Monday, October 17, 2016

Stressed out but still writing

"How does moderate stress affect your desire/ability to write? Not minor stress like burnt toast, or major stress like your house just fell down a sinkhole, but a fight with a loved one, a fender-bender at the mall, financial woes?"

Ever had one of those days? You can't pass by a counter or coffee table without hurting yourself on it. Glasses slip from your hands and break. You nearly have an accident. You have a huge project due at work. You can't stop watching politicians go up on flames on TV. And you can't sit down long enough to concentrate on what your work in progress. Yeah, I know. We all have.

Stress is part of life. Stress is inevitable. Stress is distracting. So how do you combat it when you're trying to get writing done?

My first strategy is to try to decompress and work through it. Meditation. Yoga. A walk. Exercise. The usual stuff. Being stressed out is no fun and it doesn't feel good. I want to get past it as quickly as I can.

The second strategy is to deal with the cause if I can. Tripped over a paint can left in the hall because I haven't finished my project painting the stairs? Finish the project and put everything away. Clean up all the piles that have collected on every surface and I always feel a lot better. And it never takes as long as you fear it will.

I read some great advice once about tackling big jobs that totally applies to writing. If you've got something big and looming on your to do list -- "Finish writing your book!" -- don't just put that down on your list. Break it into small steps so you can start and finish small tasks that get you closer to "the end." Write down tasks like "Change character's name throughout the book," or "revise first chapter in first person point of view to reflect the style in the rest of the book." Those tasks can be more quickly accomplished and you'll be deep in rewrites before you know it, instead of trying to avoid your WIP altogether. When the writing feels satisfying rather than another source of stress, I'm always much quicker to return to it and to finish my projects.

Recently I realized that I should actually embrace the stress since it can occasionally be helpful to my writing. Not the panic attack itself or the moment when you're hyper ventilating, but the reflection afterwards. Use that car accident in a story, but make it more tragic or more humourous. Up the stress level and you can get closer to understanding what PTSD might just feel like and more realistically write about it with one of your characters. And then forgive the stress for temporarily derailing your writing and let it help you take your writing to the next level.

6 comments:

Paul D. Marks said...

You make some great points, Meredith. Especially about breaking things into smaller tasks. And I used to like going for a drive sometimes when I felt stressed. Now that just multiplies the stress exponentially...

RJ Harlick said...

I like breaking down the 'Finish that @#!$ book" too. Very good advice, Meredith.

Susan C Shea said...

The stress I find most useful is deadlines - keeps me focused! The stress I find least useful is too many social events. I'm like most writers - a loner by choice until I go stir crazy and then a crazy extrovert until I can't deal with the stress of no alone time to write.

Meredith Cole said...

Thanks for stopping by, guys! Very interested to hear how everyone deals with stress and gets back to the page (especially in this rather, um, stressful election season...).

RM Greenaway said...

Hi Meredith - I'll apply your advice to my big time-crunch edit coming up: clean up the to-do list so I'm calm(er), then break down the edits and get to it. :)

Cathy Ace said...

"If you have to eat an elephant, eat it in bite-sized pieces" is how I live my life. That and "Don't dream it, be it"...but that's another story :-) Good advice here, Meredith.