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