A Writerholic’s Many Faces

Did you know that, contrary to popular belief, workaholics (and the sub-group writer-holics) don’t work all the time?

In fact the term can describe any person who is driven to do too much, whether that person works sixty hours a week or runs around like a chicken with its head cut off…Some work addicts appear motionless, but their minds are racing.” (Diane Fassel in Working Ourselves to Death.)

Three Faces of a Writerholic

While my goal and life-long desire as a writer has been to be consistent with my writing output, it is seldom that way. Sometimes I work long hours with a huge output (like writing 50,000 words last November for NaNoWriMo), sometimes it’s in spurts, and sometimes approaching deadlines make me freeze (afraid that I can’t do what I promised in the contract.)

I knew my writing output was sporadic, but I thought each style was a problem by itself. I am beginning to see that they’re all just different faces of perfectionism.

Obsessive Writers

This writer works long hours, taking on project after project. She feels compelled to do what she needs to do to keep going. I used to blame it on the financial needs of raising children alone–and that certainly contributed to the pressure–but after the need passed, the behavior remained. According to Joan Webb, “it is a matter of identity for her. If she stopped to rest, it would prove she is inferior, lazy or both–and that would be unthinkable.” Yup, this was me for many years.

Binge Writers

This writer works in spurts, but with great intensity and energy and focus. These intense bursts of work are sometimes (for the writer-holic) ways to avoid dealing with other issues (children’s problems, marital woes, a looming health concern). “Work, projects, tasks and accomplishments become the medication of choice so that she doesn’t have to feel her emotions, deal with her disappointments or ask deep questions,” says Webb. I’m guilty of this one too–not as much as in the past, but it’s definitely a factor sometimes.

Anorexic Writers

Deadlines can often turn me into this type of writer. The perfectionist in me isn’t satisfied with writing “sh****” rough drafts, as Anne Lamott calls them in Bird by Bird. After having had 42 books published, you’d think this would no longer be an issue! But it is.

Webb contends that the work anorexic is “afraid she’ll do it wrong, so she procrastinates, and the resulting guilt immobilizes her.”

What Type Are You?

Do you identify with any of the above descriptions of workaholic and perfectionistic writers? (If so, these tendencies probably show up in how you  approach other things in your life, like your fitness efforts and your relationships.)

Do leave a comment and share your own experiences in this area.

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12 Responses to A Writerholic’s Many Faces

  1. George says:

    PROCRASTINATES leads me to set backs, delays and my bedroom messy.

  2. Marianne says:

    I see myself in the first, my oldest sister in the second (though she’s not a writer), and one of my daughters in the third. Now to figure out how to break this habit…

    • kwpadmin says:

      Marianne, it also behooves me to revisit this list from time to time, as I tend to move around in it. I get one thing conquered, and some other issue pops up. I am hoping to live long enough to get it all settled! :-)

  3. Hi Kristi, I’ve been guilty of all three at different times, especially procrastination when it comes to deadlines. It takes a long time for a story to become clear in my head before I write it down–and the looming deadline is my incentive to pry it out of my head and finally onto the page. Behind the procrastination is not wanting to let go of my idea because the reality is never quite as good as the vision in my head. I know that my editors will be fine with what I write. They make very few small changes and call me back for more work because I do a good job for them. But still … the perfectionist sometimes struggles to be proud of what’s on the page. That’s what has to change for me.

    • kwpadmin says:

      Heather, I had never thought of this, but what you just said really hit a nerve (in a good way) with me. I think that is exactly the reason I am struggling with a current novel. It is one I had in my mind for several years, without the time to actually give to it, and now that I do, the pages (even the revised ones) just don’t have the magic that is in my mind. Not yet anyway. I had not thought of it being perfectionism, but it probably is. I certainly have that problem pretty much everywhere else! :-)

  4. Deb Watley says:

    I tend to be very careful about starting projects that might overload my time. That’s a good thing, but sometimes I’m too careful. That’s my perfectionism–my fear of not doing “good enough”–rearing up. I’m learning to tell the difference between knowing my limits and limiting myself.

    • kwpadmin says:

      Deb, you are very wise in one respect, and I wish I were a LOT better at not overloading myself with projects. On the other hand…”Learning to tell the difference between knowing my limits and limiting myself”–now THAT’S a terrific goal! Well said!

  5. Maritha says:

    Now I have a name for my type(s) of writer…the last… Anorexic, is my strongest and most debilitating trait. And yes, it flows into all other areas of my life. Giving it a name may help me work around it.

    • kwpadmin says:

      Guilt…procrastination…immobilization…that’s me too. While I don’t have all the answers by a long shot, I’ve always believed that we can’t make any headway on solving anything until the problem is actually (and accurately) identified. So…today you made progress, Maritha! :-)

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