Writerholics in Disguise

Did you know that, contrary to popular belief, workaholics (and the sub-group writerholics) 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 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.

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 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.”

Binge Writers

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.

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 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.

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6 Responses to Writerholics in Disguise

  1. Katlyn says:

    Ouch. I’m an Anorexic writer, but I possibly have a touch of a Binge writer in me. I’m an anorexic writer right at this very moment – procrastinating and afraid to go forward in case I do it wrong or it wasn’t worth the effort in the end! I need to fix this!! Thanks for the “mirror”! :)

    • kwpadmin says:

      Katlyn, it’s always nice to know I’m not alone! :-) I dream of writing in this nice, peaceful, steady state–not really fast, but steadily pouring out the words, hour after hour. I hope I live long enough to experience that even for a few days!

  2. Amy Houts says:

    I’m an obsessive writer. I take on several projects at once and work long hours. If something or someone prevents me from writing, I get cranky. Like you, I dream of writing at a steady pace, but it hasn’t happened yet! I’m glad you described “writerholics” so I can work toward becoming a more peaceful writer.
    ~ Amy

    • kwpadmin says:

      I’ve taken on enough work lately that I finally have no choice except to write a lot, and write almost daily. There’s nothing like a deadline, one after another, to make you realize it can be done! :-)

  3. Yes, anorexic! It’s kind of reassuring to know that it’s a sign of an actual writerholic. To tell the truth I’ve been gradually climbing out of a really serious long-term block, and I’ve peeled away SO MANY of the issues keeping me from writing, but there’s still a little fear-of-imperfection there gumming up the works….

    Curiously, deadlines help me overcome that. They force me to put something down, whereas when I have no particular somebody-waiting for it I just sit there not-deciding what to put down.

    • kwpadmin says:

      Rockinlibrarian, I think deadlines help us all, that knowing that someone “out there” is waiting for the work. Lately, though, I’ve been mostly helped by the Mini Habits book I wrote about a while back. That got me quickly into a daily writing habit and I haven’t missed a day in a good long while now. I recommend it!

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