The Shotgun Barrell of the Writing Life


I am staring down the barrel of several guns—all shotguns, all loaded, all with buckshot. And I am fine with it. Now please understand that I have panic attacks. Last year this time I was in the same boat and panicking. This year, no panic. I find this odd behavior on my part. It differs from the character building, it differs from past actions, it does not fit the pattern. Not at all. So I am musing on the changes that I see in me. Not ranting, mind you. Just … pondering my way through it.

If I was a character in one of my books, I—the writer—would have to deal with this deviation from the norm. I’d have to find a way for the character changes to make sense or I’d have to do a lot of rewriting and reinsert the panic attacks. Fortunately, I am not a character and I am free to feel what I want and to react as I want. It goes back to the saying that (paraphrased) books have to make sense, real life doesn’t.

But let’s look at the barrels that I opened with:
1. I have a book due on May 1. I have 100 pages still to write. I have deviated from my linear outline and the book is taking different arcs. I am discovering things about the characters that I didn’t expect. And I like it. Yet, the deadline looms.
2. I am in the middle of editing an anthology. I asked for and received a week extension. I am enjoying the editorial process. It is actually fun. The stories are good,  the writers are better, and are a delight to work with. Yet, the deadline looms.
3. I have a novella due on June 15, as part of the Jane Yellowrock Companion. Which has to be written. And put together.  I’ll have 6 weeks. I hope. Yes, the deadline looms.
4. As I write this, I also have this post to write. And a blog day on Thursday to look forward to. And a blog to write for the release day at www.BittenByBooks.
5. I need to vacuum and scrub the tub. And fold some clothes. I’m out of undies, which is entirely TMI, I know, but I wanted to show you what life is like when deadlines overlap. Oh. I am also out of bread, lettuce, canned soup, salmon, and fresh veggies.
6. Oh. Yeah. I actually forgot. Which is weird. I added this number 6 in the final rewrite. I mentioned release day in number 4. I have a book release on April 2. BLOOD TRADE will be out. Please feel free to buy it. Buy a copy for you, and one for each of your reading pals. Ask your local library to buy a copy or 10. (Required PR is now done.)
7. I also forgot to add — the full time job for the benefits.

Yes, panic is still a possibility. But to be honest, this set of deadlines are not nearly as bad as last year’s set of deadlines. Writers have to deal with deadline panics All. The. Time. Oftentimes, it hurts. When I was younger, I thrived on the adrenaline. Not so much these days.  These days I ache when I spend too long in the desk chair. I ache all over when I don’t stretch, when I don’t walk the dogs, when I don’t paddle/rest/take time off.  When I don’t sleep.

So. You may be asking. What the heck is this post about?  It is about the writing life. It is about the stress of feeling like we writers can’t say no to a project with a deadline, so we do too much. Even with turning down 4 cons, multiple signings, and reneging on several short stories I had said I would do, I am still doing too much. Something will not be its best. I know that. This usually causes a major panic attack with the secondary tendinitis and immune problems. Not this time, which is still odd.

To deal with the panic and the pain, some writers turn to drugs or alcohol. Or both. I have an addictive personality, so that is something that I work hard not to do. For me, a frank discussion with my doctor and a low dose of Xanax helps, but, (as my doctor made clear to me) it can only help when I say, “NO!” to the deadlines. When I give myself a chance to have a life. Which I did when I cut the shorts and the Cons down.

I am growing up, maybe? I am not sure about that, but I guess it’s a possibility, though it is long overdue if so.  Maybe I am just getting older and listening to my body (which gets easier when the creaks, snaps, and groans get louder.)

Real life and fiction are not at all alike. No way, no how. Real life doesn’t have to make sense.  So I am ruminating on the changes in me.  Contemplating the future.  Reflecting on the deadlines I am facing. I’ll get through this year. Next year I will do even less. I have promised this to myself and to my hubby.

What have you given up lately, to have a better quality of life? Or what have you started doing?

Edited in: Here is a great link to Barb Hendee‘s site. Excellent for us writers.

Faith Hunter



22 comments to The Shotgun Barrell of the Writing Life

  • Remember to breathe. And take time to smell the roses. Yeah. Unless you’re allergic to them. Then don’t do that.

    I gave up housework. I’m thinking now it wasn’t such a good idea… I should get some exercise, even if it’s 10 minutes of calisthenics (wow, second time today I’ve seen that word). I thought the exercise of reaching for my cup and the power walks to the kitchen and back would be plenty. Boy was I wrong. And it may mean little water in Slavic, but believe me, vodka is NOT a good source of it. And I thought for sure it would be. And evidently you can’t use an IV for coffee. Those nice doctors I met had a good laugh at that one.

  • Faith> *hugs* good luck with all the deadlines, though it sounds like you’re doing a great job!

    I’ve added in exercise, which I need. I’ve started saying “no” a lot more, which is getting easier.

    I’m trying very very hard to not spend (useless) time being frustrated and angry at things I can’t control. I can’t get other people to do things, I can only ask, and so I have to let go. I am terribly frustrated with a situation in which I’m being asked to shoulder way more of a load than I should be, but if I don’t do it, it won’t get done, and it will negatively effect a fair number of folks and my (non-writing, actually profitable) career (this is NOT in my writing life, it’s in my academic one). Unfortunately, it’s leading me to the point of saying that I’m not going to do this particular type of project again (oh, who am I kidding? I will do it again, it just will be a while).

    But that leads me back to above. I’m just saying “no” more. I’ve got to write more (who else here wants to say that? raise your hands!) And to do that, it means I have to say “no” to other things. Sometimes things I want to do, but things that I don’t REALLY want (like playing Sim City with my fiance would be fun, but it would be hours of my life not spent exercizing, writing, etc, so no.)

  • Daniel, as one who once tried the *replace water with vodka regimen* (although in my case it was really good bourbon), I can attest that it indeed does not work. And I gave up coffee for tea a long time ago, though I still drink too much tea and not enough water. Please go back to exercise even if it is just yoga stretches. The hubby and I stretch to a yoga tape at least one time a week, and walk at least 2 times a week. Yesterday I paddled for the first time in forEVER and it felt wonderful! Balance in all things seems to work for me. I am learning my triggers helped. Meditation and prayer helped. And yes the meditation and prayer were at the order of my doctor who is both eastern and western style practitioner.

    Pea, I totally know the frustration of having a day-paying-job that doesn’t let you say no. But I’ve discovered that there are still ways to say no and I am practicing them. It doesn’t get any easier, however. That *I can do it!* little voice still speaks up before the *NO!* voice can kick in. Hang in there. Practice NO!

  • I like a good bourbon, but it hates me. Or at least, my stomach. In fact, most of the brown liquors seem to give me heartburn. Not so the clear ones. Always found that odd.

  • They ALL give me heartburn… sigh…

  • I am attending fewer cons. I am maintaining my exercise regimen, which is pretty strict: stretches and strength workouts 6 days a week; aerobic workout 5 days a week. I am pushing myself to write more on a daily basis than I normally do.

    I have high cholesterol, and a few years ago I went on a really, really strict diet in an effort to try to lower it. No fat at all — no cholesterol, no trans fats, nothing. After months of this, I went back to my doctor for another blood work-up. My cholesterol had gone down 4 points. Four measly points! So now I eat what I want, within reason, I exercise, and I accept that my LDL is high, and that’s normal for me. I have no other warning signs, so I figure I can live with this. My point: A few years ago, when I was about to publish the first Blood of the Southlands book, I upped my online presence and started attending more conventions. I worked my tail off. And my numbers didn’t move. Last year when Thieftaker came out I busted my butt doing blog tours and book tours, and while I did see some spike in my numbers, the fact is that I’m not sure how much that had to do with anything I did versus all the stuff Tor did for the book. And so this year I am doing the one thing that I KNOW I can do to be a better and more productive writer: I’m writing. The rest is largely beyond my control, and I’m trying to accept that.

  • sagablessed

    I also live with panic atacks. So I understand where you are coing from with that, as I had several this month, so this week no writing on WIP, just rest. As with what Daniel said….slow down. Sounds like you are, but….
    As a good friend told me, “You need to refill the well, because you are running on empty.”
    I also *had* a deadline, though thankfully it was personal and not contract. I took oath to finish my first novel. It will most likely never be published, but the learning was invaluable.
    I am getting back into cooking. I find it relaxing and yummy, but need to learn to cook for one or two. I am also taking up qi gong/Tai Chi again. (I use to do weights and cardio, but I am too old for that nonsense.)

  • mudepoz

    Nyah nyah. No job. Physical therasadist does my stretches for me. My dogs make me train them. Unless I’ve run out of undies or I have to transplant seedlings, no deadlines. *Rolls over and goes back to sleep*

  • (I use to do weights and cardio, but I am too old for that nonsense.)

    A number of body builders and fitness gurus older than you might disagree, saga. But I know where you’re coming from. It’s all about what you can do at the time. Start small, build up. I’ve always wanted to try Tai Chi, or get back into Kenpo again, but I’d have to build myself back up to that point. I have to get that mentality back I had when I started trying to build myself back up after major surgery many many moons ago.

  • I gave up…writing. I can’t do my job, complete my Master’s thesis, and play in two bands while trying to write a novel. It’s just too much. So, I’m focusing on my Thesis and hope to graduate in December…in order that I can free up some time to write fiction – the most elusive of my hobbies.

  • The housekeeping must really have gotten away from you if you need to vacuum the tub.

    (Come now! I can’t be the only one who thought that!)

  • Saying no is getting easier for me as I get older. At a certain point it really hit me that I had passed the halfway point for even the most optimistic life expectancy, and I realized there’s no way I’ll get to everything I want to do in my life. That sounds depressing when written like that, but I actually meant it as more inspirational: I may not get to everything, but I’ll make a valiant effort. That means saying no to those things I really don’t want to do unless I absolutely have to. Sometimes I still get overwhelmed with everything I have to do, but that’s the exception now instead of the rule.

    Now my problem is getting myself to decide what it is I most want to do and keeping myself focused on that rather than chasing after every new shiny that comes along.

  • Starting over. Sigh… I hit the wrong button and lost 5 comments in one. so I’ll do two at a time this time. Shesh.

    David, You said it right. All we can control is the writing. SO I am writing and editing and not so much of anything else. I will say though, that since I gave up corn, my total cholesterol has dropped 60 points. I found my cholesterol trigger. My eastern/western medicine doc said he has been researching fats and the human liver and triggers. He was not surprised my chol. dropped. I was stunned.

    Saga, that first book teaches your brain to write just as a baby teaches itself to walk — by doing. ALso, I wanted to take up tai chi (it’s in my bucket list along with learning how to throw pottery {on a wheel, not at a wall}), but the local guy who teaches newbies has class at dawn. DAWN?!? What’s with that???

  • Mud, you are … blessed. Maybe a little mean too, but mostly blessed. LOL Take the rest for as long as you can, because when the zombie Apocalypse comes, rest will be at a premium.

    Daniel, I saw this woman on Oprah once long ago who had taken up weight lifting. When she was 71. She started slowly. She looked really good!

    Deep Forest, I gave up writing when I was in tech school. I needed to concentrate my energies on one thing and get DONE. So, I totally understand.

  • Wolf, LOL. But you may have a point, I haven’t taken a long hot bath in ages. The tub may need a good dusting. Hmmm. I think a hot soak will do me good, tonight. Himalayan salts and a nice lavender oil. After I dust and scrub the tub.

    Sisi, I think we may be at the same place in life. My longest-lived gramma died at 99. If I make it to that, I am halfway there. Wellll … Plus a bit. 🙂

  • So, it’s possible to finish school and THEN write fiction? That makes me feel better!

  • DeepForest, I am always happy to oblige.

  • I’ve embraced the minimal grading movement. The idea is to NOT write all over the students’ papers – instead I write them a friendly note on the back of the last page listing at least one good thing they did and no more than three things they need to revise. If there are ten things wrong with their paper, I still only list the top three. I was really skeptical at first because I don’t want to cheat my students, but shockingly they are learning better this way and they are more willing to talk to me because they feel less overwhelmed by comments. My grading takes less time now and is less frustrating. (Still frustrating some times, but nothing is perfect.)

    The other thing I’m doing is trying (trying, not always succeeding) to accept my lack of control over certain things and thus not waste time fighting useless fights or worrying about what I can’t control. When I’m frustrated and feel trapped or like a failure, I’ve learned to back up and say “what’s one positive thing can I do?” Then go do that. Sometimes all I can do is wash dishes. So I do. I can’t make an agent pick up my book. But I can send out queries. I can’t make everyone listen to me. But I can state my opinion and then drop the issue if I don’t get my way.

    And I pet my cats a lot. There’s a lot to be said for fuzz therapy.

  • KirstenHarrell

    I have had to say no to pretty much everything in my life for the last 6 years due to severe Fibromyalgia and Chronic Myofascial Pain Syndrome. I was basically bed-bound for a few of those years. I am now a tiny bit better and am not stuck in bed all the time. I am still very debilitated by these illnesses/pain and I have a very long way to go to get back to my work – a Soul Psychologist, but I am pleased with any progress I make. Baby steps. In order to try to get back to health I started a Gluten, Dairy, Sugar Free diet in 2008. I do not drink any alcohol. I do drink caffeine (only organic coffee) 2-3 times per week. I recently started some very gentle exercise. My doctor (a holistic physician) has limited me to 2 min on my stationary bike pedals a few times a week. hey… baby steps, right?! I tried to get back to Qigong, but found that my body rebelled and I had a set back.

    In the last 4-6 months, I have begun writing my first novel. I have done a fair amount of non-fiction writing before I got sick, but this is my first fiction – sci-fi/fantasy. It is fun to start something new like this at 45! I can only write when I am feeling up to it, so it is pretty slow going, but I do not have any deadlines. It is something for me to look forward to and to focus on when I can. Most days I am still too exhausted, in pain, and foggy-brained to write, but coffee sometimes breaks through the fog and I can write for a bit. I am having a blast writing it! Faith, your books were among some of my favorites that inspired me to write.

    I look forward to a time when I can function well again and be able to work full-time again. I really miss contributing to society. I know I will always have to monitor my number of commitments and be sure that I do not over-extend myself. I hope that the reminder of these years will remind me of the importance of balance and taking good care of myself so that I do not end up bed bound again.

    And, Sarah – I pet my cats a lot too! The fur babies help so much!

  • Stopping to rest. I’ve taken an undisclosed week off in the next month or so specifically for writing (and catching up on rest). Making no plans with anyone except myself save a wedding (because, y’know, wedding) and a “fun” day at the week’s end. Also, some writing friends and I have planned a retreat near the end of June.

    I really overdid myself these past few months. I was too social. Yes, I had fun, but it was stressful and I feel really burned out. So the exercise now has been to stop overcommitting. I have a hard time saying no, and now I am going to, and that’s kind of a relief.

    (One fun thing I’ve found not at all stressful and totally worth it? My biweekly writing group that takes place at a tavern. It’s a great release, however temporary.)

  • Sarah, I am all for fuzz therapy. Right now I have a couple of dogs beneath my writing chair. Soon, I’ll curl up on the couch and they’ll be on my lap. Happy day. As to the grading, that seems a very kind way to grade writing, and way to keep them interested as they see themselves improve. I like! And I also like the idea of not fighting all the time. Yeah. I get that one a lot.

    Laura, my much-missed writing group met at a coffee house for a time. I liked that and was very sorry when it closed. That said, saying no is still the best therapy! Have fun on your *me* week.

  • Well – I quit smoking – although the pneumonia and needing to breath thing was a stronger contributor than needing to write – but I could also argue that being alive means writing more….