Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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March 30, 2016

Writers Need An Escape Hatch

Jaye Wells


Writer's Escape Hatch

When I started writing, I was a stay-at-home mom in need of a hobby. During naptimes and after bed time, I’d run to my laptop and get carried away. It was my escape hatch. Something that was just for me that also provided a creative outlet. But then something miraculous happened--I got published.

For several years, I threw myself into becoming a Real Author. I wrote and wrote and wrote. My vacations were usually spent at conventions.  All of my friends were writers. In my free time, I read to keep up with the market. My dream had come true, but there was this nagging sense that I was missing something.

I burned out in 2014. My new series wasn’t “meeting expectations.” I’d gone back to school to get my MFA in writing popular fiction so I could get more teaching gigs. I wrote a novel and two novellas in four months. I was bitter and exhausted. That’s when I realized I needed to take a step back and figure out what was missing.

As it turned out, I had to face the hard truth that I’d become a workaholic. Every facet of my life revolved around books. I love books. I love writing. I love reading. I love book people. But there’s more to life than all that. In order to figure out what was missing, I had to go back to the beginning and see where I went wrong.

Turns out, I started out right. I found a hobby that was rewarding and fun. It was when I became a pro that I got off track. See, what I figured out is that everyone needs a hobby. We each need something that doesn’t have ego or income tied to it. When my hobby became my job, I lost that safe space where I could create without fear.

The path to get myself back on track involved some experimentation. I had to figure out some activities I could do without stressing. I also had to figure out who I was beyond just being an Author because I’d gotten into the trap of adopting that identity. Also, since writing a book is such a marathon, I needed things I could do that weren’t a huge time commitment--I needed the payoff of completing a project more often.

Now, in addition to writing and grad school (which is almost done), I make time in my week for play. I go on Artist Dates as prescribed by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. I cook all the time, and have recently begun what I call my “Bread Odyssey” to learn how to bake. I planted an herb garden in containers on my patio, and use them in my experimental dishes. I also recommitted myself to a yoga practice and try to meditate often. None of these activities have stakes attached to them. If I burn dinner, we can just order a pizza. If I can’t do a pose in yoga, it’s not a failure. If my mind wanders during meditation, I don’t have to worry how the bills will get paid.

In a recent yoga class, my teacher talked about the difference between having fun and enjoying yourself. Fun, she said, was an activity you do to escape your routines. However, enjoyment is the act of finding happiness in your routines and responsibilities. Therefore, another element of a good hobby is that it becomes a part of your daily or weekly habits, instead of something you use to run away from your writing (or life). This is why drinking, drugs, gambling and social media are so dangerous. They can provide fun via instant gratification, but long-run they don’t bring us joy. Better then to focus on habits and hobbies that help us be more plugged in to our lives--ones that allow us to enjoy ourselves.

The best part is that the more I allow my inner artist to play with other hobbies, the better my writing becomes. Before, I’d berate myself if I took even an evening off to watch TV. Now, I think about my stories while I chop onions or dig in the dirt, but I also allow my mind to take a mini-vacation from my imaginary worlds. I feel more present, more balanced, and calmer. But the best part is I love writing again. Funny how that worked out.

Now, I’m not saying that writing will ever be a stress-free job. I’m also not saying that you should just shirk your deadlines in pursuit of the perfect hobby. But I do think it is vital for anyone whose hobby became their career to find a replacement emotional escape hatch. Otherwise, you risk becoming so invested in the outcomes of the thing that used to bring you joy that you can end up resenting that thing--in this case writing. If you want to protect your love of writing, you need to make sure you’re not relying on it for everything--to be your hobby, your outlet, your income, your source of pride, the source of all of your friendships and activities, etc. It can’t be all those things at once. Nothing can.

So, if lately, the thing you love hasn’t been bringing you any joy, consider taking yourself on an Artist Date to the craft store. Or take a cooking class. Or maybe just get out an take a walk. Be a part of the world again, and remember that writing is something you do--not the totality of who you are. The writing life you save might be your own.


What is your favorite non-writing hobby?


About Jaye:

Wells-4-reducedJaye Wells is a former magazine editor whose now writes bestselling and award-winning  supernatural novels. This summer, she will earn her MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University, and is a sought-after speaker on the craft of writing. When she's not writing or teaching, she loves to travel to exotic locales, experiment in her kitchen like a mad scientist, and try things that scare her so she can write about them in her books. To learn more about Jaye and her books check out www.jayewells.com



Top photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/41636846@N00/20747955690">Exit From Fear</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">(license)</a>

48 comments on “Writers Need An Escape Hatch”

    1. Stephen King has a great quote that I have hanging over my computer. "Life is not a support system for writing, it's the other way around."

  1. Jaye - this is perfect timing for me. I've found I get much less joy in reading over the past few years because it's too close to "work" for me. I want to start meditating, and I've found coloring is the perfect combo of creativity and time for my mind to unwind or work on something, depending on what my brain needs at the time. 🙂 I also keep a collage book that's is totally about creating imperfection - what a joy!


    1. Hi Kelsey! A great way to start meditating is the Headspace App. That's how I got into it. Meditation helps us practice being present, and there are numerous studies about the benefits of it. I am a huge proponent of meditation for writers, especially, because of our tendency to escape into our minds when things get boring or stressful.

  2. I rescue and care for neglected animals. It puts my problems- "stakes" or "voice" into perspective. I also brew beer:)

  3. I agree. In addition to hobbies, I think other forms of art can help our writing. There seems to be a fear that we each only have a limited amount of creativity and that we run the risk of using it up but I believe the opposite. I think the more we express our creativity, the more creativity we have!

    1. Jennifer, that's so true. That's why I do Artist Dates. Sometimes just getting out of the house and walking through the art store or making something from scratch for a friend can net huge creative rewards.

  4. This is a wonderful article! I often forget to allow myself time to enjoy life and as I work towards turning a passion/hobby into a career I need to make sure I'm carving out time to relax and decompress.

  5. Timed perfectly for me, too, Jaye. I'm a bit crispy around the edges. I need to write down and remember the difference between enjoyment and fun. That's so true.

    My escape hatch is motorcycling and fly fishing - preferably together (although not at the same time). Taking a trip this summer, riding the motorcycles to Colorado, then fly fishing for 7 days, then home. Ahhhhhh.

  6. Thanks, Jaye. I've just signed my first publishing contract and since then I've done nothing but write and think about writing. You've made me stop and think, especially about protecting my love of writing by not relying on it for everything. I think I need a hobby.

  7. Terrific post, Jaye--as an old workhorse of a writer, I've discovered that sometimes my very BEST writing is done while I'm doing something else!

    1. Holly, isn't it ironic? The harder we are on ourselves, the more rebellious our muse can become. Play is such a vital part of the creative process.

  8. Very insightful, and very true. Hobbies allow us to learn new things and that just makes more connections in the grey matter. All of those connections equate to better thinking and better writing.

  9. Great post, and I agree about other pursuits. I hang out with my kids who are all grown up and with my grandchildren who are almost there. I travel with them, go to ball games with them, and enjoy life with them.

  10. Great post. And yes, I'm right here where my writing has become my job, but not my only job. And as the pressure increases, my enjoyment has decreased. I've even found less joy in reading lately. Maybe I need to find a hobby, return to cooking, get some exercise, or some other form of escape.

    1. What I love about cooking is that it's creative and most recipes don't take forever to complete. You get that gratification of being done and sharing it much faster than you get it from writing a book.

  11. Fantastic post and something I went through recently. I love to cook and realized I had gotten away from just having fun with it. So, I have started cooking again and experimenting with that. I have also slowed down my crazy writing schedule. And, believe it or not, I only have on appearance on the schedule next year and that is an Australian convention. I am taking hubby and kids and we are going to spend 2 weeks enjoying Oz (I only have 3 days of it I will have to be at the con). I have found enjoyment in my writing again and a stronger voice, IMHO.

    1. Experimenting can be really fun. I love tinkering in my kitchen. I'm not an amazing cook and I'm a terrible baker, but I enjoy trying. I'd make time for an Australia convention, too! Have fun.

    1. That's great, Andrew. Sometimes we can get into the trap of thinking our hobbies have to be these huge gestures. Anything that lets you play and allows you to relax is great.

  12. Good reminder, Jaye. With a debut book launch looming, I'm discovering how much work writing is. Not just the writing...all the stuff that goes with it and has to be done and on time. And there's that pressure, "Okay, I wanna get this story done and that story done. Gosh, I'd hate to die with that manuscript unfinished." So, I'm rediscovering the joy of travel. I did so much when I was young and poor, now that the kids are grown, I'm reacquainting myself with the joy I found in discovering new cultures and learning new languages and customs. I like to sit in a cafe, watch the world go by, and imagine what my life would be like if I lived there. Or I'd grown up there. Or got reincarnated there. I poke around ruins and wonder, "What did these people do when they first got up in the morning? Did the lady who worked in this cooking area put a window there to watch her kids play? Or did she like how the shadows of the rising sun played against the walls?"

    1. Mindy, I didn't know about the debut! Congratulations! Travel is one of my favorite hobbies, too. It's all magical water for the creative well.

  13. I could not agree with you more! Mad love to you, Jaye, for talking about this. As you know, I've taken up Pilates & historical longsword swordfighting over the last 14 months. I did so for this very reason. Must not let the work--whether it's writing or ANY career--eat you alive, and some personality types that is a constant struggle.

    1. Hi Melissa! Re: personality types. I realized a while back that I have a tendency to want to turn my hobbies into industries. I've had to learn that it's okay just to like something and not turn it into another field upon which I must prove myself.

  14. When you start resenting what you're doing and hating your writing, you know you've had enough. Time to take a breather and enjoy life again...

    Thanks for the post, Jaye. Pinned & shared. 🙂

  15. Jaye, thanks so much for posting with us here at WITS! I just a approved a ton of comments so you might want to do a pass from the top.

    I get burned out on work all the time, which affects my writing. I'm trying to balance the two and being a part-time stay-at-home mom and I need to learn to step away and devote blocks of time to other things. I just gardened for two hours and I feel so refreshed. 🙂

  16. This is something I definitely need to remember. I have this life mantra that "I am a writer" and I've let go of yoga, etc.,--other things that provide me with joy. I just found a unique yoga class here in town, though, so I'm planning to jump back in. To really embrace my hobbies again. To bake and hike and be more than just a writer. Excellent post!

  17. Excellent post. Taking my Rotties for a walk (ahem, they run and I follow), trying new recipes from vegetariantimes.com and sewing the fantastical outfits I see in my mind's eye all help me to be a better writer - plotholes get magically figured out as my mind is occupied with something else and scene-stealing characters suddenly appear to shake things up.
    A little goofing off is good for the soul 🙂

  18. Excellent post! Thanks.I find that my hobbies spill over into writing -- when I read or watch a movie I'm thinking about how the story works -- so I need to do something completely different. I am restoring (paying garages to do the work) a 1972 Porsche 914. Now that's not story-related! Thanks, Jaye.

  19. Jaye I am living what you are warning about. 5 years ago I worked full time at an exciting job, had 2 grown kids, had earned an AA, Ba, and Masters degree in night school, was Pres or officer in about 8 different groups, traveled for my job, had a husband that held 2 jobs and went dancing 4 nights a week with a group of girlfriends. My home was well cared for and my hobby was writing that I loved and couldn't do enough of. Ideas running out my ears. 5 years ago I had to retire for many reasons. I say God shut all the doors but the one to retire. My husband was soon a semi-invalid and I seldom leave the house but to take him to the doctor. Thought I would be a published author by now since I was going to have the time to write full time. I have a very nice office in the bedroom deserter by my daughter when she married. And I sit in it a lot . . . playing games and watching TV. Shows I thought one day I would be writing. I've made plans to attend 2 writing conferences this year and hope desperately nothing happens that I can't go. I am going to start going to dance class on Wed of each week. I have realized my health is going down fast by doing nothing. So glad I read your post and maybe my passion for writing will return when it is not the only thing I have.

  20. Love this. This very thing is part of the reason I started doing crochet. I needed something that wasn't as "serious" as writing that also allowed me to spread my artistic wings. It helps that my late grandmother always had a crochet basket near at hand. X-3

  21. Everything about this is beautiful. It's a great piece of advice and a wonderful reminder. I lose this somewhere in the process of wanting to become a paid writer. I never feel like I'm doing enough. Somewhere between when I thought I didn't want to write novels because they were too stressful for my writing, and wanting to do nothing but write novels, I lost the love of my art. This blog post is a reminder of where I can start looking again.

  22. Thanks, Jaye. This post really hit me in the gut. Writing tends to make me miserable, but my quilting is sacred, and never for sale.

    {{{hugs}}} and thank you!

  23. Thank you, Jaye! I've been having a long dry spell in writing and finally realized I was pressuring myself into being blocked. Couldn't say I had any workaholic tendencies really but writing did go from a fun escape to a stressful escape and that wasn't right. Life with kids on the spectrum is stressful enough, pushing myself in other areas was too much and I burned out big time.

    I'd already made the decision to take a step back when I found this post from a link on Chuck Wendig's site (I'd followed a link to get there as well, Chuck is funny!). I knew I'd made the right decision in taking a break, but reading this give me that little extra bit of certainty. It's always nice to have our feelings validated by others, and remember that others have gone through the same things. 🙂

  24. Thank you for this! Wonderful article and really made me take step back and realize how important the decision to take the next two months off is for me. <3

  25. I am EXACTLY where you are at this moment. Been taking a MUCH needed break from my writing (and the stress of my follow up novel). I really needed to read this today and I thank you so much for writing this post! Here's to enjoying writing again!

  26. About teaching gigs -- John Lennon once sang: "You know that what you eat, you are." I'm here to tell you writers face a similar truth: "You know that what you read, you are."

    The truth about teaching English (Oooops! I mean 'Literature') is that 99 percent of "college-age children" can barely spell their own names. They can't organize an essay, they can't write sentences for sic 'em, and not one of them wants to learn how. Don't believe me? Read a few three-page student essays and see for yourself. Better yet, teach writing for one semester and see for yourself

    About teaching gigs -- John Lennon once sang: "You know that what you eat, you are." I'm here to tell you writers face a similar truth: "You know that what you read, you are."

    The truth about teaching English (Oooops! I mean 'Literature') is that 99 percent of "college-age children" can barely spell their own names. They can't organize an essay, they can't write sentences for sic 'em, and not one of them wants to learn how. Don't believe me? Read a few three-page student essays and see for yourself. Better yet, teach writing for one semester and see for yourself

    Without making one penny for saying so, all the wannabe authors here should run out and buy Lee Smith's latest book. It's title? "Dimestore," and I believe it is the best book about female writers and writing that I have ever seen. Best of all, a good part of the work is laugh-out-loud funny.

    Deacon Solomon

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