Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

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Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Emotional Turbulence of Creative Work

For a long time, I had crazy dreams whenever I wrote.

(Which was constantly, so you can see how this might be a problem.)

All my base, primal fears would float up from my subconscious to terrorize me at night. Or simply perplex me with the randomness of a dream about dolphins laying seige to a circus filled with robots (feel free to psychoanalyze that one).

After a few years (years!), the dreams tempered. My mind, it seemed, had adjusted to the onslaught of creativity I was shoving into my subconscious every day.

At the same time, I noticed I had become much more emotional during the daylight hours. I would cry more, laugh more, get angry more - sometimes all in the same minute. This was separate from the wringer of emotion I would experience while actually writing. Tears would splash down on the keyboard on a regular basis. My body would be tense for hours after writing a particularly gripping scene.

For an emotionally repressed engineer, this was an alarming turn of events. I was seriously concerned about my mental health for a while.

When that turbulence slowly passed (or perhaps I became more accustomed to my swings in emotional state), I finally felt in control enough to explore the darker, deeper corners of my writing. The ones I feared to shine a light upon, afraid of what I would find there - and what it would mean for my mental state. But forward I went, and that was the most freeing experience of all - daring to feel whatever may come.

I had a dream recently which reminded me of how far I had come.

It was an anxiety dream - you know, the kind where you find yourself giving a presentation in your underwear, or rush to arrive late for a Final Exam that you somehow forgot to study for. In this particular dream, I was back at NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research) - a place filled with more brainpower than any other place I have worked. Me and a bunch of other people who had been "interns" were brought back and locked in a room together. We were each tasked with completing a complex project with nothing but our own brains (no sharing! No helping!) and whatever materials we could find in the room (no outside contact! No Google!). Everyone had already started on their (secret) projects, but I had somehow missed getting the assignment. I tried to ask the lady in charge, but she slipped out the door, giving me a condescending look on the way.

Anxiety dream, remember? Right.

Normally, this is the point in this kind of dream where I run around frantically, or get caught in some hellacious dream slow-mo, trying to figure out what my task is or trying to beat the clock to do it.

But this dream was different. I could feel the shift, even in my dream state. I turned to my equally-stressed compatriots and said, "What are you guys working on?" I completely forgot about my own project (or lack thereof). The others were skittish and afraid to share, so I offered one guy my cell phone (to use for research) in exchange for him telling me about his project. He snatched the phone and ran off, leaving the rest of us with his half-knitted, rather sad-looking sweater. (Why we're knitting sweaters at NCAR, I'll leave to the reader to analyze.) Together, we gently critiqued the sweater, allowing that it was a fine start, but had a ways still to go before it was finished. One by one, the others shared their projects and we helped each other see the flaws - and the strengths - of each.

The deadline was forgotten.

The stress was gone.

There was just the joy of the work, and it wasn't even mine. The joy came in the sharing.

I awoke to a peaceful feeling that I recognized as the kind that comes when I've done a lot of hard creative work. Dreams being creatures of emotion not fact, I paid attention to that feeling - it seemed to carry some great weight of significance.

To me, this is what it meant:

My creative work was unfinished. A good start, but with many strands that had yet to be woven into the whole. It would take much help and sharing, but if I let go of the anxiety and stress, all that would be left would be the joy of the work itself. It was a kind of emotional freedom. There was still turbulence ahead, whitewaters of emotion that would have to be navigated to complete the work. But I had the emotional tools I needed to accomplish the goal.

Writing has indeed changed me. I'm no longer that emotionally repressed engineer. And, finally, I can say that it's truly a change for the better, equipping me for the work that still lies ahead.


  1. To me, it's always, always, always about the work.

    Great post. As always.

  2. An interesting post, Susan, and a subject that most might feel only applies to them. Any creative endeavor takes a toll on the creator, especially when that person puts a bit of himself into each creative work.

    Letting go of anxiety isn't always easy either, support is one of the ways of reducing it. Much is self caused, by our own perfectionist tendencies or our feelings of inadequacy. You must have a strong sense of self, a good thing for a writer. (IMO, of course).

    1. There is so much of our interior lives that are truly shared human experiences - it's amazing that we think otherwise, truly. I've always had what you call a strong sense of self, I think. Not sure where it came from, but it's been reinforced by a naturally introspective life, I think.

      Thanks for the great comment!

  3. All of your "Debt Collector" books have so much collective black in them that when they line up in your sidebar it totally changes the way your website looks. It's kind of an interesting effect.

    1. I know, right? This goes to my post on Author Branding. I think I need a new header/background, if nothing else! Just... too lazy to get that done.

  4. Wow, I love all the symbolism rampant in your dream. And I love your analysis of it, too. I think it's awesome that you seem to see the writing community as being helpful and creative work as being less competitive and more of a team venture. :) Great post, as always.

  5. Yeah, so that made me cry. You're beautiful, inside and outside, darkest corners and brightest flashes of insight. Keep making me say "wow!"

    1. Love you, Rebecca! You've been there for the whole journey. :)