Are writers workaholics?

Last night I was doing some online research on Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder for my vampire series, and, well, you know how it goes. One link leads to another: OCD –> Obsessive Personality Disorder –> Perfectionism –> Workaholic.

Workaholics, obviously, are addicted to work.  They don’t necessarily enjoy it (and they’re not even necessarily good at it), but they compulsively do it, and when they’re not doing it, they’re thinking about doing it and feeling bad that they’re not doing more of it.  Leisure activities inspire guilt and need to be justified as work.  Workaholics tend to have a constant, low-grade anxiety because no matter how much they do, it’s never enough.

Still wondering if this is you?  If you answer “yes” to three or more of the Workaholics Anonymous “How Do I Know if I’m a Workaholic?” test, you may be a workaholic.

I answered “yes” to 15.

I don’t hate Mondays, because I work every weekend.  I don’t hate mornings, because I work every evening. I work All. The. Time.

My name is Jeri, and I’m a workaholic.

This ephiphany fills me with shame.  I’m part of the Slacker Generation, after all.  Throughout my teens and twenties, I took pride in not taking pride in anything.  Hard work was for yuppie fools with misplaced priorities.  Ferris Bueller was my hero.

And then I became a writer–not merely a person who writes or who says they want to be a writer someday, but someone who wants to make a living at it. This means writing hundreds of thousands of words a year and spending much of the non-writing time handling other aspects of the business–blogging, answering e-mail, doing research, answering e-mail, maintaining three social networking sites, answering e-mail, updating the website, answering e-mail, preparing for and attending conferences/booksignings, answering e-mail….

The two things I do for pleasure–reading and travel–must be connected to one or more works-in-progress (or potential WIPs) for me to consider them not a waste of time.

The WA website says, “Relax.* You’re not alone.”

I know I’m not alone.  Nearly every published author I know operates the same way, always in fifth gear, never satisfied with their accomplishments in the short or long term. If they have a good writing day, they feel bad because they’ve ignored e-mail, and vice versa.

This attitude spans authors in all situations, whether they’re drowning in deadlines or they’re currently between contracts. Insecurity and anxiety infuse every aspect of this business. There’s a pervasive fear that if we get off the hamster wheel, it’ll be taken away from us.

Are you a workaholic? Do you want to change? (Nah, me neither. Happiness is overrated.)

Are you by any chance a recovering workaholic? Have you found a way to climb out of the insanity? Please share your stories.

And if anyone is interested in attending a Workaholics Anonymous meeting with me–yeah, right.  Who has the time?


*because they are sadists and they know we are incapable of relaxation

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  1. 1. Jason

    I agree
    Whole heartedly. Music is my life wither it’s recording it, listening to it or performing it. I am a workaholic.

  2. 2. Ruthanne Reid

    Heh. ME TOO. And I’m not even published – no “official” deadlines to pull at me.

    I answered yes to 15 out of the list, as well. Do I want to change? Not really. I’m just really glad my significant other understands (and encourages, but that’s another story. :D )

  3. 3. Melissa Balmer

    Thank you for writing this today Jeri, it so hits home, and you explain just how workaholics think so very very well.

    I’m not a full time writer yet (first novel being penned now), but I’m a publicist which is just as bad. If I’m not making the right connections for my clients, or my friends, or the friends of friends, or my family, I feel guilty. I work nights, I work weekends. I can work 24/7.

    Now reading, my one big luxury has become about research (not that I’m not enjoying every word, I am). Now what I’m trying to focus on is having time when I don’t need to be solving anything – not for my clients, not for my book. Just down time for whatever. It’s not easy, and I’m taking it one hour at a time.

    Keep up the great work, but do take some breaks!

  4. 4. Jeri Smith-Ready

    My husband unfortunately is the same way, also being an entrepreneur like me. He works a FT day job, a PT day job (both from home, so he can never really “leave”), and a side business in web development.

    I know there are writers who AREN’T workaholics, who take weekends off because they work very efficiently during the week. I know that if I scheduled weekends off I would just slack off during the week knowing that I could make it up on my “days off.” The work always swells to fit the time available. ;-)

  5. 5. Kristine Kathryn Rusch

    thirteen of 20. And no, I’m not into recovery. I do love my work. I’m lucky to do my work. (Heck, I married my work. My husband writes too.)

  6. 6. Ruthanne Reid

    *laughs* Does it count that I’ve tried to take weekends off… but it sort of feels like punishment?

  7. 7. Carrie Cleaver

    Great post. I am not a workaholic. I’m definitely a slacker, yet I know and fear that if I were ever accepted into the world of publishing, the leash would be put on. Maybe I have a disorder too. Fear of success. Have a great night Jeri and thanks for the article.

  8. 8. Shawn

    eghad! Totally! I’m not published — yet! — but I do work a full-time job that sometimes turns into a more than full time job. After I’m done with that job, I come home and do the job I really want to do, which is write! that, of course, is my weekend job. :-P

    so, yah, I work pretty much all the time! :-)

  9. 9. Jeri Smith-Ready

    Ha, I know what you mean. I get weekends off when I’m away at my family’s homes. They schedule me full of activities so I can’t think about booze–I mean, cigarettes–I mean, work.

    Hmm, if I took up smoking again, at least I would have regular breaks. :-p

  10. 10. Erica Hayes

    Glad to know it’s not just me :)

    Before I started writing full-time, I was the opposite of a workaholic. Lousy job, lousy attitude. Now I have the job I love, and I never want to stop. It’s compulsive :D

  11. 11. Ruthanne Reid

    Well yes, but then you might not be able to write as much because of that whole pesky early-death-thing. I’m sure I’m not the only fan who would complain.

    What’s sad is I keep looking longingly at netbooks as a way to write more easily while traveling. Or, you know, grocery shopping. Or sitting and waiting in line.

    Not getting one keeps me in control. I’ll keep telling myself that.

  12. 12. Vivi Anna

    yeah its sad when I think of going on holiday, the first thing that pops in mind is, wow, I wonder how much writing I can do, now that I don’t have to cook and clean and answer emails for a week.

  13. 13. Jeri Smith-Ready

    I have a netbook, and I love it! HP 2140–has a 92% full-size keyboard. I don’t even notice the difference between it and a regular laptop keyboard. I guess it helps with writing while traveling due to its long battery life (8-9 hours with the optional 6-cell battery upgrade), but I wouldn’t take it out in the grocery store.

    After all, that’s when I’m busy checking my e-mail on my smart phone.

    Seriously, though, I still do most of my writing on my old laptop. I keep it disconnected from the internet and just do quick e-mail checks on my phone to make sure nothing vital comes in. It’s made a big difference, not having the entire online world at my fingertips while I’m trying to write.

  14. 14. Andrea McElwain

    So what does it say about me that I really really WANT to have a writer’s workaholic life? ;)

    At the moment I’m unpublished with a full time day job, but I think I still qualify as a writing workaholic. It’s there all day every day, every time my brain isn’t fully engaged in something else, and sometimes when it is. Every time I’m relaxing there’s the nagging feeling that I ought to be writing. (Don’t worry, I do plenty of relaxing anyway!)

    And I wouldn’t want it any other way. If I’m ever lucky enough to quit my day job and spend seven days a week writing and promoting and planning and emailing and everything else that goes along with it – well, there’s really nothing else I’d rather be doing.

    But yes. There’s a definite amount of insanity there. ;)

  15. 15. Devon Monk

    Huh. Only 10 out of 15. I guess I’m a writer workaholic who arrives on time, doesn’t think money will solve everything, gets excited about my family, doesn’t care if I lose at Monopoly and have a hobby (knitting) that I do specifically because it is not all about making money.

    So I’m a slacker work-a-holic. Awesome.

    My series (six books contracted so far) is coming out every six months, which means I’m writing two adult UF books a year. Plus doing all that other stuff that comes along with a full-time writing career.

    And I love every minute of it. :)

  16. 16. Jeri Smith-Ready

    Ugh. Can I just say how much I hate the way this blog posts always comments out of order? I got all of Ruthanne’s comments last night and none of the rest until this morning. I swear I was not ignoring the rest of you.

    Jason: Yep, it’s very common among artists of any kind, probably because it’s a pursuit in which we can really immerse ourselves in. In fact, that’s often when we do our best work.

    Melissa: Thank you! I never would have thought rest and relaxation would be something I’d have to force myself to do, but it’s come to that. Good luck!

    Kristine: I love my work, too. I know I’m lucky to do my work. That’s what makes it so hard to realize that it doesn’t have to be my entire life. But as you know, “the work,” (i.e., writing) isn’t nearly all of this business.

    I knew there was something wrong when I made my deadline last week with no problem, and when it was past I felt like I was busier than ever. Deadlines should be the stressful part, right? But when they’re over, life is waiting and when life is a big fat pile of obligations that can never be met with one human’s time, well, hell, give me another deadline (oh thanks, there’s one next month!). ;-)

  17. 17. Jeri Smith-Ready

    Carrie: I’m not an expert on this stuff, so I can’t say there’s such a thing as fear of success. But I know a lot of people who love writing put off finishing and submitting for some reason–fear of rejection makes more sense to me than fear of success. I think we fear things that are more immediate than success.

    Shawn: I think that was some of my happiest writing time, when I worked full-time and wrote on the weekends and nights (and, um, sometimes at my desk). Things are always more exciting when you have to steal time to do them. I still sort of feel that way about working on actual books–hee hee, blow off the e-mail while I write this chapter!

    Erica: True! I wonder if it’s the fact that we now have a job that we not only love, but completely identify with. It’s not just something we do, it’s who we are. I don’t think that’s necessarily bad. It’s not the kind of work where we can just shut our brain off at 5pm. Most people can only dream of having such a cool job! I love the times when the book is so real to me that I’m thinking about it in the shower or the car or half-asleep (hopefully not the latter two at the same time).

    Vivi: Ooh, that sounds nice! But I would be constantly checking e-mail to make sure I only had a Mt. McKinley to come back to instead of a Mt. Everest. ;-)

    Andrea: Please don’t think I’m complaining about my life. There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing either. I know I’m fortunate to have it, and part of the reason I have it is because I’ve worked so hard. I realize that.

    Just to be clear: it’s not the work that’s the problem, it’s the way workaholics think about it. There are plenty of non-workaholics who handle much bigger loads much more happily. They work very efficiently during “Work Time” and thus have time for a life. But workaholics hate the idea of having a life, so we fill it with work. See the difference?

  18. 18. CE Murphy

  19. 19. Kelly McCullough

    Eh, 7 yes, 6 sometimes, or it depends. I think there’s a large overlap on this list between workaholic and simply loving what you do. Which is not to say that I’m not a workaholic, just that I don’t think it’s necessarily a problem.

  20. 20. Jeri Smith-Ready

    Devon & Kelly: I think we can love what we do, work very hard at it, and still not be a workaholic. The key is how much it interferes with the rest of our lives. Assuming we have a life to interfere with.

    I’ll say again: it’s not the amount of work itself, it’s the way we think about it and our relationship to it. Just like someone can drink every day and not be an alcoholic.

  21. 21. Raethe

    I also scored 15. Curses, now I can’t even tell my friends with a straight face that I’m NOT a workaholic.

  22. 22. Andrea McElwain

    Oh, I understand that you’re not complaining about it! I wasn’t trying to say that! I just think it’s rather amusing that I’m actually striving toward a workaholic life. I hadn’t thought about attitudes toward writing in terms of workaholism before. I’ve always said that one should never been too caught up in one’s occupation, so it’s funny to see that when I frame writing in terms of a job, I completely reverse myself.

  23. 23. Jeri Smith-Ready

    Raethe: *high five*

    Andrea: I didn’t think you were, but I suddenly realized others out there might think I was being whiny (God forbid!). But I know what you mean–I used to be bewildered (still am, actually) at people who will throw themselves into a 9-5 job working for The Man, and yet when I’m my own boss, I exhibit the same behaviors.

    Hmm, I wonder if this is an American phenomenon. Do French and Swedish freelance writers take 8 weeks of vacation like their employed-and-salaried counterparts?

  24. 24. carolyn crane

    What a great subject! I love this post. You are apparently hopeless, JSM.

    I run my own freelance business that pays the bills in addition to writing novels, so I work ALL the time. Even when I exercise, I’m cajoling my subconscious into plotting. Don’t ask.

    But a lot of writing is daydreaming. Sometimes my husband is like, you work too much, you’re stressed and you don’t even know. But it seems like a lot of my work is sitting and thinking. How can that be stressful? But, who knows.

    You say:
    “If they have a good writing day, they feel bad because they’ve ignored e-mail, and vice versa.” So true! *G*

    Like Alice, the faster you run, the less you keep up. Calgon, take me away! Literally. Please. Okay, back to typing.

  25. 25. Margaret Y.

    I don’t think some of these questions are fair, or they don’t really apply to writers. For example, the question, “Is work the activity you like to do best and talk about most?” If you don’t love to write, you shouldn’t be writing, because there are easier ways to make a buck.

    Or how about this question: “Do you take complete responsibility for the outcome of your work efforts?” Writers must do this! Who else is going to take responsibility, the cat?

    I think that this list might apply to a 9-5 person who works for a corporation, but not for the self-employed and especially not for writers.

  26. 26. Jeri Smith-Ready

    Carolyn: It’s funny you mention the daydreaming. My husband will often ask me, “What’s wrong?” when I’m just sitting there thinking. I always want to say, “What’s wrong is you just interrupted my train of thought.” ;-p

    Margaret: I think you’re right to some degree, but the questions can be understood in such a way that they can apply to writers.

    For example, I interpret “Do you take complete responsibility for the outcome of your work efforts?” to mean “Do you credit/blame yourself for the success or lack thereof of your book?” When there are so many factors in a book’s sales, we can’t take all of that on ourselves.

    Healthy attitude: I’ve written the best book I could, did a reasonable amount of promotion, and the rest (distribution, marketing budget, weather during release week) is out of my control.

    Workaholic attitude: If my sales suck, it’s my fault because I should’ve written a better book. If ONLY I’d polished those action scenes four or five more times! Ooh, it’s one minute past the hour, time to check my Amazon ranking.

  27. 27. Jana Oliver

    So I got 5 “yes” answers though some of those are iffy. By their standards I’m a workaholic, but I disagree with that. I work hard, but know when to back off and play. Years busting my hump in the corporate world taught me that (and watching a close friend go through a complete mental collapse).

    Since I put 150% into anything I do, I have a low burn out threshold. If I work myself into the ground today, how am I going to do this wonderful job in twenty years?

  28. 28. Alma Alexander

    Eleven yesses, myself. What does that mean?

    But yeah, I suffer from what my mother has (a very long time ago, when I was a kid) dubbed my “writing virus” – and when I get afflicted by that I simply dive into another world and “reality” be damned. My husband has to “wake me up” to eat…

    Would I swap it for anything else…? Not in a million years….

  29. 29. Raethe

    High fives, Jeri!

    Now that I’ve taken the time to actually read the comments (um, after not reading them the other day because I felt like I should be writing instead) I have to agree with, well, everyone. Being busy or enjoying one’s work isn’t the same as being a workaholic.

    And yes, some of these questions are definitely “Well, duh” answers for writers. Artists in general, really.

    And now, I’ve got work to do. ;)

  30. 30. Jace

    First, I wish the entire Slacker Culture that America has grown would get infected with workaholism! It’s a horrible lifestyle that we have bred and I look forward to that trend ebbing away.

    However, have you ever thought to ask a Civil War Era soldier or merchant about being a workaholic? How about a Turn of the Century farmer? Or a Peasant from the Feudal Age?

    Certainly things can be overboard, but I don’t think a strong work ethic or wanting to do something you love more often is a bad thing. I indeed feel guilty wasting an entire weekend playing a computer game. I’ve received no tangible benefit at all, and look at all the writing/cleaning/organizing/filing/lesson-planning/stuff I could have gotten done!

    Now, on the other hand, my brother is a confirmed “workaholic,” yet he also has the Midas Touch; I wonder if the two are related?

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