Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Five Stages of Being a Writer

They say grief is a journey. But recovery is a choice.


You have an earth-shattering idea that floats about in your head for days until you decide to write the next breakout novel with the goal of getting published. And becoming the next J.K. Rowling. You feel giddy as you wake up with scenes spinning in your head at four in the morning, ideas that come at just the perfect time, the words flowing from you like a limitless fountain. You’re a writer!

You avoid any and all information out there that could discourage you, and you ignore the statistics on getting published in order to avoid the pain. Denial provides you with emotional protection from being overwhelmed or disappointed.

For some writers, the denial phase may last weeks, months and in some cases, even years!

You cannot ignore the facts forever. As denial wears off, it is replaced with the anguish of reality— that the likelihood of getting published is about one in a gazillion. Although almost unbearable, it is important that you experience the pain of this reality fully, and not hide from it, avoid it or escape from it with drugs or alcohol.

You may have feelings of guilt or remorse over things you did or didn't do while you wrote your novel. You may regret avoiding those harsh statistics. You may cry. A lot.

Life as a writer feels out of control during this phase.

Frustration gives way to anger, and you may lash out and blame others for the death of your dream. It’s the fault of literary agents, the publishers, the economy. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Attempt to control this rage, as permanent damage to your mindset may result. This is a time for the release of bottled up emotion, yes, but just don’t overdo it!

You may rail against fate, asking yourself "Why me?" You may also try to bargain in futility with the powers that be (agents, publishers) for a way out, or a loophole (Maybe a bribe? Pitching in the bathroom?)

During this time, you begin to realize the true scale of the climb ahead of you; and this realization comes with a price: hopelessness and despair. Reality bites. Hard.

You may isolate yourself from other writers; you may reflect on your na├»ve, innocent self when you were young and fool-hearty. You may experience a hollow, empty feeling inside that just can’t be filled.

This stage is the most difficult, but if you get through it, your chances at succeeding as a writer multiply!

During this final stage, you learn to accept and deal with the harsh reality of life as a writer. But acceptance does not necessarily mean contentment! Given the difficulty and hard work ahead of you, you can never really return to the light-hearted, untroubled YOU that existed before reality hit.

Eventually you will be able to write again without feeling frustrated. You will once again see some happiness along your path to publication, and yes, you may even find joy in the experience of being a writer.

Tell us the stages you have gone through on your journey as a writer. Do you notice any similarities in your experience to the five listed here?


Jennie Marsland said...

Oh, yeah, I've visited every stage. For me it's not a linear progression. I flip back and forth between stages, sometimes all five in a day. That's life. I only know that for me, not writing would be worse.

Joanne Brothwell said...

Hi Jennie,
Yeah, I slide back and forth through the stages as well. I think right now I'm sitting in denial!

Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey Joanne. I have to admit, I've passed through a few of them myself. I don't think in as orderly a fashion as your post, though. LOL

Good post.

Anita Mae.

Joanne Brothwell said...

Hey Anita,
Yeah, I don't think it's quite so clear-cut, is it?

Karyn Good said...

I don't know. So, I guess that means I'm settled in pretty comfortably in Stage 1, Denial. Wait a minute, no I'm not! Okay, maybe I am.

I'm with Jennie on this one: not writing would be worse.

Joanne Brothwell said...

I'd have to say, denial is bliss.

Janet said...

All of the above, but stuck in Depression stage at the moment!

This is an excellent article, Joanne - well done :)

Joanne Brothwell said...

Hi Janet,
I hear ya. I visit it too, often. Luckily my naturally ascerbic personality moves me on to anger within minutes!

Jana Richards said...

Hi Joanne,
Been there, done that. I have to agree that denial is bliss, and depression is the most difficult stage. I wish I could say I am always in acceptance these days, but I sometimes have a relapse. We all have our good days and bad days.

Good job Joanne!

Hayley E. Lavik said...

This is great Joanne. Considering my knee-jerk response would be to say I haven't really had to go through this, or not through extreme gut-wrenching versions at least, I'm probably in denial :P Either that or I'm so far into acceptance the work to get there doesn't seem so bad anymore.

Nah...it's probably denial.

Vince said...

Hi Joanne:

I take a different POV on this issue. I consider the ‘grieving’ model as being an unproductive paradigm for the writer’s journey. I choose to frame the journey this way:


The optimism and exuberance of the new idea – born with the unlimited potential of a baby.


The coming-of-age of your project with its inevitable doubts as real world experiences dispel once cherished illusions.


A new determination to prove yourself and your writing project by acting with rashness and bravado – while all the time there is an underlying fear you try to ignore.


A genuine understanding of the ‘Serenity Prayer’ as you come to a realistic evaluation of your ability and of the skills needed for success in your writing journey.


The stage where you have developed the requisite skills and wisdom needed for a career in writing or you have found peace with your dreams as you continue to grow in becoming fully human and fully alive as a true child of God.

I see the writing journey as one of growth and not one of grieving. How we frame things can determine how things are manifested in our lives. Choose your models well for we often see what is behind our eyes.


Joanne Brothwell said...

Jana - relapse is unavoidable!

Hayley - I don't know, I'd have to say you seem nicely perched in Acceptance.

Vince - Great point! Maybe I'll use Erikson's stages of psychosocial development for my next post!