“…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 Writerholics
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 NaNoWriMo month), 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.
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 in her books on perfectionism, “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.”
This writer works in spurts, but with great intensity and energy and focus. These intense bursts of work are sometimes (for the writerholic) 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–maybe not as much as in the past, but it’s definitely a factor.
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 44 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 perfectionistic descriptions of writers? (If so, these tendencies probably show up in how you approach other things in your life, like your fitness efforts and your relationships.) Are you predominantly one type of writerholic or do you wear several writer hats? I hope you’ll leave a comment and share your own experiences in this area.