Writing Through Stress

penWe adult-type people recognize that life is hectic, tilted toward entropy, and full of aggravation. Big moments, unexpected problems, and the aforementioned garden variety pressures get us stressed out, and I know that is an understatement. But the writing (and the dinner making, diaper changing, phone call returning, toothbrushing) must go on. Of course nothing resolves stress like actual problem solving, but let’s presume that some stress is ongoing or can’t be eliminated before one needs to spend quality time with their project. Just what is in my particular box of tricks? For writers like me, having a toolkit of tactics to deal with chronic stress so the creative whatnot can flow is critical stuff. Check out the following:

Do something that relaxes you, and have time set aside for writing immediately thereafter–Book a massage, read something by your favorite author (always also good for inspiration in general), go for a walk to release some stress-killing endorphins, and while you’re still in the afterglow, tackle your writing project. If you’re still staring at the screen in frustration, hit up other sections of your brain by picking up a pen and making notes, jotting down back story, writing in longhand a description of the protagonist, and so on. Often one successful creative jolt fuels the next.

Set the music–I try to ascertain, as quickly as possible, if I need a familiar or a new song to kickstart a writing session. That’s not to say I always write to music, but when I need it, I need it, and I don’t worry about why or what it means. Remember, the real work comes in the long editing and rewriting phase. I select music that counters the forces dragging me down; if I’m overexcited, I decelerate down my own personal I dunno with slow grooves, and if I need to bring up my energy level, well, you get the idea. I do have some go-to play lists for those days when I can’t think about anything too much and I need to prioritize diving into the work.

Change up the scenery–I acknowledge that many people have lovely writing studios or work areas, and I hope to be one of those people in my future. For now, I am a minimalist, preferring to work on a laptop or with a notebook, and keeping only a pen, index cards, and a refreshing beverage at my side. I swear this lets me switch up my writing environment when it stops encouraging words to come out of my head. Music helps take me out of my own headspace and helps me capture the world I’ve created, and that is exactly where a writer needs to reside.

Get more sleep, if possible–Sleeping enough helps our brains parse through the chemicals that make us feel stressed out, so trying to get 7 or 8 hours of shut eye a night helps set us up for future success. I recognize such things aren’t always possible–I’m a father of a 10-month-old, after all–but don’t give up on sleep. If you need to assess your daily schedule to figure out how to make more time for sleep, give it a try. I’m about to make a shift this fall to scheduling my writing time in the early morning before the Wee One wakes (I’m sure it will be the subject of more than one blog post). And yes, it will necessitate an earlier bedtime for yours truly, probably soon after I put the baby down for the night, in fact.

Switch projects–Hey, it might not be your stress level that is dragging down a given project; instead, maybe it’s not be the right project for this time in your life. Perhaps a story about loss isn’t approachable when one is mourning the death of a close loved one, for example. If we’re dedicated writers, we will in all likelihood get back to a story that demands to be finished. It’s okay to change gears and work on something else, and not only is it okay, it’s common. I mean, you’re not common, of course not. But you’re in good company if you trunk a project for a while and pick up a new one that resonates better with your emotional or energy needs.

I hope these are helpful suggestions; I’d love to see other ideas in the comments. What do you all do when you need to produce but are on your last nerve?

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Categories: Writing


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2 Comments on “Writing Through Stress”

  1. July 6, 2012 at 2:34 am #

    Everett, I do yard work when I need a change up. And I also chew some L-Theanine tablets when I get overexcited before the brain circuitry fries up. Very helpful post.

  2. Tina
    July 6, 2012 at 3:53 am #

    Great tips, Ev! Thanks for sharing.

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