So, any of you who follow me on Twitter know I’m currently engaged in The Great House Hunt, and also that it’s been incredibly stressful and distracting. For three days now I’ve sat down to try to write and been completely incapable of doing so. I looked around yesterday for some articles on how to cope with this, some tips and tricks for settling down enough to write, and could find nothing. What advice was out there said to give myself time and accept that I can’t write right now until things settle down, and I think this is good within reason. We are people, not book machines, and sometimes we need that time to process, recover, or otherwise cope with our lives. But stress is part of life, and I want to purposefully increase my ability to write regardless of circumstances. So, here’s a couple of ways I’m coping with my stress and getting myself to produce words regardless.
1) The running list
I keep a pad of paper next to the computer at all times, so that each time I think of a new task to complete or something that has to happen, I can mark it down. This frees my brain from the burden of trying to keep that list inside, and lets my thoughts return to the story.
Finding the right music is always important for me, but doubly so when I’m under stress and trying to create. I find it helpful to use headphones, even if I’m the only one home, and turn up the volume. Yes, it’s not great for the ears, so I don’t recommend it constantly, but it’s very useful in drowning out the additional distractions which are maybe not an issue on a normal day but become especially distracting when you’re already stressed.
3) Running deadlines
Start early and lower your expectations. The goal here is to simply continue to produce, not to keep yourself at your normal levels. It’s okay to drop from a 2k daily pace to 1k or even 500, because you’re still moving forward. Place your deadlines as far out as you can, and give yourself wiggle room. Set smaller deadlines as well (finish chapter three by here, finish query by here, etc) so that you have plenty of accomplishments to celebrate, and so if you find on one day you really can’t write, you have some room in the schedule so the extra pressure of missing a day isn’t added to what you’re otherwise under.
If you can’t write, read, or watch tv or movies that you really enjoy. This keeps you in touch with the literary side of yourself, and sometimes prompts a writing session by inspiration alone. This can also be a good way to settle down so you can get good sleep instead of staying up worrying, and sometimes it’s an opportunity to do some plotting, character sketches, or other things that don’t require the same level of brainwork but are still good prep for writing.
I do this thing where I tell myself golden things about tomorrow. Tomorrow I won’t be so distracted, tomorrow the story will make sense, tomorrow I’ll be caught up on other work so I won’t have those worries. But the thing is, tomorrow never comes. You’ll always have other pressing tasks, always have stress, always have something that’s going to feel like it’s in your way. Some days those things are going to seem insurmountable, other times they’re no big deal. But it always comes down to your commitment to your goals. If writing is just something fun and relaxing, then you can take some days off and it doesn’t matter. But if you’re here, I’m assuming you feel some guilt from time to time for letting too many days or too many excuses build up, and that guilt is a sign that writing means something more to you. So eventually, even if you write three words a minute, even if you spend half your time staring out the window, even if you chop out pages and pages in the editing stages to come, you have to sit and you have to put some words on the page. It’s the only way to make a book, and you may find that once you start it gets easier to ignore the stress. Or, you may find it never gets easier and every paragraph is war against the thoughts swirling in your brain. The things above might make this easier, but ultimately this last tip is the only one that matters. Regardless of the circumstances, the stress, the distractions, the things going on in life, eventually you have to make that choice – write, or don’t write.
I’m still not doing so hot at this myself – I feel a little bit like I’m just treading water in the many commitments I have, and I’ve had more than one little episode of tears in the past week, but I know that all things pass. And at the end of this, I don’t want to have been so caught up in the day to day that I lost sight of who I am and what my goals are. So my goal is to write, at least 500 words before I go to bed tonight. I have a million other tasks to accomplish before then and I’m terrified of letting anyone down. But that should include myself. So I’m going to write.
What are some of your favorite articles on writing under stress? What do you do when you find yourself caught up in a really stressful time – do you write, or give yourself an extended time off?