Writing Away the Stress

We’ve all been there.  We all have to deal with stress in our lives.  More often than not I feel at least a bit stressed although usually it’s just the normal everyday kind that ebbs and flows with my mood.  Sometimes I’m not sure if it’s stress or simply worry, but categorizing these feelings doesn’t typically help make anymore sense of them.

I’ve heard tales about people who are never stressed and I cannot wrap my brain around that concept.  Everyone has stress triggers in their lives: work, money, kids, relationships, and the list goes on.  They may cause us pain at the time but much of this stress makes us better.  It pushes us to grow.  It helps us learn.  Understanding how we deal with the stress aids us in bettering ourselves by providing the tools to reduce that all encompassing shut-down the factory stress so many of us have experienced too often.

My biggest stressors come through as nagging worries repeated over and over in my mind.  Did I do the right thing?  Will I meet my deadline?  Can I afford it?  Usually the worries pass relatively quickly either because there is something else to worry about or because my rational voice squashes the worry with reason and logic.  Anything I worry about causes me stress and when the stress reaches a certain level I don’t want to do anything except worry.  Being paralyzed by stress is not helpful.

Shutting down, worrying and waiting for the stress to pass used to be my primary approach because doing anything remotely enjoyable in the midst of a bout of extreme stress only added more stress and worry.  Upon reaching this stage I knew I needed to learn new more effective ways to deal with the stress or it would fester and become debilitating.

Stress Relief through Writing

Lately I have turned to writing when overwrought by stress.  It is something I have wanted to do for a while and provides an outlet for my creative side.  Writing allows me to escape from my worries through a form of physical expression that must occur outside of my own internal voice.  I implemented three effective writing techniques to help me alleviate the stress.

Journaling

Writing down my thoughts and feelings in a journal places the emotions enabling my stress into perspective.  By expressing myself in a journal I can add a rational viewpoint to the stress encouraging voices in my head that constantly work against me through a circle of worry-doubt-panic-frustration thoughts.  Approaching the cause of the stress from a common sense perspective helps me to set aside the emotions which fuel the stress and allows me assess the situation with from a pragmatic point of view.

Blogging

Generally my blog posts do not directly address the causes, symptoms or the effects of my stress.  Even this post discussing stress lacks specifics of the work stress I am currently experiencing.  Blogging provides a creative outlet to get my mind off specific issues by approaching them from a wider angle.  My logical thinking rushes to the forefront as I craft my supposition and support.  For example, looking at stress in general, without focusing on any one specific stressor, has helped me compare the various ways I see myself and others handle stress effectively and ineffectively so I can determine current or new approaches that may work for me.

Creative Writing

Working on short stories, novels or any other creative writing helps me to escape from stress into a world of my own creation.  Letting go of reality when stress is at its worst can be more difficult, yet at the same time the effects can be so rewarding.  The options available with this avenue are truly unlimited.  I’ve imagined a character going through the same situation or something even worse and we’ve worked through the issues as a team.  I’ve jumped forward to work on the happy ending where everything works out for the best and happiness prevails.  Determining what will work in each situation has to feel right to you.  I try not to force myself to actively deal with the stress creatively if my brain tells me it would be better to disappear into a world where nothing is wrong.

Moving from shutting out the world to taking deliberate action has been a challenge that is helping me approach stress with a rational and realistic mindset.  Directing my emotions into writing refocuses the voice in my head away from negative thoughts to positive and productive ideas.  Journaling, blogging and creative writing have all helped me take control of these situation.  Engaging in something I enjoy during these times of trouble has been a successful first step to taking back control.

Writing is not my full-time job, so for now writing has not a source of stress for me.  For those of you who write either full or part time, can writing help you or do you engage other outlets you rely on to combat stress in your life?

Recommitting For Success

I started this blog over a year ago, primarily to give myself a place to express thoughts and ideas, practice my writing in relatively safe yet public environment, and simply as a way to be creative.  It’s been more than 10 months since my last post because creativity is hard.

Nearly 25 years after I graduated from film school I have done very little creatively.  I explored other career options that seemed safer and surprisingly more interesting at the time and I didn’t have a need to be creative.  I witnessed the struggles my friends and classmates worked through to eek out a living in the highly competitive entertainment industry while I jumped ship for a stable eight to five job that has since turned into my career.  I have been happy with the choices I have made although I still get the urge to jump back into film when I see my friends’ and classmates’ successes as the credits roll on major films and television programs.

Over the past two years the urge to incorporate  more creativity into my daily life has blossomed.  At the end of 2014 I finally put forth my first significant effort to re-enlist in a creative endeavor.  A little over seven years ago, I first discovered NaNoWriMo after reading an article by Jason Snell, the editor of MacWorld at the time.  Up until this point I had never done much writing, but I would periodically recorded ideas in various documents scattered throughout my computer.  I think deep down I always held some desire to be a writer, yet I had never acted on it.  For five years either the creative urge wasn’t strong enough or I had not fully developed a clear notion that I could actually accomplish what NaNoWriMo asked of its participants.  Finally, in October 2014 I made a personal pledge that beginning November 1st I would participate and finish NaNoWriMo by month’s end.  I “won”, along with thousands of other successful writers, by generating over 50,000 words for my own novel, but what I had was no novel, it was an incomplete mess.

Finishing NaNoWriMo motivated me to keep up my writing.  I made big plans to complete and edit my novel.  I dove deep into many, probably too many, writing blogs and several books to hone my writing skills.  I even created this blog to stimulate my creative juices in yet another outlet.  I left plenty of time for reading and learning, but almost no time for doing any actual writing.  This was my ultimate downfall over the past year and the first thing to suffer was my newly created blog.  I continued to jot down blog ideas, story ideas, and any other idea no matter how crazy in my Scrivener Idea Projects document.  What I didn’t do is execute.  Without execution, there was no way I would successfully achieve any of my writing goals I had carefully laid out (I even writing a blog post about them).

I did learn quite a bit about myself over the past year in the process, so even with my lack of producing any finished projects at least I have something to show.  Three of these lessons jumped out as being the most important to my future development as a writer.

First and ultimately the most important, I need to find time to write.  Actual writing.  Squeezing in a few minutes here are there.  Complete writing.  Working through the hard parts.  Finished writing.  Reaching the end where I would feel comfortable sharing the work with others.  I am a pro at starting projects.  Getting down the parts I am excited about is easy.  Seeing them through, developing complete stories and characters, resolving problems and getting to “The End” is where I falter.

Second, I am a plotter even though I think of myself as a pantser.  I made it to 50,000 words on my first two attempts at NaNoWriMo but as the deadline approached I found myself cramming in words by jumping around the plot to wherever the words would flow.  I failed to generate any cohesive plot line or character development using this method, so I am not sure if there is anything salvageable or if it may be better to start over with a fresh, concise and well developed outline.

Third, if I am going to be successful I need to commit.  Commit to writing each and every day.  Commit to completing.  Commit to deadlines and holding myself accountable.  Commit to sharing and getting feedback.  I’d give myself an “F” for each and every one of these today, but I’m throwing out the report card and starting fresh.  Beating myself up won’t help my commitment but, at the same time, continuing to give myself too many free passes will have the same effect.

I could probably lump all three of these lessons together as a need for structure.  I am a creature of habit, at times driving my wife crazy.  This is why I should have known all along the I am a plotter.  I’ve incorporated other demands on my personal and professional life by incorporating those responsibilities into the structure that is my life.  It only goes that I can do the same for writing.

I have re-committed to this blog to reinforce all I have learned about writing and enhance my own creative process over the past year.  I have amassed a long list of blog topics including expanding on all of the things I learned this year in a addition to the top three I have already mentioned.  Time to commit.  Time to execute.  Time to succeed.

The difficult things we accomplish in life are always the most valued.  Creativity is hard, but it’s worth it.