Border Collie Syndrome

Border Collie Syndrome (not Border Collie Collapse)

Transitioning to a Writer’s Life

 

Dear Writer,

Background

I recently retired from a busy job/occupation and began “settling in” to what I had long desired, a “writer’s life.” The only problem, I was having trouble settling in.

I looked around and saw things that I should have done 10-20 years ago, and I was tempted to work on them. (I didn’t say I did them.) I was distracted by other creative pursuits I wanted to work on. But most of all, I felt like I should be busy every moment—continuously—industriously. Doing something “productive.”

Family

My wife and I saw something similar in our youngest son when he graduated from basic training in the Air Force. He was off base with family for the first time in weeks. He was nervous, constantly checking that his shirt was tucked in correctly, that his pants weren’t wrinkled. He didn’t want to sit down. He couldn’t relax.

Stockholm Syndrome

He acted like a prisoner set free who didn’t know how to feel or act. Was that what was happening to me? I thought of post-prisoner syndrome. Oh, yeah, Stockholm Syndrome. But that was prisoners identifying emotionally with their captors. And Stockholm Syndrome wasn’t actually an official syndrome in the psychiatric diagnostic codes. Plus, I wasn’t a prisoner of a captor. I had been the boss at work. Hmm. Maybe I was a prisoner to myself.

Retirement Syndrome (“CEO Blues”)

I looked up Retirement Syndrome. Now, here was something that was beginning to fit, at least some components of it:

  • Loss of public exposure and contact
  • Loss of influence and control
  • Loss of steady income

I certainly missed contact with people. And, even though my wife and I had saved for retirement, I worried about the end of a steady income. I had worked to support myself for over fifty years. There was something about letting go that was a little scary.

Workaholic Syndrome

What about Workaholic Syndrome? For many years I worked ten-hour days, and still went home to paperwork in the evenings. I was self-employed. If I didn’t do it, it wouldn’t get done, or wouldn’t get done right. Yes, I fit the mold of feeling compelled to work, and that work had gotten in the way of my family life and social life. My ex-wife had definitely convinced my two oldest sons to not even consider a career in medicine.

Border Collie Syndrome (not Border Collie Collapse)

And finally, I remembered something I had learned about dogs. My wife decided she wanted to have a dog, and raise it from a puppy. She researched the different breeds and was intrigued by the intelligence of Border Collies. She visited a local breeder who screened prospective buyers of her puppies very carefully.

“Do you have plenty of room for your dog to roam?” was the first question.

My wife answered yes.

“Do you have work to keep your dog busy, like herding sheep?” was the second question.

My wife answered no.

“Oh, Honey,” the lady said, “if your Border Collie doesn’t have work, he’ll find or make work, even if it’s chasing cars.”

Conclusion

Well, it was all beginning to fit together. I had Workaholic-Retirement Syndrome with underlying Border Collie Syndrome as a co-morbidity.

Fortunately, I’m learning to “settle in.” I look at the unfinished projects and shrug my shoulders. I’ve been able to stay away from my office for three days at a stretch. I’ve given up the evening paperwork. And…I’ve stopped chasing cars.

P.S.

Since writing the rough draft for this post, I’ve pulled out some books and reread them. I’m happy to announce I’ve had my mirror moment. I’ve seen the light.

Transitioning to a writer’s life is not “retirement.” It is a “transition.” It’s not about “settling in.” No, it is about girding up your loins for battle. (The Art of War for Writers, James Scott Bell)

I love what Olin Miller said. “Writing is the hardest way of earning a living, with the possible exception of wrestling alligators.” (The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists, Andrew McAleer)

So, Dear Writer, if you’re considering “retiring” and “settling in”  to a writer’s life, stop right there. We must reprogram your thoughts. Remember, it is “TRANSITIONING.” “Settling in” will hereby be removed from acceptable vocabulary.

And if you are still determined to “transition,” please buy/borrow and read the following:

  • The Art of War for Writers, James Scott Bell
  • How to Make a Living as a Writer, James Scott Bell
  • Writing the Novel from Plot to Print to Pixel, Lawrence Block
  • The 101 Habits of Highly Successful Novelists, Andrew McAleer

P.S.S.

Dear Writer,

If after reading the above books, you still choose to follow this ill-advised journey, please take two aspirins and call me Monday morning. We will schedule an appointment for a long discussion. And if that does not dissuade you, we will arrange for a psychiatric consultation.

On a more serious note:

 

Questions:

  • For those of you who have already transitioned to a writer’s life, please share with us the barriers you had to overcome. What advice would you offer to those who are contemplating such a change?
  • For those of you who are dreaming of or contemplating transitioning to a writer’s life, what questions would you like to ask? Here’s your opportunity to ask a great group of writers.
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About Steve Hooley

Steve Hooley is the author of seven short stories published in four anthologies, a Vella serial fiction, and is currently working on the Mad River Magic series – a fantasy adventure series for advanced middle-grade to adults. More details available at: https://stevehooleywriter.com/mad-river-magic/

42 thoughts on “Border Collie Syndrome

  1. My husband, not a writer, has had to transition to working from home b/c of the pandemic. He made a successful transition while others we know did not transition well, no, not well at all. The hubster says you have to have the mind frame of working from home rather than living at work. He even packs a lunch for his 11:30 lunch break and has a set stop time in late afternoon just like he would if he were still driving to work.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Priscilla. You make a good point. I think that attitude and approach is one of the things that helped me “see the light.” I started getting up at a set time. After breakfast and visiting TKZ, I put my bum in the chair and write until I’ve met my quota. I’ve found that treating it like a job has helped me get more excited about writing again and makes it easier to get into the flow

  2. Good morning, Steve. Thanks for another great post and a great way to start the morning.

    Please thank your son for his service for me. I’ve known you for a bit and for whatever reason I had no clue about his Air Force duty.

    I have seen what you describe with respect to transitioning in two friends who were in elite military units and simply could not adapt to civilian life, with what could have been disastrous consequences. They ultimately found workarounds that were effective but took awhile.

    I haven’t made the transition completely as of yet. I would anticipate that my biggest problem will be what it is now: scheduling and sticking to it. I do well with it but there is always room for improvement.

    I’m glad that you have stopped chasing cars. The problem is what one does with them once caught.

    Thanks again for a great way to start the day. Have a terrific weekend. I hope the scheduled snow bypasses us.

    • Good morning, Joe. Thanks for your comments. One thing you are already doing is getting up early. At least you are usually one of the first to comment on TKZ. And early to bed, early to rise – according to Ben Franklin – is key to success.

      As for the chasing cars, I put that comment in as bait for the attorneys in the group. Sorry. Doctors always love to tell lawyer jokes.

      As for the snow, it makes it easier to write. You can’t do anything else.

      Thanks for stopping by, and stay safe.

  3. Thanks for stopping by, Priscilla. You make a good point. And I think that attitude and mindset is one of the main things that helped me see the light. I started getting up at a set time. After breakfast and visiting TKZ, I put my bum in the chair, and write until I meet my quota. And I do that five days a week. (I’m still at my office two days a week.) I found that I was more excited about writing again, and it was easier to get into the flow.

  4. By the time the writing bug bit me, I was already working from home. And the work I did was a ‘job’, not a ‘career.’ I never liked getting up, dressed, and going to an office, so transitioning was never an issue–unless it was when the Hubster retired and I had to get used to him being home every day, all day. Took a while to train him that “I’m writing” didn’t mean “I’m typing,” but once that was accomplished, things were fine.

    • Good advice, Terry. One of the most common comments I heard from wives who were working at home, and their husband had recently retired, was “If he doesn’t go back to work, I will have to.” I often told them to have their husband build a workshop in the backyard and get him out of the house (at least out of the kitchen). Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • The grocery store is a lesson in how retirement for men is often a bad thing for the wife. I want to smack these jerks micromanaging their wives on how to shop when the wife has been doing it for many years. The good news is that these jerks tend to die within a year or two because they had no life or interests outside of work. My mom’s female friends who lived through this really blossomed after getting over their grief and experienced freedom.

      • Oh, yes. My wife avoids the husbands in the grocery store. If they aren’t in the way, they want to ask for advice. I hate shopping, so I’m happy to stay home.

    • That’s a good question, Warren. And I’m not sure there are many good answers. If you are starting a writing career, your income is probably low, and that may be to your advantage. Depending where you live, there may be Community Health and Wellness Centers where health care cost is based on income. Consider practices that have Direct Primary Care, where you pay a low monthly fee to the practice, and all care is then covered. Check with your local Medicaid office to see if you qualify for free coverage. Even if you don’t qualify, they should be familiar with resources within your community.

      Check back to see if anyone has other suggestions. Thanks for bringing up a significant question.

    • If you have a family, get the health and life insurance even if you have to stay at your job or go part-time to pay for it. I hear so many pleas for funds for writers’ families when the writer becomes critically ill or dies suddenly. Often, this is a very successful writer, and I just have to shake my head at the amount of financial stupidity involved.

  5. I never enjoyed my professional career as a military infantry officer and high school teacher. In the military I worked seventy hours weeks, deployments, hot, cold, and miserable most of the time. The worst part was the political melodrama of having to walk a tightrope between having your career ended on some Colonel’s whim or making one small mistake that would put the scarlet letter on your chest. Teaching was the same. Afraid some word might slip out to the woke people and they would fire you or make your life miserable. Politics entered the picture everyday until it choked any creativity out of you soul. Always afraid of that one person telling the principal you uttered one word that hurt their sensibilities.

    But then retirement!. Freedom!

    I decided to write fiction detective novels which I loved. Move on over Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler there is a new hard-boiled, noir author on the scene, introducing the toughest private eye since Sam Spade, Gunny Mac Private Detection Trouble in Chinatown. I yearned to escape this world of politics and go back to the 1940’s where a man was judged on what he did, not what he said. Where his only shield from trouble was his honor.
    My life began anew and I have never looked back. I work at least four hours per day and sometimes I forget what time it is. I have been writing for five years and have never been happier in my life. What barriers did I have? It took me five years to publish my first novel (mentioned above) because I had so much to learn about writing fiction. So many people think they can sit down and just write a novel…no…that’s why it took me five years. You need to spend time learning about the technical aspects of writing and plotting, editing, dialogue, scene construction and knowing your concept and premise of your novel. It took me 55 edits and rewriting of whole chapters. Each edit I learned something new. I felt like Thomas Edison… ten thousand light bulb experiments later.
    Retirement is the time to shine, we were meant to achieve and overcome. Some one asked me how it felt to write a book. I said like I just finished an infamous Marine Corp forced march with full 782 gear in 95 degree heat in around three hours. Tired, but thankful I didn’t fall out. Remember my fellow writers, millions of books have been written by millions of people. Its not that hard and not that big of a deal. You can do it.

  6. Thanks, Steven, for telling your story, and for your advice. The challenge of learning the craft becomes another mountain we can climb, and an accomplishment that both increases our excitement and increases our chance at success.

    You’re in good company here at TKZ, with plenty of seasoned writers who share their thoughts on writing. I hope you will continue to come back.

  7. What a fun way to start the day, Steve. Love the “underlying comorbidity.” Thank!

    Oh, do I know some two-legged border collies.

    Having lived in a Navy town for many years, I know that transition is tough. In the last business we owned, we always gave hiring preference to veterans.Their discipline, work ethic, and sense of responsibility made them key employees who quickly rose to positions of trust in the company.

    I echo Joe’s thanks to your son for his service.

    My retirement from 24/7/365 business to full-time writing was a dream come true. I could finally write down all the junk that had been swirling in my brain for years. I signed up for classes at the community college and met other writers. We formed an active group, now in its third decade, where we encourage each other and improve our craft. Every day I give thanks I’m able to pursue the dream.

    Okay, I do confess to the occasional compulsion to herd the cats in the writing group, circling, snapping, and barking. But I never chase cars.

    • Thanks, Debbie. It sounds like you transitioned quickly, charging right in and flattening any obstacles. At least you didn’t list any. But studying the craft and meeting with other writers is extremely important, and I hope those who are considering transitioning take note of your advice.

      Thanks for your advice!

  8. You chose an excellent topic, Steve.

    For those of you who have already transitioned to a writer’s life, please share with us the barriers you had to overcome.

    One of the biggest barriers was learning how to juggle family time with writing. Early on, I made a deal with my husband (retired at the time; he later started a small engine repair shop to keep busy). I stopped to eat lunch with him every day and set an end time for supper. My evenings belong to him. By doing so, he could champion my transition to writing full-time. I also include him in research trip, which he loves.

    What advice would you offer to those who are contemplating such a change?
    Be open and honest about what you want to achieve and set a schedule that works for everyone.

    • Thanks, Sue. Your advice about a schedule is very important to maintaining a good marriage. And a schedule we work by, is also key to succeeding in writing.

      Thanks for the great advice!

  9. Thanks for the shout out, Steve. Always happy to help a writer gird up those loins.

    Back when I started out, in the “old days” of traditional publishing, I’d sometimes see young writers get their first contract and “follow the dream” by quitting their day job, etc. Almost always a bad move. I followed a couple of these writers through lackluster sales, a second book that went nowhere, and being dropped by their publisher. Back then I kept advising aspiring writers not to quit until they had a dependable track record–usually four or five books that are building a readership, and a contract for more. Even then, can you live with income uncertainty? Especially with a family?

    These days, of course, there is another path–going indie. Here I teach and advise writers to have thorough business plan, because that’s what you now are, a business.

    Thinking this through this morning (thanks for the prompt, Steve), I like the idea of a “4-5 Benchmark” for either position, trad or indie. That is, wait until you have 4 or 5 books that prove you are building a readership before you take the leap into full-time writing.

  10. Happy Saturday, Steve! Ditto what Sue wrote above–this is very important topic to discuss, and I’m glad you you chose it.

    Going full-time as a fiction writer was my goal from the moment I started work at the library in September, 1987. It had been my dream all through college. The road to publication ended up being far longer and more winding than I had imagined, and I didn’t make my first sale until I was 48, a short story.

    Novels took longer, and I published my first novel exactly four years ago today. But I wanted more time.

    I achieved that dream at long last at the end of 2019. Of course, like everything in life, it didn’t work out as I imagined. Nonetheless, I won’t lie, it’s a gift to have this freedom to follow my passion.

    The biggest barrier for me was avoiding distractions. The internet was a problem at my old day job, for many of us reference folks, since the late 90s, since we worked connected to the web all day long. I’m an internet junkie at home. Striving to write in blocks of time, having deadlines for my projects. Setting a schedule helped, as well.

    Staying in touch with fellow writers is vital for me. I’m an extrovert. Years ago I took a writing workshop from David Morrell. At the close, David said it was important to consider what kind of person you are, introvert or extrovert and take that into account. He’s an introvert, and has no problem spending lots of time by himself. Extroverts, he noted, need to be around people, so will need to find ways to balance being alone to write with recharging.

    That’s definitely true for me. My writers group meets every Wednesday morning online for a video chat and timed writing sessions. We also do daily email check ins. I belong to several writers groups on Facebook, and stay in touch with other writer friends. In a month, I’ll be attending a virtual version of the writer’s retreat I attended in person the past two winters.

    So my advice is to find a structure, deal with distractions, and stay connected, and, enjoy the gift of time retirement grants you.

    Thank you for today’s post! Have a great day.

    • Thanks, Dale. You had lots of good advice. Your work at the library had to be a great plus, with all the exposure to books and keeping up on what was happening with publishing. Distraction were one of my biggest problems, and that’s where having a schedule for writing time and a quota was key for me. I can see the importance of staying connected with other writers. That’s something I will need to work on.

      Thanks for some great suggestions!

      • Thanks, Steve. The library was also a place of community for me, and found family, among staff and patrons. I ended up missing it more than I realized I would, though I’ve adjusted now, and am maintaining several friendships via email and phone.

  11. Being an Indie author, the writing treadmill never shuts down. There is always a new book or a new series to start. I’ve published 16 books and along the way I’ve improved as a writer and picked up better editors. I think about re-writing my first book as it is my lowest rated. Then there is marketing – do I have the right keywords for my ads? What book specials amI running this month.

    My work life was like you describe and now I have your two co-morbidities. I’m taking time off writing to paint my walls. Meanwhile, Lucy’s chocolate conveyor belt is sending me book ideas for writing and marketing and I wouldn’t have it any other way.😀

    • Thanks, Alec, for sharing your experience and your advice. It sounds like you’re a true workaholic and proud of it. There is something exhilarating about surviving a day of meeting all the challenges that are thrown at you…and surviving, or even conquering. Just don’t burn out.

      As to painting walls and book ideas, I love “brainless” physical work to turn loose those boys in the basement. My wife calls them “girls in the attic.”

  12. This year of forced home captivity has certainly given people out in the business and social world a good hard look at self-employment and retirement in all its glory and horror. The glamorous illusion of what being a full-time writer would be like is gone forever, and that’s a good thing.

    • Good point, Marilynn. And maybe some (or many) of those work-at-home prisoners will think longer or harder before they take the leap to the “glamorous (false) illusion” of the glamorous life of a full-time writer. Experientia docet.

  13. Good, good post, Steve! And great comments from all.

    I had a career I loved for 30+ years, but it was time to retire in 2019. I’d indie-published my first 3 books while working 50-60 hours a week at our cancer center, getting up at 4:00am and writing until 7:00am. It took 3 years to write those 3 books.

    When I retired, I still woke up at 4, and didn’t know what to do with myself. But over a few months, I sorted it. I still get up early, and work for about 6-7 hours a day with a couple of breaks for walking, etc. (And spoon-feeding our very large German Shepherd…for some reason, she thinks that’s what I should do…I think it’s a pack thing.) 🙂

    The one thing that’s hard for me (still) is organizing my day around creative time and learning time. It seems something always suffers. But I’ll sort it, I have no doubt.

    I love my life…

    • Thanks, Deb. You certainly have the dedication, writing at those hours. And you are in good company. I believe John Grisham started his career that way, writing early in the morning, before going to his job as a lawyer.

      And as for creative time and learning time, I understand. Those of us who work in creative pursuits are always eager to learn and try new things. And there is never enough time for it. All we can do is keep shuffling the task priority list, and work on the things at the top.

  14. Lots of great comments this morning, Steve. Looks like retirement transition syndrome resonates with KZ folks. This is a timely piece for me. Yesterday, I spent a few hours with a police officer who just retired from a highly-stressful job as a detective with Vancouver’s Integrated Homicide Investigation Team – IHIT. She’s intrigued by starting a new career as a crime writer – looking for something that would parley her learned skills into a new venture with a sense of purpose in her retirement. Jenn – if you’re reading this, know that you’ll probably put more time in as a writer than as a murder cop, but the rewards are so worth it. Now, if everyone will excuse me, my border collie buddy and I have a car to catch.

    • Thanks, Garry. I always enjoy your humor and your great posts. I’m certain that Jenn received some words of wisdom when she discussed writing with you yesterday. And Jenn, if your reading this, I invite you to come visit us regularly, here at The Kill Zone. It’s a great place to learn from some experienced writers who are great teachers.

  15. Late to the Saturday get-together as always, but always happy to be here.

    I had a very satisfying career in software development and thought I would never retire. Then one day I realized I had become tired of herding programmers, going to never-ending meetings, and trying to explain to upper management why you can’t deliver a ten-person project with five junior programmers. I retired and dove into volunteer work and my husband followed the next year. We had a few years of trying on new ways to make an impact when the writing bug took over both of us.

    I had no idea how steep that mountain was, but the harder it got, the more I wanted to climb it. This is just the life I want. I have two published novels, the first with a traditional publisher and the second published with the company we formed. My to-do list is so long, I have to wrestle it into submission once a week. I have more books on my craft-of-writing shelf and my fiction TBR stack than I’ll ever get to. Every now and then my husband and I talk about how lucky we are to be consumed by this fire at this point in life.

    Oh, and the main character in my novels owns the smartest little border collie you’ve ever seen.

    • Thanks for coming to the Saturday get-together, Kay. We kept the lights on for you.

      Thanks for sharing your story. Mine is similar, except in medicine. And instead of upper management, it was government and insurance companies and the expectation that we would work for free. The bug did bite me about eleven years ago. But I am unwinding my practice and will be out completely in about two months. Free, free at last.

      Congratulations on your two books, and I am sure there will be many more. It is wonderful to finally be doing what we want to do.

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