Highly Sensitive Refuge
a highly sensitive writer

10 Good (and Not-So-Good) Things About Being an HSP Writer

A good thing about being an HSP writer is having perfectionistic tendencies, which can also be a not-so-good thing since it can slow you down.

A typical workday — waking up to an alarm, navigating commuter traffic, enduring the pressure to arrive at a certain time, then working in a cubicle all day under a boss’s constant watch — can be torture for a highly sensitive person (HSP). Overstimulation from ringing phones, irate customers, and harsh lighting leaves us stressed and exhausted by the end of the workday, and we have no energy left for the things we love when we get home.

On the other hand, if we have the opportunity to work at our own pace in an environment largely under our control, score! Bonus points if the work is creative, which comes naturally to highly sensitive people. In fact, many HSPs have left their 9-to-5 jobs to work from home as artists, web designers, writers, and the like.

For six-and-a-half-years, I worked as a registration assistant at a children’s museum. The stress and overwhelm from the noise and constant pressure literally made me sick. In my early 30s, I was diagnosed with shingles, a viral infection usually reserved for people over 50. But that was only one of several stress-related ailments I struggled with during my time there.

I didn’t know about the HSP trait then. It would be a few years before I discovered Elaine Aron’s books, such as The Highly Sensitive Person. Now, two decades after I left my customer service job, I’m an author and a freelance writer. My job pushes up against my trait in both positive and negative ways, and I rounded up 10 of them — first the “good,” then the “not-as-good.”

5 Good Things About Being an HSP Writer

1. Your HSP imagination inspires your work.

HSPs love to lose themselves in their imaginations, then take what’s there and transfer it to the canvas or the page. We likely aren’t struggling to come up with ideas; if anything, we have too many. In addition, we’re known for having vivid dreams, and sometimes these nighttime stories find their way into our work. I have yet to dream up something comparable to Frankenstein à la Mary Shelley, but I’m still hoping.

2. You’re good at focusing.

As long as we’re not overstimulated, we highly sensitive people can focus well and for long periods of time. When we’re in “the zone” or a “flow state,” we’re able to accomplish a lot. I focus best when I’ve taken care of other responsibilities — the dishes, the part-time technical writing that helps pay the bills, the emails or phone calls that need to be returned, and so on. When I don’t have items on my to-do list hanging over my head, the hours spent on my creative work fly by.

3. You don’t make many mistakes.

Because of our HSP perfectionistic tendencies, our work is (for the most part) error-free. Our conscientious and overthinking nature has us feeling awful when we make a mistake, so we work hard to not let that happen. Luckily, one of our greatest strengths is being good with details, so we usually notice when something looks off. A few of my beta readers have commented on the absence of typos in my drafts (which I contribute to being an HSP!).

4. You’re able to work from home.

As a writer who works out of my house, I can set my own schedule. If the neighbor kids are outside screeching, or garbage trucks are barreling down the street, I can work around it. There’s no dress code at my house, so bring on the sweats and pajamas! Because I can eat whenever I want, there’s no “hangry” going on either (which can be common among HSPs). If I do become overstimulated, I can practice self-care: take a break, enjoy a nap, or soak in the tub. Best of all, I don’t have to deal with office politics or conflicts with coworkers (other than my cat, who seems to sense when I’m working on a particularly difficult paragraph and wants to cuddle right now).

5. Your work has an impact.

Highly sensitive people like to feel that their work has meaning. I’ve contributed to several Chicken Soup for the Soul volumes and have received positive emails in response to my stories. A couple of reviews for Peppermint Cream Die, the first installment in The HSP Mysteries, mention that the reader appreciated learning about the trait through my work. This makes me feel that not only am I doing work that I love, but I am helping others at the same time.

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5 Not-So-Good Things About Being an HSP Writer 

1. You’re not good with criticism.

Putting our artistic work out there inevitably leads to criticism, which can crush HSPs. I’m not even talking about reviews (but ouch — I’ve had some bad ones!). Beta readers and editors are invaluable to the writing process and I’m grateful for anyone who helps me write a better story or book. But even the gentlest of critiques floods me with feelings of failure and my self-esteem takes a big hit. The same goes for rejections, which I get my fair share of despite being a published author.

2. Talking about your work can be torture.

Speaking about my books feels like bragging. I know I have to do it, and I’m very proud of my books, but it’s hard. And asking someone to buy my books? Well, that’s just excruciating. Because HSPs are extra-compassionate, we don’t ever want to put people in an awkward position. For me, this even extends to friends and family. When my first cozy mystery came out in 2016, I wrote a group email telling my loved ones about the book. This is a direct quote from the email: There is NO need to buy it! Please don’t feel obligated. As you can imagine, I don’t end up selling many books this way!

3. You’re a perfectionist.

While this can be a good thing (see #3 above), being a perfectionist can also be a detriment. For example, I can’t let a book go until I know it’s as error-free as possible. I move painstakingly slow through the editing process. Which doesn’t mean I’m perfect! In Peppermint Cream Die, I mistakenly used the word “nozzle” to describe a dog’s “muzzle.” Whoops. I’m still cringing over that.

4. You work slowly.

Even when I’m focused, I am a slow writer (see #3). I will never be one of those authors who produces two or three books a year. Even one a year is a struggle. Although I set modest goals for myself (i.e., writing 500 words a day or editing 10 pages an hour), I can only do so much writing or editing before I’m just done. Time to curl up with Netflix or a good book. My slow (but steady) pace eventually gets the job done, but I often wish I could accomplish more than I am able to. When I see my writer friends publishing book after book, it stings a little.

5. You find marketing to be a challenge.

Most marketing ideas are aimed at non-HSP extroverts. I’m not going to be on the talk show circuit or holding forth before a book club anytime soon (assuming I was asked!). Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I didn’t have to deal with signings when the first book in my series came out in 2020. But now that bookstores are reopening, I’ll be looking into it again. I think I can rise to the occasion of sitting at a table and talking to prospective buyers, but if I’m ever asked to do a reading? Yikes! Way too stressful. HSPs are very susceptible to performance anxiety, and I’m no exception.

When all is said and done, I firmly believe the positive aspects of my chosen profession far outweigh the negatives. I love that my mostly stress-free days are filled with creativity and joy, and that my finished products bring pleasure, knowledge, and entertainment to others. Best job ever!

Stabbed in the Tart, the second book in my HSP cozy mystery series, releases on October 12, 2021. The first book in the series, Peppermint Cream Die, is out now.

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