by Anne R. Allen
In her 1990 book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron warns creatives about crazymakers, the people who have no respect for your work and dominate your time with endless drama.
But crazymakers aren’t the only people who can hurt your chances of having a successful creative career. There are a lot of toxic people out there who can work against you as you try to get your ideas onto the page and create and publish your stories. They can make you feel guilty for taking time to write, and show no empathy when you’re hurt by rejections and nasty reviews, although they always expect empathy from you.
They can also discombobulate your life and rob you of your health. You may fear the loneliness of losing these “friends.” But remember you have your characters and creativity to keep you company as you heal and make room for new, better friends.
How Toxic People Can Make you Sick
Toxic people cause stress. And stress literally makes you sick.
Stress elevates blood pressure and suppresses your immune system, which leaves you open to all sorts of diseases, from the common cold to Covid. It causes acute gastrointestinal illnesses in many and exacerbates symptoms of most autoimmune diseases. It can give you migraines and cause depression.
It can also make you fat. Stress increases cortisol, which causes you to put on belly fat.
And stress can actually cause brain damage. Cortisol can damage the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of our brain that allows us to focus and organize ideas.
Those crazymakers and other toxic people aren’t just causing damage to your literary dreams. They can actually kill you.
Toxic People Prey on “Good Listeners”
Writers are interested in what makes people tick. So our first instinct is to listen to somebody, rather than punch them in the face. (Also, we usually prefer conflict on the page, rather than in the real world.)
Unfortunately, toxic people single out “good listeners,” and use self-pity as a weapon.
I’ve been going through this myself. A door-to-door solicitor for a women’s shelter has been making my life hell. I made the mistake of listening to her troubles while I wrote a check. Then she started appearing monthly, getting more and more demanding.
At first, she asked for my books, which I figured would help at the shelter. But then she wanted purses, shoes, and last week, she demanded I give her a lamp while she filled her pockets with the contents of my fruit bowl.
I didn’t give her the lamp, but her shocking behavior immobilized me as she sauntered out with my week’s supply of fruit. The average 2-year old would behave better. But I know she’ll be back for more.
Unfortunately, I’m terrified of confrontation now that I’m in a wheelchair and can’t fight or flee. But I must fight. I did a bit of research, and there’s no shelter. I’ve been an idiot. She’s been scamming me all along. I need to lock her out and tell her the gravy train has left the station.
It’s what all writers need to do with the toxic people in our lives.
Here are ten types who can stall your career and threaten your health.
Ten Types of Toxic People
1) Pity Partiers
A well-know author told me early in my career that the most dangerous words a writer can hear are, “you are my only friend.” Those words mean you are being targeted by a perpetual victim who’s so in love with their own pain that they’ve driven away anybody who has ever been kind to them. They want to dominate your time, your physical space, and your mind. My “women’s shelter” scammer was manipulating me with her ongoing pity party.
These people are like sharks, constantly seeking out new prey. They can suck the energy out of any room in three seconds. They can’t be alone, so they demand you spend 24/7 listening to them whine. Often because they’ve been fired and evicted and need to live on your couch for a year or two. Oh, and they need money for beer…
2) Bad News Bears
These toxic people wallow in negativity, and want to make sure you do too. If you’re doing a happy dance because you got a request for a full manuscript from your dream agent, they’ll pull out their phone to show you a photo of atrocities in Ukraine. Get a great review on Amazon? They’ll tell you about oppressed women in Afghanistan. Have a great 5000-word writing day? You’ll hear about child slaves working 18-hour days in Chinese factories.
These people will never fail to bring down the mood and leave you feeling miserable and somehow guilty for everything.
3) Judge Judys
These people are good, righteous protectors of the environment, patriotism, social justice, and weird writing rules — and you’re not. They can be counted on to tell you that nobody’s reading that kind of book anymore and you should be writing about something worthwhile.
If they read anything you’ve written, they’ll clobber you with “rules.” They’ll say they’ve read you should write what you know — and um, how many dragons have you met? Plus, you should never use a preposition to end a sentence with or write the word “was.” And there’s an adverb on page 126!
4) Bugle Boys
They’re forever tooting their own horns and bragging about how much better they are at everything than you are. Usually, they’re tooting so loud they can’t hear a word you say.
They blabber constantly about their wondrous achievements and those of their “friends in high places.” You serve only one purpose in their lives: audience. And they can’t see your face over their imaginary footlights, so it’s hard for them to even pretend to care about you.
These are the Trolls and the Mean Girls — people who thrive on other people’s pain. They’re the toxic people who write 100 one-star Goodreads reviews daily about books they’ve never read, just because they can.
You can count on them to say something cruel about your work, then blame you for whatever pain they’re causing you.
They seem to care, and always ask empathetic questions about your life. But they squirrel away your personal data so they can weaponize it later with their “Dr. Phil” knowledge of psychology. They love to diagnose you with dire mental illnesses to prove you aren’t capable of taking care of yourself.
If you want some private writing time, it’s because you have Borderline disorder and you’re punishing the world for your parents’ divorce. If you’re feeling down after a rejection or bad review, it’s because you’re Bipolar — and you shouldn’t eat that chocolate because chocolate made you break out before your high school prom, remember?
They’re entitled. To everything. Especially whatever you have. And they’ll whine until they get it. Being with them makes you feel battered and alone, because they don’t see or hear you. You’re just a generic servant or lady-in-waiting.
Speaking of waiting — these toxic people are always an hour late to meet you in a restaurant, then send everything back and make the server cry. They love to put you in positions where you have to spend money you can’t afford. And somehow, they always forget their wallet. And their credit cards are mysteriously denied. Princesses can be of any gender, but they have one thing in common — their scorn for people who are kind to them.
8) Gossip Girls
These people always know the worst about everybody in your life. They discuss their failings at length, urging you to drop all your friends. Meanwhile, they stalk you on social media and “like” the people who’ve been nasty to you.
When you’re working desperately to finish those edits, they’re on social media, dropping weird hints about what’s “wrong” with you, and spreading distorted versions of your worst moments and rejection woes.
By the time they’re finished, your friends are all sure you’re Satan incarnate and/or ready for the looney bin.
9) Control Freaks
These toxic people didn’t get the memo about the 13th Amendment. They want to own everybody in their orbit. Say a few kind words to them and you are their property. They demand to know what you’re doing every minute of your life and stage temper tantrums if you spend time with other friends.
They say they care about your writing, and ask to read each chapter as you finish the rough draft. But it’s only to find out what’s going on inside your head, where they feel they should reign supreme. They are sure your hero, the Duke, is really a stand-in for that flirty Dave in accounting, and the beautiful Lady Rosamond is really that barista they’re sure has a secret crush on you.
They’ll say your writing is embarrassingly awful, so they have to rewrite everything according to the writing rules they learned in third grade.
These are the drama queens and agents of chaos that Julia Cameron wrote about. They always have to be center stage. Meanwhile, they stomp all over your boundaries and expect you to drop everything to cater to their needs.
They may have accidentally run over your foot with their car, but the only thing that matters is that they have a painful hangnail. Nothing that happens to you is of any interest, and you’re so selfish to mention your foot is broken and you need to go to the ER. They have a hangnail!!
So How Do We Deal with Toxic People?
Save yourself. Just go. Don’t try to reason with them or diagnose them at this point. If they are dominating your life and keeping you from your writing goals, first get them out of your life.
Make your escape. They can feel sorry for themselves without you, and they’ll always find new prey.
Okay, but what if they’re family members? A boss? Or, heaven forfend, a spouse?
This is when you have to build strong, firm psychological boundaries. That may take the help of a trained counsellor. You need to “Quiet Quit” them in your mind.
Trying to placate or change toxic people will only make things worse. Make a plan to channel all the energy you’ve been putting into pleasing them into your writing instead. Work hard at staying positive and being grateful for the good things in your life.
And you can always kill them off in your next book…
Remember you can’t help anybody if you’re dead, and these people are threatening your life.
by Anne R. Allen (@annerallen) September 18, 2022
What about you, scriveners? Have you ever dealt with toxic people like these? Are they still part of your life? If you got rid of them, how did you do it? Did you feel better afterward? Do you have any other toxic types to add to the list?
BOOK OF THE WEEK
No Place Like Home: Camilla Randall Comedy-Mystery #4
(But it can be read as a stand-alone)
Wealthy Doria Windsor is suddenly homeless and accused of a murder she didn’t commit. But Camilla, with the help of a brave trio of homeless people, the adorable Mr. X, and a little dog named Toto, is determined to unmask the real killer and discover the dark secrets of Doria’s deceased “financial wizard” husband before Doria is killed herself.