writer burnout

(This post first appeared on Substack: Writing Magick with Maggie Sunseri. Click to subscribe.)

It’s been a while.

Only I would see an apartment, sign a lease less than a week later, then move in a week after that. No furniture, just vibes. Oh, and a book only 3/4ths written and set to publish the next month.

Well, now I have furniture!! (Except a dining room table. But at this point I feel like the black, folding card table is just my statement piece.) And I made my deadlines! The Lost Witches of Aradia is officially a completed series. I also didn’t relapse, even though I experienced a huge sobriety rough patch around the time that I moved.

In order to get this book out and get settled in my new city, I had to cull my to-do, and Substack didn’t make the cut. I’ve recently had to get honest with myself about my priorities and where I’m spending my time. I had to ask, what’s truly moving the needle? What do I need to keep for the success of my business, my sobriety, and my physical, spiritual, mental, and social health? What do I need to let go of?

As a CliftonStrengths #1 Futuristic, I’m prone to getting so lost in my future vision that I ignore the reality of my present situation. In the future, I’d love to have a nonfiction side of my brand where I can write about all the social science nerd shit I love, publish a memoir or other nonfiction books, and help people who are struggling with the same things that I struggle with. However, nonfiction writing, this Substack included, is not currently paying the bills. And all of the time and energy I divest from my fiction career to focus on growing this platform is currently just money down the drain.

So, this Substack is being pushed to the back burner. I completely understand if any paid subscribers want to jump ship until I’m consistent again. I do hope you’ll stay on my free subscriber list, though, as I aim to still pop back in when I’m feeling inspired.

I hate quitting things. I have a deeply ingrained guilt complex tied to being perceived as lazy, flighty, or unreliable. Half of it is due to the overachiever brain, and the other probably stems from the addict shame cave, where I want to avoid ever embodying traits I held when I was at my worst.

But part of owning a business is separating emotions from the hard facts and knowing when to let go. I don’t want to be writing this article right now. I want to be working on research and plotting for my next smutty fantasy romance series. (I’M SO EXCITED YOU GUYS! IT’S GOING TO BE SOOOOO GOOD.) Writing books keeps my lights on in my gorgeous, cozy new apartment in this beautiful city I’m so obsessed with. The hours I spend on Substack are hours I’d rather devote to my writing, my reader community, my friends, exercise, mindfulness, and everything else I’m already struggling to balance and reconfigure now that I’m out on my own.

Maybe one day nonfiction writing will move back up on the priority list, but for now, I’m letting go.

Since last January, I’ve published seven books. I’ve negotiated a seven-book audiobook deal and a French foreign rights deal. I’ve built a brand and a community. I’ve improved my writing craft exponentially with each book, and I’ve learned from every mistake, accomplishment, misstep, and trial I’ve faced in my business so far. I’ve gone to conferences and absorbed wisdom from authors I admire.

Something powerful is brewing. Whenever I tell people this next series’ pitch, their eyes light up. It’s been a real challenge to keep the concept and titles to myself. In fact, I’ve already spilled to way more people than I intended… I’m just too excited! Oh well.

Everything I’ve learned and improved upon is feeding into this next launch. That’s where I want every last drop of my creative and productive energy to go. And all the rest of me needs to be devoted to my mind-body-soul equilibrium. Since moving, I’ve struggled a great deal to find work-life balance. Turns out, when you suddenly have a bunch of loving, supportive friends, they like, want to see you on a regular basis. Ugh. I suppose that’s a reasonable expectation. But it was a hell of a lot easier to juggle the self-care and running a business when I was a hermit, I’ll tell ya that much.

I can’t help but feel like I’ve manifested the life of my dreams. Sometimes none of it feels real. When I was abroad at my European conferences, getting inspired and connecting with the folks of the author world, I simultaneously honored my present experiences and also missed dearly my wacky friend group and my new city. Everywhere I turn there’s all this love, passion, generosity, and adventure, and I don’t know how to keep this flood of gratitude from leaking out all over the place. It’s a sticky gooey mess. It’s truly nauseating how happy I am.

Me & my romance author crew

Two years ago, all I could do was dream of this life. All I could do was have faith in all of these things that had yet to manifest. It’s a miracle I believed in any of it at all. I had no tangible proof. All I could do was yearn. Put one foot in front of the other. Let go of the things that were killing my body and soul, one by one. Grab hold of anything I could to keep from drowning.

I don’t know why some people make it to solid ground and others stay lost amidst the churning waves. But I think a big part of it is faith. The ability to see outside of our own limited perspective and imagine a better existence, even when it seems impossible. Or undeserved. Or greedy.

I’m not special. I don’t think I deserve love, joy, or success any more than anyone else. I didn’t just have to believe in this life; I also had to fucking fight for it. Physical & mental withdrawals. Daily meetings. Writing so fast, getting so deep in my story that I drive myself into temporary insanity. Forcing myself to do things that terrify me. In early sobriety, even talking to new people was horrifying. I cowered away from being seen. I still struggle to crack myself wide open, to be vulnerable with the people who care about me. But I do it. One step, and then the next. As I expand and grow and allow myself to bathe in the light, the paralytic fear only continues to loosen its grip.

I still have bad moments. I act out of trauma. I unfairly project past experiences onto current people and situations. I behave selfishly. Dishonestly. I close myself back up and recede. I take steps back. I skip my workouts and fall behind on my writing goals. I spiral and allow my OCD or addict brain or self-pity to pull me down into the darkness. But I always, always, find my way back out. I know how to self-soothe, to take care of myself as I would a child, with unconditional positive regard and grace. I rely on the systems, habits, and support network I have meticulously crafted to bring me back to equilibrium.

And I believe.

“It’s because I was once somewhere so dark that I could no longer imagine the light, because I was once so lost and alone that I didn’t think I would ever deserve anything but torment, because I once thought it was all lost and futile and now I don’t… that is why I believe that it all matters. That it all means something. Because I was once hopeless, and now I have hope. I was once alienated, and now I have community. I used to curl up inside the Void for comfort, clinging to the emptiness, the utter meaninglessness, all in an attempt to hide from the unbearable weight of mortal struggle and the aching, crushing weight of my responsibility to be better than I was before. It’s because I fought my way back to the sun from that place that’s darker than black, emptier than nothing—all so that I could look into your eyes again—that I will end this, no matter what it takes. I will fight for existence with everything I have because at one point, I didn’t think I mattered enough to exist… and I don’t believe that anymore.”

– Áine in The Redeemed, the seventh and final book in The Lost Witches of Aradia series

I have to fight for my own happiness because I remember a time when I believed I’d never be happy again. I can’t stay in the darkness for too long, because I’ve perfected the process of pulling myself back out. Through my recovery, writing, and self-actualization journeys, I’ve taught myself how to see past my current state of mind and limiting beliefs. How to believe in a vision that has yet to manifest. How to continuously get better, less afraid, and more expansive. I have to live in a world of limitless possibility and connection, because that’s the world that healed me.

After everything I’ve overcome, I’m just grateful to be here with all of you.

We’ll chat soon. Go do something that terrifies you. 😉

(This post first appeared on Substack: Writing Magick with Maggie Sunseri. Click to subscribe.)

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