Creativity's Workshop

Taming and Training Your Creativity to Write Abundantly


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De-Stress Your Writing Life – When Life Creates Factors Beyond Your Control

Title artwork for De-Stress Your Writing Life

This year I’m blogging my book De-Stress Your Writing Life. You can read it for free on Creativity’s Workshop every Friday.

(I’ve been battling with a viral infection for the past six days so the post below was a subject close to my heart this week. I’m also guest posting over at Helping Writers Become Authors today on the subject Why You Should Walk Away From Your Writing. For the record, I wrote the guest post before I came down with the flu.)

Every writer must come to terms with the fact that there will be times when it is not possible to write due to factors beyond your control.

Factors Beyond Your Control

The complications of life vary from person to person. Here are a few examples of factors that may impact your writing life.

Illness

Be it the common cold or something far more serious, illness negatively impacts our lives and causes stress.

The rule of thumb usually is: If you’re too ill to work, you’re probably too ill to write. No amount of positive thinking can clear your mind of a head cold or lift the genuine fatigue of sickness. Your body requires energy to recover and heal.

Medication

Some forms of medication can have a negative impact on your creative skills.

Medication that causes drowsiness, nausea or brain fog will likely interfere with your ability to write. There is often little you can do about this, especially if the medication is essential for your health.

Grief

Dealing with intense emotions can leave you numb and exhausted.

Grief comes in many types, whether it’s due to the loss of a loved one, the loss of a relationship or even the loss of a potential future. Grieving is a process your body and mind needs to go through in order to heal and during that time you may find your ability to enjoy other activities is limited.

Children

Raising children impacts every part of your life – especially activities that require ‘me time.’

Being continually on call with a million little jobs to do means it can be very difficult (if not impossible) to focus your attention on a writing project long enough to make meaningful progress. It may even be necessary to put certain creative projects on hold until your family situation changes.

These are just a few examples of stressors many of us face. Your life may present you with other stressful challenges that are beyond your control – perhaps difficult living arrangements or a challenging job. But just because these factors impact your ability to write doesn’t mean you should just throw up our hands and give up on writing.

How to Cope

What can you do to cope with these influences in your writing life? Here are five suggestions.

Don’t ‘Should’ Yourself

‘Should’ can be a motivational word at times, but it can also be dangerously hurtful. Telling ourselves we ‘should be writing more’ or ‘shouldn’t be letting this affect us’ only serves to cause frustration. Just because one writer can pump out novels while caring for a house full of toddlers does not mean you ‘should’ be able to do just the same while caring for your three-year-old.

Rather that beating yourself up over what you can’t accomplish at the moment (because there will always be things you realistically can’t accomplish at this point in time), it’s far better to focus on what you feel like doing. If your body or mind doesn’t feel up to writing, then ask yourself, “What do I feel like doing?

When dealing with illness and grief, it’s often important to follow what your body is telling you. If your body needs to rest, then allow it time to heal so that you can return to writing in the future.

Redirect Your Energies

If you’re not able to write, could you perhaps spend your time feeding your Creativity with reading material and movies?

When I am too ill to leave the couch, I imagine myself as a caterpillar curled up in a cocoon. I transform myself with the books I read, the movies I watch and the ideas I toy with. When I can finally return to my desk, I am filled with fresh thoughts and vibrant new plans so I can plunge straight back into action.

Remember, ask yourself, “What do I feel like doing?” Follow the answer. Paint. Sew. Draw. Cook. Allow yourself the room to be creative through whatever method your body and mind sees fit.

Write ‘Inwards’ Instead of ‘Outwards’

The act of writing provides us with one of the best coping mechanisms – it allows us to disgorge our thoughts onto the page, leaving room in our heads to cope with the situation.

As writers, we often write ‘outwards’ in that we expect our words will at some point be read by others. That can impede our honesty with the page, especially if we’re suffering with grief or other strong emotions we may not want to share with others.

Writing ‘inwards’ – perhaps in a journal or in personal letters – allows the act of writing to nurture us and help our healing without having to worry about what other readers will think.

Record What You Have Accomplished

During periods of increased stress, we may not be able to meet our writing expectations. Our word count may drop. We may not be writing new words at all. Under those circumstances it’s very easy to become discouraged – believing we have accomplished nothing.

Instead of allowing your mind to dwell on the things you haven’t done, make a list of things you have accomplished no matter how small. In fact, make sure to especially list the small accomplishments.

Perhaps getting out of bed in the morning is an accomplishment. Note it down. Maybe reading a page from your favourite book is an accomplishment. Note it down. Finding an inspirational quote on Pinterest could be an accomplishment. Note it down!

Fill your list with the smallest accomplishments and then congratulate yourself on each one.

Look Forwards and Continually Re-Evaluate

Just because your current situation is having a negative impact on your writing life, doesn’t necessarily mean it will always be this way.

Many of the stressful factors beyond our control will change in time, even if we don’t expect them to. An illness may pass. A new opportunity may come along. Our body and mind may grow stronger. Children go to school or leave home.

Continue to ask yourself, “What do I feel like doing?” It will change from day to day. Keep asking.

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Add your comment below. How do you cope with stressors beyond your control?

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Like most writers, I have to be frugal with my funds. So if you’ve enjoyed today’s post and would like to read more, I’d be grateful if you could leave a little in the kitty to help keep things afloat.

Everyone who donates will receive a free electronic copy of the book once it has reached completion.

Thanks for dropping by.

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6 Tips for Writing With a Chronic Illness

A woman sick in bed...If only my hair looked like that when I was sick in bed...

Image Credit: Microsoft Clip Art

I’ve been living with a chronic illness since 2007. Some days I feel almost normal, other days it’s a battle to get out of bed and make myself food for the day. This constant rollercoaster of energy, emotions and doctors’ appointments is an everyday occurrence for many people, writers included.

I usually don’t mention my health too much on this blog because it’s not the main theme of Creativity’s Workshop. However, over the past 6 weeks I’ve been through a rough patch with my health which has had a big impact on my ability to write.

I went looking online for writing tips for people suffering with illness. There didn’t seem to be that much practical information out there. While “If you wouldn’t go to work feeling this way, then don’t write” may be great advice for those dealing with the flu or other acute circumstances, most people with chronic illness aren’t able to go to work anyway.

So I have compiled a list of 6 tips that I found helped me personally. If you know of any other tips or posts on this subject, please add them below in the comments. I’d love for this post to become a good resource for other writers in this situation.

Tip 1: Know How Much Energy You Need for Each Task

Some writing tasks require a lot of mental energy and clarity. Other tasks can be done on auto pilot. The trick is to match each task with the amount of energy you have on hand at the time.

For example, I find writing first drafts of novels or blog posts requires a great deal of mental clarity. However, doing a final edit on a blog post requires a lot less energy. I usually have a clearer head in the morning, so that’s the time I schedule my quality writing time. Editing can be done during my afternoon slump.

I also keep a Slow Day List going where I write down any kind of task I can do when I’m feeling below par. The list contains tasks like:

  • Finding images for my blog posts.
  • Pinning images on Pinterest.
  • Social media, e.g. chatting and retweating on Twitter.
  • Mocking up cover art for my upcoming short story collection.
  • Tweaking sign up forms.
  • Reading a book about writing.

This list serves two purposes.

  • Firstly, it helps me keep my priorities straight so I spend my valuable energy where it’s going to do the most good. If I’m feeling well, I won’t allow myself to be distracted by the things on my slow day list.
  • Secondly, it helps me remain calm when I’m having a slow day. Rather than thinking about what I would be doing if I had the energy, I know I can still be useful by doing the tasks I’ve already set aside.

It’s a waste to do a low energy, monotonous task when you’ve got the energy to do a more complex task. It’s also not worth driving yourself into the ground doing high energy tasks when your health has taken a dip. Take note of your ups and downs so you can plan around them, rather than trying to plough through them.

Tip 2: Do Important Things Before They Become Urgent

Rushing to complete a blog post or a newsletter creates stress, which causes you to burn more energy than necessary. By planning and perhaps even completing things before they become urgent, you can not only create a buffer between you and your deadlines but also produce higher quality work.

For example, instead of trying to work out the title and subject of your blog post a hour before it’s due to go up, why not spend a little time the week before outlining the main points you want to cover? Then, even if you do have an energy slump, you still have notes to help you write.

There are many ways you can create a buffer between you and deadlines. You could:

  • Brainstorm ideas for upcoming posts or even create a series of posts to develop the subject. This will give your blog more cohesion and direction.
  • Keep a notebook of ideas for posts and points you want to cover. When you’re feeling mentally hazy, you can look back over your notes without having to come up with a fresh idea.
  • Write the first draft of your posts in advance so you only need to do a little clean up work before publishing.
  • Use the schedule feature on your blog to organise your posts and take the stress out of remembering when to publish.

By changing your mindset and routine, you can actually reduce your stress (and therefore reduce your energy output) while increasing the value and quality of your writing.

Tip 3: Have Backup Plans

There will always be bad days that catch you unawares. On those days you’ll need to rest. When you’re in that situation, it’s good to have a backup plan.

For example, if you’ve got a blog you could:

  • Prepare a few blog posts that aren’t time sensitive so you can publish them whenever you need them.
  • Keep a record of the best writing posts and articles you’ve read recently. Then, when you’re having a bad day you could publish a post with links through to other articles your readers might enjoy.
  • Ask a blogging friend to guest post for you that week.

If you’re working on a novel you could:

  • Research some details you need for your story.
  • Create a vision board.
  • Create a storyboard.
  • Find photos of the characters or locations in your story.

With chronic illness, bad days are inevitable. Be flexible and change tack if necessary.

Tip 4: Maintain Motivation Through Positive Means

When you’re not able to accomplish everything you’d planned it’s easy to get frustrated, perhaps even giving yourself a ‘stern talking to’ in the hope it will keep you going. But goading yourself into further work isn’t the answer.

Guilting yourself into doing things will only work temporarily, and you’ll feel dreadful while you’re doing it. Muscling past haze and fatigue may actually be more damaging in the long run.

Instead, keep yourself motivated by being positive. Remind yourself why you love writing. Believe in what you are writing. Envision how things will eventually turn out and then focus only on the next little step you need to take.

The old adage is true: You can catch far more flies with honey than with vinegar.

Don’t beat yourself up over what you haven’t yet accomplished. Inspire yourself to keep going.

Tip 5: Connect With People

Most people who are dealing with chronic illness spend a lot of time at home. Some are housebound or even bedridden. For most of us, though, modern technology allows us to connect with people without needing to leave the comforts of our home.

Both writing and illness can lead to isolation, so it’s important to actively seek to communicate and connect with a community. E-mailing fellow writers, reading and commenting on people’s blogs, using social media wisely – all these things can help you become part of a community and keep the focus of your attention away from your illness for a while.

For a writer to truly do good work they need to see the world from many different perspectives, if only to see their own lives in detail. So set aside time in your schedule to interact with the great and varied world outside your door.

Tip 6: Set Up a Schedule You Can Maintain

Finally, the most important thing is to keep a sustainable schedule. A cycle of boom and bust (where you manage heaps of stuff one day and then can’t get out of bed the next) isn’t kind to your body and could make your illness worse.

Be reasonable in what you expect from yourself. Celebrate what you’ve managed to do each day (even if it’s only a small thing) and allow room in your schedule to move things around if need be.

At the end of each week, look back over what you’ve accomplished. Remember the positive things you’ve done and try not to dwell on the negatives.

After all, there’s always tomorrow. 😉

What about you? How do you cope with days when you aren’t functioning at your best? I really want this post to be a resource for other writers in similar situations so please add your comments.

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Since writing the above I’ve come across the following helpful posts on this subject:

Kristine Kathryn Rusch – Freelancer’s Survival Guide: Illness