Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Writing through stress

Okay, so I cheat a bit. This topic came straight from a chat I attended for the Master's program last night. But so many people showed up to talk about stress that I thought it might be a good topic to address today.
Let's face it there are many things in life you have no control over. As writers, we love to have complete control over the lives and worlds our characters live in and, after a while, we get frustrated when the "real" world does not act the way we think it should. We throw conflicts into our characters lives to drive plot and create character growth but conflict in our own lives drives us mad. We tend to procrastinate. An "I'll deal with it later" attitude would get cut from our character's lives because there is only so much room on a page. Perhaps we should think of that in our own lives. There are truly only so many days in your life-if we turn into Scarlett O'Hara and say "Tomorrow is another day." We slow down the pace of success in our own lives and slow down our character growth, thus creating our own stress.

Sometimes we create our own stress-procrastination, poor eating, lack of vitamins or exercise- because we are bored. Stress gives us something to think about or do, but these kinds of stresses can effect our writing and our own personal character growth.

Sometimes we put stress on ourselves to live the perfect life to be the perfect person. We've all grown up in a world filled with advertising. The successful person washes with X soap. The healthful person has the white smile and the crazy flat abs. Everyone in "Ad land" lives in huge up-to-date houses. They all fill their weekends with less spending and more doing-single handed remodeling bathrooms from gutting to tile and grout to plumbing. Our yards are supposed to be picture perfect. Our cars well maintained and always clean. Our kids should have every toy, eat perfectly nutritious foods, enjoy cookouts and games and cakes the size of New England. How do we reconcile this with the size of our paychecks? With the age of our homes? With the bills that are due? With the slowness of old computers?With kids who get sick or have tantrums or parents who get sick and need care. With family members diagnosed with cancer. With deaths of loved ones due to war or accidents or flesh eating bacteria.

The real world is messy and unpredictable and most of the time our own character growth is hard-unlike those we write about. Fantasy and reality are so wide apart we are stressed by the differences.

For some writers, stress fuels their passion. The more going on the better they write. For others, stress freezes them in place like a deer in the headlights. Goals, dreams, deadlines slip away.

How do we combat this?

First off find out what is your optimal amount of stress. What causes you to work better without over whelming you. Use this as your best indicator. Try not to stray to far one way or the other from this. Next, organize your life and prioritize your actions based on your personal stress baseline. Finally, do your best with your health-I don't mean lose those 40 pounds today. I mean get up and take a ten minute walk around the block. Drink water. Ensure you get at least 7 hours of sleep a night. And, when you have to, feel free to do something silly, like step into your coat closet and scream your head off.

Remember you can't control the stress that comes your way-but you can control how you react to it. Find your base line and live the life that works best around it. Not the false life of advertisements, or the "You have to do x to be happy or published" life of others who want to control you. Think of your life like the pages of your book and edit thoughtfully.

These are some of my tricks for combating stress. What are yours?


~Sia McKye~ said...

Oh, this seems to be the hot topic on blogs today. My writing group was discussing it, several friends, and my blogger today.

I'm a person that has to have balance and I've never been the sort to long after or compete with the Jones.

I do, however, procrastinate when real life gets crazy. Only so much can be put on a page? Well, only so many thoughts and situations can be handled in my brain. As a result, I tend NOT to write when I'm dealing with overwheming life issues. I tend to seek mindless distractions instead.

Sometimes the distraction is writing. When I have deadlines, that's a bit different and I have tricks to get into that groove. I don't miss deadlines, I put on my big girl panties and deal. Part of that is clearing everything out except what has to be done and my focus in all on that.

Marilyn Brant said...

*waving to Sia ;)*

"Think of your life like the pages of your book and edit thoughtfully." ~ Nancy, I love that you said this and want to quote you!!

Stress is a BIG issue for me. I've been struggling with balance for over a year and, mostly, losing the tug-o-war. The one thing that I will say *does* help me is to really, seriously prioritize. I can't do everything, be everywhere, help everyone -- but I can have some non-negotiables in my life and make sure I keep those. Like calling to check in on my parents. Being able to spend some time each day just chatting with my son. True friends know I still care about them even when I'm on a deadline and too busy for weekly get togethers, but I make time for them when I can, too, just because they rejuvenate me...and it's nice to have fun!

It probably all comes down to "know thyself" and to pulling out of your life anything that is unnecessarily draining or toxic. For me, it's hard to write if my life is cluttered with things that unsettle me like that...

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Sia,
Thanks for stopping by. It must be a stressful time of year. I agree when you have a deadline it helps. So, I will make my own deadlines if I need to get my butt in chair.
I also agree that sometimes writing has to come last.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Marilyn,

Thanks for stopping by. I think my inner Tim Gunn (Project Runway) likes to say "edit thoughtfully." lol. Good friends always understand and wait for when life gives you time to breathe.
If they don't, then they are not good friends. Cheers~

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

This makes such good sense. I’m the type who procrastinates – the more stress the more procrastination. I’m going to print off your sentence, “Think of your life like the pages of your book and edit thoughtfully,” to hang on my computer as a reminder I can control my stress – it doesn’t have to control me

Rosalind Adam said...

Sometimes just sitting down and writing is the best stress-buster I can employ... but I'd really like to give your coat closet method a try. If you read about a lady in Leicester UK being carried away you'll know I tried it but the neighbours just didn't understand.

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Jane,

Thanks for stopping by. Sometimes it is hard to imagine we can control some of our stress. But it's true. With prudent use of the word "No" and not lettin gprocrastination get out of hand. I'm guilty of both. :) cheers~

Nancy J. Parra said...

Hi Rosalind,
LOL- I hope they don't misunderstand and carry you off. I got the tip of screaming in the closet from another published writer. We are a strange and wonderous group aren't we? :) Cheers~