Something’s Gotta Give!

Steps up to The Cave, where I should be writing

Steps up to The Cave, where I should be writing

I am stressed.

My whole life, at the moment, feels like a ‘to-do list’ and I don’t have young children to look after, or even a 9-to-5 job and perhaps that’s the problem. My ‘job(s)’ never seem to end!

I am sure you are nodding your head sagely ‘I know, I know’ (or maybe you’re gritting your teeth and muttering, ‘Stressed?! HER? I could tell her what stress is!’).

Perhaps I’m not using the right word. Maybe I’m just ‘busy’ but anyway, ‘Doctor, doctor, here are my symptoms’:

1. I am always rushing. There’s never enough time. I am always writing lists. I am irritable.

2. I never have lunch until after 3pm (when I worked in an office, I was so bored, I’d usually eaten my sandwiches by 11am).

3. I don’t get chance to do any gardening (which I really want to do! The summer will be over before I can get out there!)

4. A month ago, I finally bought a steam cleaner (yes, I’m sad, but I really wanted one!) and IT IS STILL IN ITS BOX. UNTOUCHED.

5. We’re going away tomorrow, straight after my class, to the Isle of Wight and it’s making me stressed because I’ve got too much to do to go away (and I was away last weekend and I just want to stay at home and potter!). Oh and I haven’t packed yet. Of course.

6. And finally – and worst of all – I don’t have enough time for my own writing. I have a deadline (self-imposed but there is a reason for it) to produce an e-book of short stories by 10th July and, apart from tinkering around with a title and making a list of the stories I want to include, I’ve done nothing!

On Monday I sold a story to Woman’s Weekly and in the lovely acceptance email, the editor said, ‘More, please!’ which is great – and I would love to give her ‘more’ but I don’t have time.

So, something has got to change, something has got to go.

Anyone got any tips or advice on a) de-stressing and b) making sure that one’s own writing doesn’t fall to the bottom of the ‘to-do list’?!

PS: Sorry to whinge! Please don’t unsubscribe. Normal service will be resumed next time, promise!

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37 Responses to Something’s Gotta Give!

  1. Jackie Sayle says:

    I understand completely, Helen. I’m much the same myself. Lists can sometimes help, but can often make things worse. Perhaps a timetable might be a better option? It’d have to be flexible, of course, given that the weather doesn’t always allow gardening when we’ve decided to do it, and that people (mother, daughter etc., in my case) often drop by unexpectedly.

    In fact, speaking of my daughter, who is trying to run what is ‘supposed’ to be a part-time job whilst doing her Masters degree, what you’ve said is pretty much what she was saying to me when she dropped in yesterday.

    I empathise with the holiday thing, too. If you go self-catering like we do, the packing seems such a bind. You get in such a tizz! Halfway there in the car, you think, ‘What the heck? If I’ve forgotten something it doesn’t matter. There ARE shops in Wales/Devon/The Lake District or wherever.’ I’m off to a hideaway in the Welsh mountains in a couple of weeks and my lovely chap has told me it’s time for me to write and that I can stay there for another week on my own, too, if I like. I can’t, of course because I don’t have time… what about the garden etc., etc? xx

  2. Wendy Clarke says:

    How I loved reading this – it really struck a chord. I wonder if lovely Clare has any idea what she does to us writers with her ‘more please’. Instantly my mind goes blank. I think our own self-imposed deadlines are worse than work ones – I feel guilty when I do other things so, like you, the garden (and house) gets neglected.

    • Wendy, thank you, I am so glad it’s not just me!! (and you don’t all think I’m a moaning old bag!). I feel a bit better already. Prepared the class for today (eek, in less than an hour) and I’m getting on with the ironing now and packing! Better get on…!

  3. cathaber1 says:

    I’ve been there! You’ve got to get back some time for yourself and there’s only one way, as I’m sure you realise – you have to stop doing one or more of the things you do for others. Hard decisions, but essential to avoid a meltdown. Good luck! And a good break!

    • Cath, you are making me sound a bit like Mother Teresa! I don’t do that much ‘for others’ (although I do a lot of marking of other people’s writing/homework!) but yes, you’re right, I am feeling a bit meltdown-ish… so action is needed!

  4. I can sympathise. My only suggestion is what my boss used to tell me to do to prioritise work: categorise things into ‘what will get me fired if I don’t do’, ‘what will get me promoted’ ‘what do I enjoy’ and everything else.
    It’s tough to do that when you’re self-employed, but for me I’ve roughly translated it as ‘what has an immoveable deadline that will either make or cost guaranteed money’, ‘what will clear the biggest headspace most easily (usually niggly admin)’ ‘what will make me happy and therefore make everything easier’ and everything else.
    Of course stuff like school run, cooking, dog walking, kids’ homework have to happen. But non-essential ironing, cleaning, Facebook, even the blog, go by the wayside in peak times. I’ve also found the routine of the school run and walking the dog can help. You get more done in an hour than when you’ve got all day. Maybe schedule an hour’s gardening and stick to it.
    Plus I’d move the self-imposed deadline to a new fixed date a couple of weeks later. It won’t hurt and you’ll enjoy your trip more.
    Anyway, feel free to ignore! I constantly feel overwhelmed by stuff, so I do understand. Getting diagnosed with depression taught me to take better care of myself for everyone’s sake.

  5. Derek says:

    I am exhausted and stressed just reading your blog. STOP. take a break, which you are doing. take more ME time .have a massage. chill out. then start back with a more organised plan .yes, prioritise and decide what is important .don’t keep chasing your tail or you will never reach 30.

  6. julielees says:

    I concur, Helen! I used to work 48+ hours, and now feel I have less time to fit things in. Self-imposed deadlines are a killer – albeit a necessary one, at times. Steamers are wonderful creations, I might add, and our garden is looking lovely but, perhaps, that’s why you’ve had a story accepted and I haven’t. Love The Cave, by the way!

    • Julie
      The Cave is indeed lovely (especially at this time of year. It’s a bit ‘parky’ up there- even with heating – in the winter!) so I really have no excuse…! I will ‘feature’ The Cave soon in a post and give you all a guided tour and then I will be SHAMED into spending more time there.

  7. I empathise totally. There is never enough time to do everything and whichever task you choose to concentrate on, you feel guilty for not doing the 101 other things on the list. Sometimes I think we expect too much of ourselves – but a challenge can be a good motivator…
    Have a good weekend away and come back refreshed (until you spot the ‘To Do’ list waiting for you!)

  8. I hate to tell you this but it sounds like you are menopausal. See your doctor when you get back from holiday. Meantime, forget everything and enjoy the Isle of Wight.

  9. Lynne, that made me laugh (like a maniac..!!) eeek – I think you may be right! I am taking Evening Primrose Oil! Isn’t that enough?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  10. Linda Lewis says:

    Sometimes **** happens. Be kind to yourself. Come back refreshed and put what YOU want to do, at the top of the list. Enjoy your break.

  11. olivespastavino says:

    I’m a terribly worrier, money, writing, housework, children (even though they’re all grown up!)…Sometimes I just take a deep breath, count my blessings (of which there are many) and know that most of the time things work out. As for the list, it never ends does it? As soon as you get close to the bottom there are another twenty things to add. That’s life isn’t it? Enjoy the Isle of Wight, I haven’t been there for forty years – and when I was there it was an extremely stressful part of my life! 🙂

  12. Julia says:

    You know what you need to do. All that is left is to give yourself permission to do it. You know that you’d be better off if you made your lunch at breakfast time, so that it was in the fridge waiting for you at 1pm. You know that if you stopped every 30 minutes, stood up for a stretch and had a glass of water you’d feel so much better. You know that meditation will make you more time than it takes. You also know that this is easy to say and difficult to do (and that I sound very sancitmonious. Sorry!).

    • Oh no, that didn’t sound sanctimonious – just lovely. I went all calm just reading your message, Julia!! You are right of course – all of it (like the tip about lunch especially! food being a bit of a ‘thing’ of mine! there I go with that word ‘thing’ again..!)

  13. Catherine Robinson says:

    I feel your pain Helen!! Try this: at the end of each day for a week (make it a “typical” week not when you’re on hols) , take 5 mins to jot down what you did all day, hour by hour. Then at the end of the week you will see how you spend your time. Were you doing essential jobs in the main or quite a lot of socialising or pottering/ daydreaming etc (not that there’s ANYTHING wrong with that!!!) ??
    This way, you can see where you can ‘steal back’ some time for writing. Hope that helps a little! Lynne’s comment made me laugh too!!!
    Have a lovely time in the Isle of Wight
    Catherine 🙂

    • Ah yes, that’s a good tip, thanks. Actually there’s another thing you can do like that (I can’t think of the right word so ‘thing’ will have to do): write down what you do every 15 mins – at the end of each 15 mins! I tried it once and actually it’s not as time-consuming as you think and it a) shows how much time you waste and b) stops you wasting it because you don’t want to have to write ‘went on Facebook’ or ‘had coffee and day dreamed’ down on your list!! (but I agree with you – day dreaming is NOT bad!).

  14. Helen, I can relate to every single thing you say – NB I live in London, where the pace of life is even harder to keep up with! Thanks to all your readers for their wise advice as to how to address this.

    • Helen, yes I can imagine it’s even worse in London! I live in the Cotswolds, for goodness sake!! I should be all chilled and relaxed..! (but actually, living so far away from anything and anyone, adds to the stress! It takes me at least 45 minutes to get anywhere – and I’m usually stuck behind 2 tractors, a combine harvester and a fleet of cyclists at some point on my route! aaaaagh!)

  15. Sounds like you’re trying to be somebody you’re not Helen. You’re a Midlander, ‘yaw’ll be alright when yaw get by the seaside chuck.’ Don’t worry about the garden. Sit on a deckchair and rejoice, you have a story accepted and they want more!!! That’s awsome…. Enjoy the break, and sounds like you need more sleep, and some time off to do nothing but gaze at the sky. I’d go back to writing poetry for a while… Or, write a story about a woman who’s stressed, at having a holiday, a monthly massage, and a lovely little writing room and an editor wanting a story, and the stressed woman doesn’t want to write a story. I do sympathise. I don’t have time for everything I want to write. So I write what I like best…. funny stuff mostly.

    Have a relaxing holiday….. and talk to someone like your doctor when you get back. xx

    • Susan, thank you for your comments – that’s sweet. Not sure that I need to go to the doctor (‘I’m irritable’ might not count as a major symptom, after all?) but I appreciate your concern!! I am hoping the Isle of Wight will help me! (and you’re right of course, I shouldn’t be complaining about going on holiday or having a story accepted.. or a monthly massage or a writing room. I know I am very lucky. but that doesn’t stop me feeling stressed..!!!)

  16. Linda says:

    Snap! I’m going on holiday tomorrow and I was determined to complete all my goals for June by today but, of course, it just hasn’t happened. Every time I cross something off my to-do list I think of six more things that should be on there. I was getting very stressed this morning thinking about all the things I ‘needed’ to do today until I realised that most of them aren’t really essential. Nobody else is going to notice the weeds in the garden, or that my shirt isn’t perfectly ironed …
    Have a lovely break, forget work, and you’ll come back full of energy and inspiration. That’s what I’m hoping for anyway!

  17. Rich Furman says:

    Something has to give indeed! When we feel as stressed as you are feeling, there is a tendency to try to fit in as many good and healthy things as we can, or just cut out everything and head for the hills. Of course, as others have implied, you need to decide if your stress and anxiety is chronicle, or situationally based.

    I can suggest a bit of self help in the form of cognitive behavioral/rational emotive behavioral therapy. There are many good books out there that are designed to help us deal with the thinking and behaviors allow our stress to take over our lives (even if for the short term). I teach my coaching clients how to use REBT to manage the stress that interferes with their writing.

    When I am stressed, I give myself permission to write poorly, but to just write. I try to lower my expectations, but make sure that I keep my writing ritual alive.

    Rich Furman
    Write, Publish Thrive.

  18. Linda says:

    Hopefully your holiday will help you get some perspective and you’ll come back refreshed.

    I too am addicted to lists but sometimes find that looking at them makes me feel worse not better. I read somewhere that each morning that you should take 3 things off the main list, 2 things that have to be done that day and 1 thing that you want to do. When you’ve done them cross them out on the main list and write down 3 more. It gives you a feeling that you are getting somewhere and helps you determine what is most important to you that day. Just don’t let the second list get longer than 3, or you’ll just spend all day writing lists!

    Linda

  19. Elizabeth says:

    Hi Helen,

    Sorry for leaving a comment but can’t find another way to make contact! Was very inspired by your article about writerly jealousy in June’s Writing Magazine and am trying to add my 2p worth in my own blog. Would love to quote your article, or indeed you, or link to your blog, but wanted to ask first. Could you let me know? All best, Elizabeth x

    • Elizabeth – of course, that’s fine (sorry, your message went into spam and I’ve only just seen it!). I’ve read your article on your blog and really enjoyed it! thanks for the link.

  20. charliebritten says:

    I teach. I used to have time to write in the evenings and at weekends, but not anymore, even though my children are grown up. I am VERY stressed. I identify with everything you say. Definitely won’t unsubscribe.

  21. philippabowe says:

    Hi Helen, sorry not to comment earlier – too busy running around doing the million-and-one things and stressing! 😉
    Along with most of the others who have responded to your post, I totally empathise. And although the run up to the menopause can and often does cause extra tiredness and irritability (am there too!), I think it’s more of a universal condition – just about every woman I know is living the same sort of “too much going on!” life, with or without kids, employed or freelance, and of all ages. I believe we all suffer from the Superwoman syndrome: we want to do everything, and do it all perfectly. And if we “fail”, the guilt piles on. We can blame the historical and social context that got us here. And tho’ it’s great to be an active early-21st-century woman with so many amazing options compared to our grandmothers, it is indeed exhausting. Recognising that you need to change things in your life is the first step to doing it, of course, so you’re on the path to a calmer way of living. I recommend a great article in the latest edition of Mslexia about “how to make the time you need”. And kicking back when you can: a walk, hot bath, reading in the hammock, a glass of chilled white wine at the end of the day….

    • Philippa, thanks for your supportive message!! I feel lots of the ‘sisterhood’ don’t believe you can be busy or stressed if you don’t have kids, so thank you for taking a more liberal view!! And yes, I agree, we all seem to be crazily-busy, whatever kind of lifestyle we’re leading. it’s not healthy, is it?!

  22. I certainly won’t unsubscribe. But Helen, you have to make this stop as it will stunt your creativity and affect your health. Schedule writing time and let other things go. Keep off the internet and Facebook and Twitter for a while. It will be there when you are in the right place. Also writing a blog and answering all those comments above it taking up time much as it may be a supportive distraction. I am sure this is temporary as we all get ‘busy’ times when writing can’t happen. Family, pets and holidays are part of life. I get irritable if I can’t find time to write. I do find travelling by public transport helps. Laptop and notebook out, reading book for breaks. I am much less stressed since I gave up driving except for the occasional trip when nothing else but the car will do. Looking forward to your next post about how much you have written.

  23. Di, thanks for your comments, all of which make perfect sense. I agree, blogging and ‘social media’ are real time-suckers (I think I’ve just made that word up!). I don’t blog as often as I used to – just simply because I don’t have the time – and I have been cutting down on Facebook and Twitter stuff too. I would love to be able to write on public transport but I can’t get anywhere by public transport around here (I live in the middle of the country!) I could probably catch a bus sometimes but I can’t write on a bus – I’d be sick!. So I am stuck to driving, unfortunately. BUT I do have a hands-free phone thingy that I need to start using in the car (to save time on calls when I’m at home) AND I have a dictaphone which I should also start using!

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