I've been a fan of Colleen M. Story and her blog, Writing and Wellness, since I came across her posts on Twitter a year or so ago.
When I learned that Colleen has a new book coming out, I jumped at the chance to read an advance copy. What writer could resist a book titled Overwhelmed Writer Rescue, with this tagline: "Stop drowning in your to-do list and start living a more joyful creative life!"?
Though the book has "Writer" in the title, the advice in it applies to creative folks of all kinds, and even those who don't consider themselves creative.
In concert with the book's launch, Colleen has agreed to answer a few questions. Read on for a taste of what you'll find in the book.
What led you to write Overwhelmed Writer Rescue, and how do you hope readers will benefit from it?
I started my motivational blog, Writing and Wellness, in the spring of 2014. After about two years of interviewing authors and interacting with readers, I began to realize there was a kind of epidemic going on in the writing world. Authors and other creative artists were drowning. There’s just so much we have to do these days.
As I heard the struggles authors were having, I recognized them. I had gone through the same things and found my way through, and I wanted to help. I was working on my next novel last fall (2016), but my muse knocked hard on my mental door, demanding I put my research and experience together in a way that authors and other artists could easily access.
My hope is that Overwhelmed Writer Rescue will help authors and other artists to create a better balance in their lives. Readers will learn more about their unique personalities and what they need to thrive as artists, and above all, how to better care for their creative selves.
Would you recommend this book for non-artists who have artists in their lives? If so, what might they gain by reading it?
In the interest of gaining early feedback and in making the book as high quality as I could, I asked several beta readers to read it. Some of them were not artists, and I was really happy to hear that they still got a lot out of it. The comment I received most often was, “This book would benefit anyone, not just artists.” People told me about changes they made in their lives after reading, and expressed how those changes helped them feel more productive.
I think in our society today, most of us are feeling rushed and overwhelmed. There many reasons for that, and I go into those in the book, but it’s not a healthy way to live. The sad thing is, we were taught nothing about time management in school, and certainly most of us have little information on how we’re supposed to deal with the influx of technology in our lives.
As for readers who have loved ones who are artists, the book may give them some insight into the creative struggle, and help them better understand how they can offer support, as well as how they can protect their own sanity in the mix!
I've recently come to realize that the patterns and disciplines that served me well when I was working full time as a writer don't feel quite right for the phase of creative life that I'm in now. Is it a good idea to re-examine our habits and attitudes from time to time and tweak our routines accordingly?
This is a great question, and something I talk about specifically in the book, especially in the chapters on “time personality” and “flexibility and persistence.” There are certain skills that once we master them, can work to help us reschedule our creative routines depending on the time of year and what’s going on in our lives.
We all experience, for example, yearly fluctuations in our creative output. I tend to really burrow under and write during the winter months. Living in the northwest, going outside during those months is often really uncomfortable, so it’s easy to keep my focus on a book. When the weather starts to warm up, however, that becomes a lot harder. I want to be out and shaking things up. These are the times when I’m more likely to enjoy teaching workshops or launching a book or going to conferences. The important thing is to figure out where your cycles are, and learn to honor them.
One thing we can count on is that things will never stay the same. Jobs come and go, family members need our help, and sometimes, our health needs our attention. How do we fit our creative work in when our lives are shifting around us? The more we know about our own creative selves, the better we become at fitting our creative time in no matter what. We are creative beings, so the work continues, regardless. It’s knowledge of the self that helps us weather the ups and downs with more ease.
Writers are often encouraged to reach out to other writers and offer support by joining writers' groups, exchanging and reviewing work, etc. These activities certainly can be beneficial, yet they can cut into writing time. Do you have any tips for maintaining connections with other writers without sabotaging your own writing?
Again, it comes down to balance, and to knowing yourself. How much interaction do you need? Creativity is a highly individual thing. (It’s why I have several quizzes throughout the book to help the reader get to know herself or himself.)
Personally, I’m extremely introverted, which means I require a lot of time alone to refuel. But I really enjoy interacting with people, too, particularly with other artists. I just have to be careful I don’t do too much of it, or I get worn out and my writing suffers.
Others may crave more interaction and may benefit by getting more frequent feedback. I think in this case, it’s more important to go by what your inner artist needs than to try to meet some sort of time or activity quota.
You may be optimally motivated by attending a writer’s group meeting just once a month, for example. That may be enough to keep you going strong on your novel. But if you find yourself sagging after a couple weeks and you’re not writing, maybe you need to join a second group so you’re getting feedback on a regular basis.
How is your writing going? How much are you getting done? Are you improving? These are the questions you should ask yourself when determining how much interaction/feedback you need. Keep to your writing schedule, but keep in contact with your motivation and energy.
Can you share a bit about your own personal path to a more productive, less overwhelmed creative life?
I’ve been a full-time writer for 20 years now, and honestly, it seems it’s taken me that long to really figure out how to balance my life. I’ve always worked really hard and for a lot of hours to fit in both my freelance writing and my fiction writing, but in my 30s, I suffered a serious back injury and had to write for two months on the floor.
That experience woke me up to what I was doing. Prior to that, I saw my body and my health as invincible, and ignored the little signs telling me that I was pushing it too hard. After that happened, I realized I was going to have to change things if I wanted to continue to enjoy a healthy life, and continue to do what I loved.
At about the same time, I got really frustrated with my lack of progress in fiction. I had penned several novels, but had yet to get a publishing contract. So I made some changes. I focused on working smarter rather than harder, and started to adopt some of the productivity techniques that I talk about in the book. I cut back on my extra-curricular activities, rearranged my schedule, recommitted to regular exercise and rest, and worked to gain a better outlook on my long-term goals.
The results were well worth it. I’ve published two novels and I’m working on a third, I’m loving the work I’m doing with Writing and Wellness, and my freelance business is still going strong. But there is rarely a day that goes by that I don’t exercise, and do 30 minutes of yoga, and eat healthy foods. I take a two-week vacation every year no matter what, and use that time to reconnect to my creative self and find out what’s next. I teach music lessons and play in the local symphony, and get out in nature as often as I can.
I think the most important thing I’ve learned is that physical and mental health have to come first. Without those two things, we can’t live up to the great potential each of us has. It’s not hard. It’s just a matter of learning the skills we need to create a healthy, productive and creative routine.
Personally, I think it’s fun, this creating one’s own life. We have more control than we think. We just have to grasp it.
Boost productivity, improve time management, and restore your sanity while gaining insight into your unique creative nature and what it needs to thrive. Find practical, personalized solutions to help you escape self-doubt and nurture the genius within in Overwhelmed Writer Rescue, available today at Amazon and all major book retailers. Enjoy your FREE chapter here!
Colleen M. Story has worked in the creative writing industry for over twenty years. Her latest release, Overwhelmed Writer Rescue, helps writers and other creative artists escape the tyranny of the to-do list and nurture the genius within. Her novels include Loreena’s Gift, a Foreword Reviews’ INDIES Book of the Year Awards winner. She has authored thousands of articles for publications like Healthline and Women’s Health and ghostwritten books on back pain, nutrition, and cancer. She is the founder of Writing and Wellness, and works as a motivational speaker and workshop leader. Find more information on her author website, or follow her on Twitter.
Written from the heart,
from the heart of the woods
Read the introduction to HeartWood here.
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.