How to Avoid Overwhelmed Author Syndrome: BE PRESENT

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As the last of the Debs to celebrate a book birthday, I’ve had the benefit of watching and learning over the past few months. And while there are parts I’ve found overwhelming – even from a distance (think: launch parties, blog tours, 125-item to-do lists…) – ultimately I’ve come away with this gem of understanding:


The stress will dissipate and level off, but so will the excitement and fun frenzy of it all.

(And that’s okay.)

We have worked our tails off for these books. From first word written, to agent hunt, to book deal, to revisions, to self-promotion, to starting it all over again, we have lived with these books for years. YEARS. And so in some ways I think the inevitable overwhelm that hits authors around pub time comes from how close we’ve held these books to our chests, more than the number of items on a to-do list. So while the tickle of overwhelm is right there all the time, I am – somehow, and for now – telling it to take a hike.

Perhaps some of my new-found “DE-stress life” mantra is due to my age (now that I’m into my forties I care a lot less about things I used to care about – like if my house is drop-in ready at all times, or matching up Tupperware lids to their bottoms => why is this so difficult? – and I care a lot more about other things, like spending time with my family). Or maybe it’s that I’ve learned to unfocus my gaze just enough so the overwhelm is fuzzy and therefore, less scary.

Where am I going with this (meandering, sorry) post? Basically this: the best way to avoid overwhelmed author syndrome is to BE PRESENT. One of those ‘simple to say, impossibly hard to implement’ things, but stick with me here.

If I only focus my attention on where it’s needed most at this very moment, then all I can get worked up about is this moment.

Yes, I will still have a long to-do list.

Yes, I will still wake up and panic at 3 am about said to-do list.

Yes, I will probably say “yes” to a few things I should probably have said “no” to.

This is an experiment for me. I’m Type A, and I like to always be DOING. But I’m also changing, and learning, and listening to others who have gone before me, and my hope is that when August 24th arrives, the day before my book’s birthday, I am feeling more excited than exhausted. So here are five ways I’m going to make this happen:

  1. Say “No (thanks)”. Remind myself that all copies of my book will NOT immediately self-destruct if I have to say “No” to an opportunity. Saying “Yes” and not delivering, or ending up sick from stress is not worth it – ever.
  2. Be professional, always. This means to only take on what I know I can handle, so I don’t miss deadlines or disappoint.
  3. Be gracious, always.
  4. Enjoy the moment. This is a biggie. I’ve had two events recently – a reading at a charity event, and my first book signing at BEA – and my number one goal was to HAVE FUN. Because if you’re not having fun, what’s the point?
  5. 33d074d861a76e825b47c09640a1d752Buy a be present box (or use one of my random Tupperware containers). When I start feeling stressed and overwhelmed, I will stick my phone in this box, then go for a run, or get ice cream with my kiddo, or pour a glass of wine to enjoy with my husband, or turn on some angsty teen drama (preferably with vampires or Texas football) and zone out with a giant coffee and some chocolate.

I’ll report back and let you know how this goes, but in the meantime, tell me: how to you avoid overwhelm and stress?

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Karma Brown is the author of COME AWAY WITH ME (MIRA/Harlequin, September 2015), an emotional story of one woman’s discovery that life is still worth living, even if it’s not the life you planned. Karma is also a National Magazine award-winning journalist, and lives outside Toronto, Canada, with her family and their mischievous labradoodle puppy, Fred.

This article has 11 Comments

  1. I love this, Karma! Just last night my husband said to me “you need to learn to say ‘no’ to others.” Too much on my plate finally pushed me to change my weekly book blog to a more “unstructured” one where I wasn’t tied to every Friday post.
    Little things like that (and no longer caring if our home is drop-in ready) help.
    And like you said, as we age, we realize the importance of time with friends and family, which is so much more important than cleaning! 🙂
    I hope your 3 a.m. panic attacks end soon!

  2. I love the Be Present box idea! I need to put my phone away more often and enjoy moments — not just with the book, but life in general. Thank you for the reminder! Great post!

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