Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Ooommm...

By R.J. Harlick

How does moderate stress affect your desire/ability to write?

Stress can be a lubricant for writers. Some thrive on it. They believe that when the walls are closing in, the kids clamoring for attention, the boss demanding the report, they produce their best material in the few hours they squeeze in for their writing.  I greatly admire those writers that can juggle family and work, while producing bestselling novels on the side.

When I was gainfully employed in the high tech industry, stress was the norm. I thrived on it. There was nothing like a looming deadline and the fear of losing business to kick me into high gear to get the job done and produce a winner. It helped me avoid distractions and focus on the job at hand.  It sharpened my mind.

So too at university. I usually waited until a few days before to study for the exam or write the essay. I was rather good at making my essays appear as if I knew more about the topic than I actually did. Perhaps this is where my penchant for creative writing sprang from.

But now that I am writing fiction my need for stress is gone. I like my world to be calm and orderly with few distractions. It opens my mind, giving me a tremendous sense of creative freedom. The words flow, the ideas flow.  But the minute stress enters, be it a looming deadline or nagging commitment, my mind clamps shut and I can only squeak out the words.  

It is likely the reason I am more productive at my log cabin surrounded by the serenity of an endless forest, where the only distractions are birds flitting in and out of the feeders, the occasional deer wandering past and my dogs bugging me for their walks.

The one time I did face major stress, when my husband was in the hospital with a serious illness, the creative juices shut down completely. My mind was solely focused on him. I didn’t go near my writing for three months, not until I knew with certainty that he would fully recover.

Mind you, at the moment I am facing a looming deadline. I have to send my manuscript for Purple Palette for Murder, the next Meg Harris mystery, into my publisher by the end of November.  It’s going to be close. But I’m in the revision stage when the creative juices don’t need to work so hard. So I can handle a moderate amount of stress. But I do use a little help.

Ooommm……



7 comments:

Art Taylor said...

Enjoyed your post here, Robin--and I'm with you on the need for some serenity and lack of distractions. Enjoyed the pictures too. The log cabin sounds great!

Paul D. Marks said...

Some people can write anywhere, in any type of noisy or non-noisy environment. I don't even like writing in coffee shops or libraries as I get too distracted. The more peace and quiet the better. And your cabin and surrounding area looks perfect, Robin.

RM Greenaway said...

I was interested to hear your take on stress, Robin. I know my fiction is a byproduct of stress, so stress is necessary, but I too shut down if it gets too much, especially any kind of writing-related negativity. I'm still on the fence about it though, because I've found in the middle of real anxiety I get rebellious and turn to my writing as a place to disappear into, and often the end product isn't too shabby. So still looking for the balance, and still not sure what's the right amount of stress to consider useful. But a cabin in the woods, nice!

RJ Harlick said...

RM, I know many writers turn to their writing as a refuge against the stresses of life. It's a good way to handle them. Beats other stress relievers, eh?

Susan C Shea said...

The stress that distracts me on a daily basis is the clutter of papers surrounding my computer - things I don't feel I can throw away but that I can't figure out how to file so they aren't lost for all time. I know they're a visual distraction. If I had your lovely cabin, I'm sure my desk there would get just as crowded. What do people do about all that clutter?

RJ Harlick said...

Susan, my solution for a cluttered desk is to avoid it. I write in a chair away from the clutter. And yes, it's piled with stuff that I haven't figured out what to do with.

Cyndi Pauwels said...

Oh, Robin, how my journey parallels yours! I used to write papers in the last few hours before they were due, thrive in a high-stress, fast-paced job...until I didn't.

Now my writing most certainly shuts down when daily stressors take over. But I'm learning (I hope!) to find those chunks of time when I can set the stress aside and let creativity back into my life. When (if!) I'm successful, I certainly feel better for it.

Ommm...indeed!