fall – while I’m writing book 3 – I’m going to find out. I love fall. It energizes me. I’m dreaming up all sorts of classes I want to take – yoga, calligraphy, letterpress, various cooking classes. I’m thinking about making Christmas cards. (I heart paper goods, you guys.) Of making soups from scratch. Of long walks with friends where writing is only a tiny part of the conversation. Of game nights. Of seeing plays. And fitting writing around all of this, instead of the other way ’round, and seeing how that goes.

What do you do for fun? Have you ever felt like one part of you is overwhelming the rest?

47 Responses

  1. OMG I feel like that all the time!!! Except when it comes to school work! Sometimes I feel so much pressure to get something done, that I get really moody, and start panicking! It gets scary! Great post! 🙂

  2. jessicacorra

    As a fellow writer with anxiety disorder, YES! THIS! Ugh. ::HUGS::

    I bake. A lot. I used to swing dance but haven't had time. Exercise is important, though, and great as a hobby cos then you stick to it. I miss singing in choirs, too.

      1. jessicacorra

        Ugh! I hear you on that…. I send it all to work with Boyfriend. But yeah, transitioning to *cooking* instead of baking for that reason. :/ I want to do more creative things that aren't writing, my awesome friend Shveta Thakrar is into papercrafts. Or take up singing again. It's hard to say, I do have time for that, when you think, but I could get another 1k in tonight! even if you know mentally you'll be better off not doing it. Especially with the anxiety pushing in and reminding you all the reasons you should do the writing, like getting a new agent/contract/whatever, or just to have a new project done, or, or…. ugh. I write 1-3k on average a day when I'm drafting, but I feel like a snail because the anxiety tells me it's not good enough. Derp. It's hard to remember to take that step away.

        1. Ooh, papercrafts! I am really excited about the calligraphy option. I completely know what you mean about the guilt of choosing to do something else instead of writing – even once I have accomplished my goal for the day, it's so easy to think I could/should do more. I'm going to try to push past it though. I think I'll enjoy the writing more, honestly, if it starts to feel less like work again.

  3. Robin

    ::nods in agreement::

    In interviews its always so embarrassing because my full time job is writing, and when they ask me about recreational activities and hobbies, yep, it's stil writing. It's my everything. But, just like you, I'm trying to find some balance. I've been on one kind of deadline or another for over four years now, and while I know I AM BELIEVABLY LUCKY TO HAVE BEEN SO, I also feel like I need some baLAnCe!

    Also, my classes I'd love to take list is the exact same as yours!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Colleen! I am fascinated by how different everyone's process is. I'm not sure I could go without writing for months, but I think a few days would be nice, ha!

  4. I definitely feel like one part, the writing overwhelms the rest!!! Yes!

    My fun involves seeing Broadway musical/plays, going to concerts every now and then, finding TV shows, movies & documentaries on Netflix that nobody watches, having a girl's weekend (rare since I live a bit far from them), and finding out what's happening in my community. Of course there was always something going on when I lived in LA. I'm back in my home state of NJ in a town that's not exactly thriving. But now and then a cafe has poetry night and that is always fun. Also, walking around town and listening to podcasts is something I do not mention enough but I do it all the time and love it. Reading is also on my fun list. I have always wanted to get into scrap booking. Hmm.

    1. Hi Melody! Thanks for commenting. It sounds like you have lots of different outlets! I definitely see some plays – though not as many as usual this year – since my husband is a playwright. I think I could incorporate more long walks with my iPod and girls' nights, though!

      1. Hi Jessica! 🙂 Yeah, I can't exactly say that I'm ever bored haha… it's moreso me fighting exhaustion when I finally get a chance to do any of it. But all of Jillian Michaels's workout DVDs are there to wake me up haha.

  5. Aw, Jess, I know. I had 10 months to pub! I know exactly what you're talking about. I did not have more than 2 days off until recently. My 2nd book also got pushed (thank goodness), but not due to anything other than some potential good news and the publisher wanting to take advantage of that (and wisely, I might add). I am very grateful and relieved (it had been originally announced to come out this Dec).

    I think it is crucial that we find ourselves – either maintaing or rediscovering. We need to feed our creative center. I find when I take the rare night out for a good film or play, it replenishes my artistic soul.

    The debut year is rough and no one warns you about that. Having to do promo and touring in addition to writing under pressure is really tough. This post of yours sounds like you know now how to get back to Jessica. I'm really happy for you.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Lissa! I hope you're finding ways to keep your creative well refilled too. I do find concerts or plays inspiring – I should not feel guilty for taking a night off for them! Must remember that. 🙂

  6. Yes! I can so relate to this. I didn’t expect the weeks leading up to release day to be so stressful, but it really brought up a lot of anxiety and obsessions. Like you, I found that making space for other positive things really helped. The basics like making sure I’m eating balanced meals, getting some form of exercise (which for me means long walks – so nice in the fall!) and making space for prayer and meditation. I also found it helpful to unplug and focus on a handful of relationships – for some reason the more online I am, the more anxious I get. I also love fall and am looking forward to soaking it up. Hang in there!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Marissa! My diet goes to hell during deadlines – I really need to get back on the wagon health-wise. It makes such a difference! And I agree – being online too much can feed a weird go-go-go mentality and anxiety for me too. Quality of relationships over quantity is important for introverted writer souls, I think. Hope you have a beautiful fall!

  7. I definitely felt this way…until I had my daughter. Suddenly my writing had competition for Most Important Thing In My Life. I'm currently under an insane deadline for my second book and oh yeah–my first one comes out TOMORROW, but I have had to temper all of this insanity with the fact that I now have this adorable little person who grins ear to ear when she wakes up every morning and she needs my attention AS MUCH. I guess you could argue this will make me Even Crazier in the long run, but I don't know, I'm glad I have her to remind me life isn't just deadlines and manuscripts. There is time for everything…as long as you don't sleep. 😉

  8. Gina Rosati

    Hugs to you, Jess! I also have anxiety issues, so I know where you're coming from. I have such enormous respect for you and every author who writes a trilogy … until I joined the Apocalypsies and realized just what goes into the making of a trilogy under constant deadlines on top of promoting the last book, I had no idea just how hard it is. I agree that a hobby is just the thing to balance you … after Auracle launched, I went on a major yarn and bead buying splurge because I needed something that wasn't writing or computer oriented. And the beauty of crocheting is that in that calming, repetitious activity, my mind relaxed enough to come up with some great ideas for the next book.

    1. Aw, thanks, Gina! *hugs back* I love that you've found such a meditative and creative outlet in crocheting. I am seriously thinking about teaching myself calligraphy and then making my own Christmas cards! I love paper crafts.

  9. Oh gosh, I am so with you here. One of my most dreaded interview questions is, "What do you do for fun?" because I tend to just stare at the interview and be like, "Um… I write? And… read a lot?" And then I feel like I really need to get some new hobbies. lol

    I love your ideas for self-exploration! Good luck, Well-rounded Writer Jess! <3

  10. ((hugs)) I so feel you on this. The whole 2 series at once thing is INTENSE. And I had a friend ask me not that long ago, "So what do you do besides writing?" AND I COULDN'T THINK OF AN ANSWER THAT WASN'T PUBLISHING RELATED. Maybe I'll copy your goal. Well, as soon as I get through KEEPER's launch week this week. 🙂

    1. Happy release day, Shannon! And major hugs, because I don't know how you manage two series at once. I'd love to write adult historical romance someday – but I don't know if I could do both without becoming a total crazyface!

  11. ((hugs)) Oh Jess. <3 i just want to say I took calligraphy for 2 years in sleepaway camp (yes I was a geek even then lol) and it was so cool! I can still write like that even with a regular pen.

    As someone who feels like all they do is write (and notlookforajoblikethey'resupposedto), I feel the stress of getting this revision done. I know it is certainly not the same as promoting/writng under contract, etc, but I find myself doing internship work for hours on end (not really clearing my writing head either bc it is all book related), writing at night until 2am (eesh) and then I watch an episode or two of Pretty Little Liars s1 to digest. I've also been going out to see friends which has happened (non writerly folk). I also "splurged" today and bought a new fall coat (see fb or twitter), $17 at TJ Maxx, originally $25. Shopping and Panera are my guilty stress relievers.

    I also think people watching is a stress reliever. Just watching how others react. I also went to the mall the other day and played with the Kinect for Microsoft/XBox and did a work out with the dance dance game…lol. It was so fun and silly – it totally let writing/reading go out of my brain. 😛

    Thinking of you.xxo

  12. I so relate to this. Someone asked me what I did to unwind the other day and I could barely cobble together a coherent sentence. "Unwind? What's that?" Between my kids and writing, I feel like I'm a hamster on a wheel that never stops spinning. I finished my second MG and have almost finished the first draft of a YA that I've wanted to write for so long. It's the first of a trilogy, if I'm lucky enough to get it published, and I have to admit, there have been times that I've thought: "You know, if this doesn't get picked up, then I won't have to deal with anymore crazy deadlines…" I've had to take time away from social media, it just makes me more and more stressed. And I've had to acknowledge that everyone has their own limitations. I just don't have the time or the emotional reserves to be online as much as other writers right now. I've been trying to take Fridays off to volunteer at my kids' school or spend with friends and that's been a lifesaver.

    1. Thanks so much for commenting, Jenny! I do think everyone has their limits – and I am in awe of those of you who have kids. I look forward to it but I also don't know how I'll manage it, you know? But I honestly think we shouldn't feel guilty about social media half as much as we do. Look at writers like Kristin Cashore – she's hardly online at all, and she's my most favorite!

  13. Amy Butler Greenfield

    Oh, yes. Hugs and much empathy, Jess! One of the things that helps me find a balance is my daughter. But of course that also means that the deadlines just seem to roll around faster… whooooooosh! It's mighty tempting to ignore everything but family and work, but I know what it's like to empty the well, and I don't want to go there again.

    So glad you're letting yourself have time for YOU! All your plans sound wonderful. I'm wishing you a joyful fall!

    1. Thanks so much, Amy! I really look forward to being a mama – I'm sure it gives you such a different perspective! I have been having so much fun lately visiting with friends' babies.

  14. Desiree

    Photography is my biggest passion in life and for a while I thought that I would try to make it into a career. Once I started thinking of my art as source of income it lost a little of its magic, so to speak. I nixed the idea of becoming a professional because who wants the thing that they turn to in times of stress to turn into the source of stress? Thanks for being open and I totally understand what you are feeling!

    1. Thanks, Desiree! I do think money complicates things – it definitely adds to the pressure/expectations when your art becomes your source of income. But yay for having a passion in the first place – I think we forget sometimes that lots of people don't ever find theirs!

  15. hollieinaustralia

    I get so stressed out all the time as well and know exactly how it is when there's actually nothing to stress about and yet I'm still stressing? As a writer, even though it's not my job (yet!) I sort of know how you feel still. I feel like doing things like cooking/baking, going to the gym, walking with friends, watching movies, etc. helps and are hobbies as well. I also like to go see a lot of live music because who does't love that, right?

    1. Hi Hollie! I love seeing live music – we just saw 2 concerts last month (Florence + the Machine and Amanda Palmer). It sounds like you have lots of great outlets. I'd love to start doing yoga again. Walking with friends is brilliant right now (gorgeous fall weather here) but soon it will get very chilly in the evenings!

      1. hollieinaustralia

        Hi Jessica!
        Oh, both of those concerts sound so good! I'm seeing Mumford and Sons and The Black Keys later this month, I'm so excited! Yoga is so wonderful because not only is it a workout, but it's completely relaxing – the best of both worlds! I know it's going to be getting chilly when I go back to Chicago next month too, therefore no more walking on the beach for me either!

  16. I read an interview with a published author recently in which he said: “If writing is your career, then find a hobby that is just a hobby.” Well, writing isn’t my career just yet, as I still have a day job, but for a long time writing was all I was doing outside of my day job – and that wasn’t good. I needed a hobby outside of writing and work and I found one – baking! It’s ideal as it’s fun, it’s totally unstressful and, best of all, it means you end up with delicious cakes to eat next time you sit down to write! : D

    1. Yay, I love baking! I used to bake LOTS when I had an office job because I could take the goods to work and foist them on my coworkers. Now that The Playwright and I both work from home, it's hard not to nom it all myself. I need to find some good healthy recipes since we're both dieting – maybe I'll make some soups this fall!

  17. Love your post. I think a lot of writers are perfectionists-in-training and lead quite stressful lives trying to fit all the writing in. When I launched my website I put a section in called Muse Fuel to kind of make myself publically accountable for re-filling the well. I can't tell you how refreshing and re-charging it feels to do something other than the thing you love most in the world (even if it's only for a little while). It really helps. Promise!

    1. Aw, thanks, Eve! Love the idea of Muse Fuel. I am SUCH a perfectionist – I do think it's really common for writers to become workaholics, but it's so important to keep the creative well refilled! Thanks for commenting!

  18. emmyneal

    Working at a library and for a book blog and leading a book club turned reading–which has always been my haven–into work, which almost broke my heart. Plus being a writer, plus all my friends are voracious readers…I needed something else. Something not cooking or baking, because I can burn water. I took up glassblowing and painting–both of which can consume me for hours of a day without me noticing

    1. Glassblowing? That is AMAZING! So is painting but I went to Venice in high school and still remember being in awe of the glass-blowers. So cool, Emmy!

      I'm teaching myself calligraphy now, and my husband just found us an ASL tutor, and I might sign up for this yoga workshop at the beginning of Nov. Fun!

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