Saturday, December 4, 2010

How Helen Plans to Get Her Groove Back

In the short span of time between when Kathleen invited me to write this post and when I sat down to produce it, I realized the topic of burnout was all too relevant for me.  You see, I have spent the past three years writing an erotica story a week, then recording it and publishing it for the Heat Flash Erotica podcast (  I loved this project, and it resulted in a lot of fantastic writing, 165 short stories to be exact.  But I had to stop doing it at the end of September because it was getting harder and harder for me to come up with a new tale every week, and quite frankly I worried that the quality of writing was slipping.  I was bored, frustrated, and not having any fun at it.  I wanted to set fire to my computer, and not in a good way.  Those are classic signs of burnout.

So I stopped.  I decided to take three months off and do other writing projects.  I wanted to get away from short stories and indulge myself in a novel.  And I wanted to get away from erotica and play in other genres. It’s not that I’ve fallen out of love with erotica.  Far from it.  It’s the genre that made me a writer, and I still have plenty of ideas for it.  But after writing about sex for three years straight, I was having a hard time coming up with new ways to insert tab A into slot B... or slot C... or get two tab A’s to just rub against each other and...

Well, you know what I mean.  So I decided to take a break.  Right now I’m currently hip deep in a sci-fi novel about telepaths and government conspiracies.  It’s exactly what I needed, or so I thought.  But though I’m enjoying the story, I find writing it is also a strain.  You see, I placed a demand on myself to finish the novel and be ready to podcast it by January. And since I promised people it would be ready by then, I have to keep writing at a furious pace every night to get it done.  Thus I am now constantly forcing myself to sit down every night and work on that damn novel.  And I really, really would rather do something else.

Of course, that happens with any novel I might write.  I’m very excited at the beginning, eager to outline and get those first few thousand words down. Then suddenly I look up and say, “Oh, I committed to how many chapters?  Uh, gee, this could take a while...”  Meanwhile, other projects are dangling just beyond my reach, like ruby red apples waiting to be plucked from the tree of temptation and devoured, until once again I sink my teeth into that big ol’ worm of commitment and realize I don’t want to finish what I started.  Now this is not necessarily burn out.  Like I said, it happens with every story I sit down to write.  I’m easily distracted and the grass always looks greener on the project I’m not currently doing.  But right now things feel different, because right now I look past my current novel and I see those other projects dangling on the tree and none of them look tasty to me at all.

It’s not that I don’t want to write anymore.  I do.  But the lifestyle I have developed around writing is starting to wear me out.  Like every other writer I know, I have very limited hours in which to work each day.  I get up at 5AM to squeeze in time before the kids are up.  I stay up until 11PM after they’ve gone to bed, just to have another couple hours to work.  Add to this that I also work as a freelance artist, so I find myself having to
divide my limited time between paying art commissions and the writing which pays... occasionally.  And I’ve been very busy with the artwork lately.  So perhaps it’s not the writing itself that’s killing me, as much as the hours and the workload.

What to do?  I don’t want to grind myself into dust by writing non-stop, so I’m thinking that after this current novel I need to do a little more stepping away from the keyboard.  Rather than write one story after another, continually jumping from one deadline to the next, perhaps I need to just free myself of writing deadlines entirely for a while.  Lighten up the
workload and not attempt so many deadline-oriented projects at once.  Let the novels and short stories get written when they get written.  I certainly have ideas that I want to get down on paper, and some of them are scorching hot.  But maybe, just maybe, it’s time I switched from tempting apple-like projects to some other fruit, like the pears of artwork. 

I have been indulging myself more and more in drawing and digital painting. Recently a friend and I started a new website dedicated to children’s art called Very Scary Art (  This is a project I stumbled into, had not even conceived I would ever do, and yet I love it beyond all reason.  It’s such a huge breath of fresh air, so different from everything else I work on, and realizing that was the first sign I had that I am well and truly burned out. 

I need a change, so I’m going to get one.  After the novel, I’m going to push my art projects to the front of the priorities line and write on the side.  I am going to reduce the workload somehow, limiting the number of projects I work on at a time. Hopefully, I’ll find a way to get to bed earlier, so I won’t mind getting up at the crack of dawn to start my day. The important thing to me is that I keep working, that I find the projects I love and I do them.  That way I can continue to push through all my projects to the finish, knowing that once I’m done, I’m not necessarily shackled to any one thing in particular.  I have an entire world of opportunities out there to work on and I’m not locked into doing the same thing over and over with no end in sight.  And if I do set my computer on fire, it will be because I am working on something really, truly scorching hot.

Helen E. H. Madden is a writer and graphic artist who quit her lucrative day job years ago to tell dirty stories for fun and profit.  In the last three years, she has written at least one erotic short story a week.  That’s a lot of smut!  Helen’s mother often introduces her as ‘her daughter who writes porn.’  She introduces Helen’s sister as ‘the actress.’  Helen’s mom says Helen can write whatever she wants, so long as her sister doesn’t star in it.
Not content to simply write erotica, Helen also records her work for audio podcasts and does readings where she frequently proves to her audiences that she has no shame whatsoever.  In her spare time, Helen draws dirty pictures. Obviously, she needs to do this more often. When she's not writing or drawing, Helen thinks about sex.  A lot.


  1. Hi, Helen,

    Actually it was I who suggested that Kathleen tap you as a guest - because you are the most ambitious and possibly the most self-punishing writer I know, so I was SURE you'd have something to say on the topic!

    It's so great to have you back at the Grip. We really miss you. Meanwhile, in a more serious vein, I applaud your attempt to change your attitudes about your writing, to fight the burn-out. I wish you much luck.

    Thanks for sharing with us.

    Oh,and the Very Scary website is incredible!


  2. Everything in this blog struck a chord with me, including a deadline with essentially means I need to write a novel in the next 3 weeks (which may not quite happen). And 165 stories? I'm impressed!

    Good luck for the future.

  3. I like the new art project, the lava snake is very cool, and the image of the world being erased in 2012.

    Nice to see you back here again, however briefly.


  4. Hi Helen,

    I empathise with the deadline thing. They are joy killers, although they do make us get things done.

    One thing I found worked for me was to have a month where I turned what had been writing time into reading time.

    It was refreshing to get to grips with someone else's writing

    Good luck with getting the novel finished and with your next project

  5. Lisabet,

    LOL! I don't know if I punish myself so much as I'm used to diving into things head first even when I know it might be painful. I learn more that way, I've found out, and have come to realize I can handle just about anything I take on if I just agree to do it before thinking about it too much.

    I'm actually enjoying the new novel right now, and should have enough of it written to be able to podcast come January. But it's the last writing project I intend to do with a self-imposed deadline for a while. After that, I'm going to relax on writing and switch over to more projects that involve drawing and cartooning. The change will be nice.

    It's good to be back and I hope I had something useful to say on the topic!

  6. Fulani,

    A novel in 3 weeks? That is ambitious! I've managed to knock out a very rough draft of a novel in 5-6 weeks, but 3 weeks would probably kill me. Deadlines are a bitch to live with, but if you survive this one, then good on ya!

  7. Garce,

    Good to be back, and I have not forgotten you. I've got you and Granny Franny on tap after the novel is done. Been working on laying out the verses into a page count ;) I'm slooooooooow sometimes, but I don't forget!

  8. Mike,

    Yep, deadlines suck all the joy out of everything. But they are useful. I'm going to trim down the number of deadlines I've got though, just so I can have some goofing around time. That goofing around time becomes so necessary to creativity.


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