Reassuring Facts for the Creatively Compulsive

Me, "sleeping"

Me, “sleeping”

It happens every year. Leading up to Christmas, I shift into maniacal work mode, as though saving up for time off I claim to be desperate for. Meanwhile, thoughts of curry feasts, bubble baths, peppermint spiced cocoa, hang-time with family and generally partying like the holiday obsessed kid I still am keep me giddy. In recent years, I’ve also claimed that I rest enough, busy or not.

The break adoration and sufficient rest bits? Questionable. While I definitely prioritize both more in recent years, having learned that R&R benefits everything from moods to work quality, my e-book release may have tinkered with that ever so significantly slightly…

On December 26th, while at my parents’ place in Minne-snowda, the combo of overwork and giddiness sent me plummeting from spazmo to sick in a snap. This year my family nearly replied to my sniffling, shivering tankage in unison: “You always get sick after Christmas.”

Oh yeah… At least I didn’t un-eat curry on an elderly woman at Woolworth’s this time, I reminded them, to which their eyes rolled harder. Compulsivity isn’t always pretty, but it can be if channeled appropriately.

The difference a day makes

The difference a day makes

If you’re one who has a tougher time pressing pause than start, I hope you find the following tidbits as comforting as I do.

5 Reassuring Facts for the Creatively Compulsive

1. We’re not alone. Being creatively compulsive can feel lonely, particularly around others who don’t understand. The truth is, many artists function similarly. Connecting through social media or in person with fellow compulsives can remove the edge from lonely feelings. Same for simply realizing that they’re there.

2. Breaks help more than we realize. I’m not the only compulsive in my family. My brother, a visual artist, can be too. Before heading home, we both work like crazy then bring work with us. Once we arrive, our work usually sits in our respective rooms while we chill elsewhere. Post visit, it benefits hugely. If you’re not compulsive, starting is probably toughest. If you are, it’s the stepping into relax time that’s daunting. When it hurts, remind yourself that respite and work are equally important.

3. It’s okay to have an on/off switch. In an interview with Oprah, Simon Cowell shared that he works like a maniac in the midst of projects, then slogs around in a moody, sleepy state for some time after. Bestselling thriller author David Baldacci writes like mad then takes total off time , according to his ThrillerFest talk last year. Daily word count goals and structured time slots work well for many. As compulsives, we’re more likely to have on/off switches, or low, high and highest gears. As long as we can turn them on and off when necessary, we’re gold.

4. Doing what we love isn’t selfish. Doing anything we enjoy can seem selfish, but following our passions makes us stronger individuals, partners, society members and friends. If we’re compelled to write, even during an “inopportune” times, such as during a family getaway, doing so might help us more than the hurt we’d cause by stifling it. When the desire strikes, tell your loved ones you need some craft time. Then if possible, claim it. Even small doses can help. For me, waking up early to write during busy life times is key.

5. Healthy compulsivity pays off. Unlike creative compulsive disorder and hypergraphia, two debilitating conditions, a healthy amount of compulsiveness wisely utilized can facilitate prolificness. Agatha Christie, the world’s bestselling mystery novelist, wrote 69 novels and 19 plays. “The best time to plan a book is while you’re doing the dishes,” she said. It seems that compulsivity and breaks served her well. Regardless of how long it takes to complete our work, intense passion and overwhelming desire to create are gifts to be cherished.

How about you? Are you creatively compulsive? Any challenges, success stories or pointers to share?

Leave a comment


  1. Good morning and Happy New Year! I agree with Agatha Christie, although I tend to be at my most creative whenever I’m not trying to be creative, whether I am washing dishes, running or merely gazing off into the distance. Here’s hoping this year brings lots of published stories for us all!

    • Cheers to that, David! Back in my acting days, a coach told me that one of the most important things an actor can do is live life. I’d say the same applies for writers, as you well pointed out. 🙂

  2. Hi August! You’re description of creative compulsive describes me to a T. During a project I tend to work in a frenzy but crash for a time as a collect my thoughts, mull over fresh ideas and give it another go.
    Thanks for your collection of tips!

  3. I am definitely creatively compulsive. It is one of the things that my husband and I argue about the most. He feels I lack an off switch. But it’s not true. When we are on vacation, I don’t do anything except relax. And like you, when I change from on to off, I tend to get sick. The change in routine is hard for me, and I know that when I switch things up that is when I tend to go down. I know he would like me to go to bed at the exact moment that he does; however, that isn’t always possible. Sometimes I’m in the middle of being very productive, and I just can’t pull myself away from what I’m doing. He doesn’t really understand this or appreciate it. Thank goodness I have online friends like you and other creative types who help pull me through these times and remind me that I am not alone.

    • Friends who relate have made all the difference me too, Renee. I beat myself up far less over my challenges and find crazy peace in knowing you’re all there. So glad you’re skilled at relaxing when you need to!

  4. Hope you’re feeling better August! I FEEL like I know how to turn those gears on and off. Although I notice when I struggle with direction, or say a choice, then I get stuck in one area–too much work or not enough. I guess awareness of that is helpful, but sometimes it takes spinning my wheels to help me find my direction again.
    Happy new year!

    • Thanks, Coleen! Definitely getting there. 🙂

      I know what you mean about the wheel-spin serving as a directional guide. Knowing that even that is simply part of how we function may help some, too. Best of luck with all the great stuff you have going on!

  5. The title yanked me into this post. [As, if I’d miss one of your posts. anyway. NOT!]

    Creatively compulsive? Yes, I am that. Heavy emphasis on the compulsive. So much so, I found my “on” switch was not taking me to productive space between the sheets of paper.

    To the rescue? The Artist’s Way and some blogs I plan to follow even during this “reading restricted” Week Four. I need the company of fellow artists to take my creative well (that seems to be filled to overflowing) and channel it into a tumbling stream of thoughts making their way from brain to page — away from the evil Detractor and Critic.

    I found a line today that I L-O-V-E-D! You are your own promised land; your own new frontier.

    Thanks for being you, August!

    • “You are your own promised land; your own new frontier.” — Beautiful! And I loved THE ARTIST’S WAY. It was my “break through” book years ago. Thank goodness for compulsive friends and gurus like Cameron, right?

      Thanks for the support, doll. I hope you’re having a brilliant kickoff to ’13!

      • Brilliant is one way I might describe the kick-off to my new year, August.

        Those shootin’ stars I’ve been wishin’ on? Amazing! In every aspect of my life.

        I’m writing the letter from 80 YO me to my current self — two letters — with and without key changes in my life. What an eye opener! It’s nudged me off my winter-fluff-duff to write, to exercise, and to “swiss cheese” major projects.

        When is your book coming out in print? This month, right? I read the excerpt. L-O-V-E it.

  6. I find it easy to switch since the kids aren’t living at home. When my kids call, I switch off and go sit down on a comfy couch. I also switch off at night when Danny is home, but if he is watching a sporting event, I am more likely to keep working.
    I have always been a hard worker and once I get an idea in my head, it is over. I have to DO it!
    The coll hing about blogging is coming up with ideas that take me outside. I have had three huge days of outdoor insanity. I don’t know if you checked out what I did on New Year’s Day, but talk about having to DO it. I never once considered turning back….
    Happy New Year!

  7. Eagerly awaiting your follow-up, Appropriate Shaming for the Inexcusably Lazy.

  8. I used to put in eighteen- to twenty-hour days while writing my books. Insane! Getting older (hopefully wiser?) has taken care of that. 🙂

  9. I managed to escape the Christmas “sick” this year. (Should I knock on wood?) But I think that’s mostly because I did all my craziness in November for NaNoWriMo. December was the month I chilled (or as much as one can chill while still prepping for Christmas–including making about 700 cookies for family and friends 🙂 ). I just did a post for today about the need for downtime and ways to recover from burnout, so know that you’re not alone. 😀

  10. I find #4 to be the trickiest to navigate….certainly to the detriment of my writing. My simple goal this year: write, write, write!!! To help me achieve this, I carry a little note pad with me so that I can jot down ideas/thoughts if/when they occur to me. I recently thought of a future blog entry while on the elliptical machine at the gym. I wrote down an outline on my notepad so I wouldn’t lose the idea. Now I just have to fill in the nuts and bolts.

  11. Hi August! It’s a bummer getting sick on vacation. Especially with family. I hope you’re feeling better. I have to say that because I suffer from CFS, I’ve learned over the many years to behave myself and listen to my body. I cannot push myself or the virus kicks up and I’m done for. Not worth it my friend. Then I’m totally out of commission, which sucks. I hate to play the fall behind/catch-up game. It can be a fine line we walk on knowing just how much we can mentally and physically handle. It’s hard to be balanced with all the demands on our life. So take care of yourself! {{jHUgs!}} 🙂

  12. “un-eat” Snort! Happiest of new years to ya! I was forced to take all of Dec. off of writing/social media due to being a new puppy parent on top of all of the holiday/kid stuff. At first, I about lost my mind, feeling like I was falling behind. And then, I ask myself… falling behind what? My self-imposed schedule? So, I dropped the guilt and have just been enjoying my family. Though, I am looking forward to school starting next week so writing can commence. 🙂

  13. I hope you are feeling better! There have been a lot of nasty ‘bugs’ floating around our part of the world too and much of our family is down with something. With a big family I’ve learned how to turn the gears on and off but I must say the biggest germs in my life seem to be those ideas that never seem to stop … wherever and whenever! Congratulations on the fabulous reviews for In Her Shadow! It’s sitting on my Kindle and I can’t wait to read it. So proud of you, August!

  14. Kourtney Heintz

     /  January 3, 2013

    So sorry to hear you were sick over the holidays! Hope you are on the mend. LOL. Um, I was sending emails to my crit partner and web designer Christmas Eve. I did put don’t open until after the holidays in the re line though. I knew I had to turn off for family time but I worked right up to then. I have been scheduling workouts and cooking breaks to make sure I get a little more balance but it’s hard. And on the treadmill I ofc came up with a better back cover blurb. 🙂

  15. amyshojai

     /  January 3, 2013

    This was the first year in a while that I didn’t get sick after the holidays. It ain’t fun–sorry you had the crud. And yep, I’m a compulsive work-aholic and seem to get the most done when several projects are on the burner. This year I worked ahead and got LOTS LOTS LOTS done before the holidays, and actually took five days in a row off *eeeeek!* before getting back into work mode. It’s kinda-sorta scary for me not to work. Weird-icity twilight zone-esque. Okay, stopping before the words morph into something truly dangerous. 🙂

  16. Oh, golly! Hi, my name is Britt “creatively compulsive” Skrabanek.

    Taking care of yourself and remembering to live are so important when you’re a hard working creative type. For most of us, our minds are always racing with ideas, so we have to permit ourselves to step away. And, once we do, we open ourselves up to new experiences we would never have had stuck in the zone.

  17. Getting sick over the holidays is a pain, and I have a lot of experience with it. Usually before Christmas. One year I lost my voice and my sweetheart oldest younger brother kindly said at the family Christmas party…that it was kind of like a present. 🙂

    I am compulsive about writing. Sometimes it’s because I can also be compulsive about NOT writing. I’ll find a million excuses to do anything and everything else, backing myself into a corner…and then having no choice but to play catch up – in hurry. But I’m like that with a lot of things in life. Or have been. I’m trying to change that pattern because getting things done last minute is just too stressful. Still there’s no denying that when I’m in that corner, I can get a lot accomplished in a relatively short amount of time.

  18. This really hits home for me. I struggle a lot with allocating time to my writing and feeling selfish. As a mom to two young boys, it’s close to impossible to find an even balance. I have my job as an author, yet I don’t want to miss out on experiencing every growing moment of my children’s lives. It’s a constant push-pull, one that I’ve still not mastered nor probably ever will. So I’ve got to let go of some details on both fronts – and trust that all will work out somehow, some way. And that’s what you call faith. 🙂

  19. What GREAT POINTS!!! I may use these to calm me down in times I’m overwhelemd and not feeling like I fit in! THANKS!!!

  20. I really can’t be creatively compulsive with a family to occupy my time…
    But I’m sure glad you are, August!

  21. Great topic and helpful pointers, August. Relating to this topic, I highly recommend a book I’m reading now, Anne Lamott’s “bird by bird–some instructions on writing and life.” It’s a hilarious guide on the challenges of the creative process of writing.

  22. Love this, August! Thanks for sharing it. Happy New Year!

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