10* Ways For A Writer To ‘De-Stress’

The Only PersonYou may remember, a little while ago, I felt seriously stressed because life was busy and I never seemed to have time for my WRITING.

If I can’t write, I feel grumpy and lazy and ‘wrong’.

It seemed to strike a chord with many of you because I’ve never had so many comments on a post and you said some helpful and kind things (er…although I was also told that I was ‘menopausal’ – thanks – and that I should go to the doctor immediately!), so I’m guessing that I’m not alone in feeling frustrated at not having the time or ‘headspace’ to write.

Well, since June (eek!) I have tried to do something about it and I promised to tell you the ‘results’ of my measures (ooh, that sounds very scientific).

I can’t guarantee they will work for you – after all, everyone’s different – and the test as to whether they’re really working for me will be from September, when everything starts up again, but see what you think anyway. (And help me out, please, with ‘number 10’).

1. Try ‘Morning Pages’. (Write 3 pages of stream-of-consciousness writing every day)

I’ve already talked about these here so I’m not going to say any more about them, except: I’m still doing them and they work for me!

2. Meditate

Yes, I was the lazy so-and-so that never made it to ‘Meditation By The Lake’, every morning at Swanwick earlier this month, so I’m not really in a position to advocate this (I did try, honestly but it was all just too much of a rush and I’m not really a ‘morning person’).

However, I have occasionally used this.

There’s a bit of chit-chat at the beginning but don’t let that put you off. After a while, the video talks you through a minute of meditation and it does make you feel lovely at the end of it.

3. Read!

When I’m reading, I feel like I should be writing, so I feel guilty. But I know I don’t read enough, so I’m trying to have a book ‘on the go’ all the time.

Stephen King says, in his inspirational book ‘On Writing’, that if you want to be a writer you have to do two things: ‘Read a Lot and Write a Lot’. After all, if you don’t read published novels and stories, how can you know what’s currently being published, or what makes a good story or what kind of writing you like to read?

But what’s that got to do with ‘de-stressing as a writer’? Well, reading is RELAXING. It’s been scientifically proven that losing yourself in a book is the most relaxing thing you can do. Yes, more relaxing than a cup of tea (with cake!), more relaxing than chatting to friends.

Only 6 minutes of reading can reduce stress by two thirds, according to this article.

4. Watch TV

When I was at Swanwick, I got talking to a lovely lady who was excited about getting home on Friday night because it was the final of Channel 5’s ‘Big Brother’.

She was, shall we say, a ‘lady of a certain age’ and probably not the kind of person you might expect to be a fan of reality TV but I had to agree with her when she said that Big Brother should be required viewing for all writers: it does give you a great insight into the human psyche and there are always some real ‘characters’ on the programme.

And certainly, whenever I’ve got into a series and watched it all the way through, I’ve found it very relaxing. You can just slob in front of the TV and switch your brain off.

So, with that in mind, I’ve started watching ‘The Great British Bake-Off’ – for the first time. For no other reason than to chill out and relax (and look at cake).

5. Be ‘Time Aware’

I can happily while away hours on social media and the internet in general. Time just seems to disappear when you’re in front of Google or Facebook, doesn’t it? (I call t’internet ‘The Thief of Time’).

I’m also useless at estimating how long something will take. I always underestimate (I told ‘Him Indoors’ I’d have finished this post by 11am and we could take the dog out then, for example. It’s now 11.20am and I still haven’t finished).

I don’t do this all the time but there is a handy little ‘tool’ you can use if you want to monitor what you actually DO with your time and how much of it you actually spend writing: Have a notebook to hand and a kitchen timer and every 15 minutes, jot down what you’ve done in that time.

It may sound crazy but it only takes a few seconds and it keeps you on track!

I reward myself with 15 minutes on the internet, once I’ve done two or three ‘blocks’ of 15 minutes of writing. You have to be pretty disciplined and most of you out there probably don’t need it but I find it useful, if I want to really get down to some writing and avoid distractions.

6. Finish What You Start

Again, I am guilty of this: not finishing stuff. I have two NaNoWriMo ‘novels’ on my PC (50,000 words each), the start of a novel (10,000 words) and probably 10 or so unfinished short stories languishing on my laptop.

I read some advice to writers once, that went something like, ‘whatever you do, finish what you start’ and I think it’s worth remembering. It’s something to do with self esteem, as much as being organised and having that ‘stickability’ that you need as a writer.

We all go through phases of thinking ‘this is rubbish’ but you have to write on through that and come out the other side. You can always edit it later! (see, I’m soooo good at the theory, aren’t I?)

7. Learn to Say ‘No’!

I’m not very good at saying no. Delivering workshops in faraway places, commenting on other people’s work, attending events, meeting up with friends.. whatever it is, I tend to say ‘yes!’ and then regret it later, when I’m dashing around like a loony and getting stressed.

So, I have started to say ‘no’ to things. (My massage lady advises saying ‘let me check my diary and get back to you’) and freeing up some time. I have realised – especially as I live in the middle of nowhere and it takes ages to get anywhere – that I can’t do everything.

8. Don’t Compare Yourself To Others

Right, this is an important one (and a tricky one).

Remember ‘Friends Reunited’? I used to go on that and read about former school mates who were (apparently) ‘living the dream’ in exotic places, with high-flying jobs and deliriously-happy marriages and perfect children and it used to make me feel depressed and ‘unworthy’.

So, I banned myself from going on it (most of it was probably lies, anyway).

And, sometimes, Facebook, Twitter and other people’s blogs, can make you feel a little like that too. Everyone else has got a book deal, just sold another story or doing really, really well! And while I don’t begrudge others their success (of course not!) or their desire to share their good news, it can make you feel a little despondent if you’re not careful. Don’t compare yourself to others. Their writing, their ‘success’ is nothing to do with you: concentrate on your own. As the picture says, the only person you should be comparing yourself with – is yourself!

9. Remember Why You’re Doing It

Remember the good old days, when you started out and you were thrilled just to finish a story or write a poem? Before you got all cynical and world-weary? Shirley Blair, the fiction editor of People’s Friend, gave an example of this in her talk at Swanwick. She had to turn down someone’s story recently and the writer sent an email back in which they said they were ‘sorry not to have got the sale.’ And that, she said, was probably the reason their story wasn’t successful: they had written it with one eye on the money, rather than for the love and pleasure of writing. Yes, it’s nice to make money from our writing – and for some people it’s essential – but it can be stressful too, trying to second guess what the market wants or what will ‘sell’.

Write from the heart, write what excites you and pleases you. Remember why you’re doing it.

10. Number 10 is MISSING. *yes, it would be better if it were ’10 Ways’ but I couldn’t think of another one and I wasn’t going to stress about it! So, number 10 is over to you! Any other top tips for ‘de-stressing’ as a writer?

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33 Responses to 10* Ways For A Writer To ‘De-Stress’

  1. julielees says:

    If I had to include another it would be not to beat yourself up if the writing doesn’t flow. Too much negativity is counter-productive to the writing process, so it’s important to allow yourself that period to regroup before starting again. Interesting post, by the way.

    • Julie – yes, it’s easy to be overly critical. If It doesn’t flow, go and do something else is the usual answer (but then, perhaps that’s why I’ve got so many unfinished things lying around..!)

  2. Great list. My number 10 would be ‘get outside’. Sometimes staring at words all day, reading or writing, makes my eyes ache and being indoors makes my skin feel stuffy. I’ve been ill recently and have spent more time in bed than out walking the dog or taking the kids to the park and I definitely feel it. I also find the rhythm of walking shifts writer’s block.

    • Amanda, yes that’s a good one. Apparently Charles Dickens used to walk and walk – sometimes up to 20 miles a day (!). It helped him think/get ideas and of course, he’d have seen a lot of potential characters on his travels..!

  3. Barbara says:

    I would say-try and stay in the moment. If you are writing concentrate on that. If you are chopping carrots concentrate on that. By focussing on one thing more gets done in the end and you feel less frazzled. Also well done for listing morning pages before meditation. I was fortunate to be at one of Julia’s workshops a couple of years ago and someone asked her if he should meditate first and she said no-always morning pages first.

  4. thanks Barbara, yes, a good tip about staying the moment. I try to do/think about several things at once and it is NOT good! It’s been proved that ‘multi-tasking’ doesn’t actually save you any time in the long run. As for putting MP first.. well, of course, I knew that! (erm…)

  5. I can’t think of a number 10 but I’ve just been forced to concentrate on my writing by a publisher asking me to send my short stories (a question about this later). I sent 3 short stories to them which they said they liked and wanted to see my ‘collection’. Ha ha. My ‘collection’ was indeed a collection but of unfinished and needing tidying up stories. It made me do it though and I’m really pleased with myself.
    The question is: does anyone know anything about Austin Maccauley Publishers
    http://www.austinmacauley.com? It looks like they are a traditional publishers but I know they also, sometimes, ask for a contribution towards ‘costs’ (which I wouldn’t do). I can’t find out whether the books on their website have been contributed to.
    Secondly: is there a market for short stories in book form?
    Finally, Helen, thanks for this blog. I know I don’t contribute much but I really enjoy it and find it inspiring.

    • Stephanie
      Thanks for comment. I’ve not heard of Austin Maccauley publishers but just be a little wary – if they’re asking you for money to publish your work, then they’re not a ‘traditional’ publishers (who should be paying you!). Having said that, self-publishing is a way forward for lots of writers these days, so I’m not knocking it – but just be careful that you don’t ending up spending a lot of money! As for short stories in book form, there are plenty of those on Kindle (self-published, as e-books) and many of them are very good, so that’s certainly something you could do yourself. I know for a fact that Wendy Clarke, reader of this blog, has an article coming out in Writing magazine very soon, on that very subject…!

      • pkin847126 says:

        Thanks. I was wondering about e-books but as I still live in the dark ages I’ll have to find out more about how to do it. I’ll keep an eye out for it in Writing mag.

  6. I got up early this morning after a restless night and the first thing I did was read your blog. What an inspiration! I am now going to try the Morning Pages so I may be some time…. 🙂 Thanks for getting me motivated again, Helen.

  7. Aw, thanks, Marilyn, I’m glad it’s useful! I always find mornings are best for ‘getting going’. If I leave my writing until the afternoon, it just never happens…!

    • pkin847126 says:

      I’m the same. As long as I’ve switched on the computer and written something first thing or looked at what I did yesterday I’m in with a chance for the rest of the da. Otherwise I probably just do all the other things I think need doing and not get around to writing and then moan a lot about not doing it!

  8. Pingback: Sleep: Before and After Children | writermummy

  9. charliebritten says:

    As someone who has suffered from writers’ block for quite a while now, thank you. I agree with what you say about reading and I’m starting to think about watching TV, something I don’t do at the moment. What really gets under my skin is those writers who tell you absolutely MUST write something EVERY DAY. If you’re stressed, overloaded and above all exhausted, you can’t.

    And as for being menopausal, haven’t a lot of male writers written while under the influence of the male menopause?

  10. I definitely identified with underestimating how long things take, especially when telling hubby you’ll be free at…. and it doesn’t happen. That always stresses me out!
    I’m trying to set up a system myself at the moment where I write down an overview of the week ahead in a notebook which includes reading, FB and Twitter etc. as well as writing tasks. It means (note – this is, ‘in theory’!) that I can look at it each day and decide what will be on the ‘today list’ (which may or may not include any social networking THAT day) in the hope that I can tick things off and feel I’m in control. Like it said, that’s the theory… But sometimes, just the thinking time needed to get started can eat up so much time in itself.
    I’ll be interested to hear how you get on, Helen. Good luck!

  11. charliebritten says:

    Thinking time is indeed very important. Try doing a few manual jobs in the house.

  12. juliathorley says:

    I would add: every 30 minutes, stand up and have a good stretch. Get your energy moving again.

  13. Sabrina says:

    Thanks for that inspiring list 🙂

  14. Linda says:

    Don’t know if I can add anything useful here because I’ve always found writing helps me to cope with stress in other areas of my life. It’s where I can sort out my thoughts, see problems from a different angle and indulge in some lovely escapism.
    One trick I do use when I’m stuck with a piece of writing (especially if a deadline is looming) is to drastically restrict my writing time. Instead of spending more time on it, I’ll set my timer for just 5 minutes, or tell myself I can only write one sentence,and then I go off and do something physical like housework or gardening. It’s amazing how quickly the ideas start coming when you’re not allowed to write them down.

  15. KH says:

    Hi Helen, I’d add give yourself the opportunity to write something you really want to write without considering whether an editor or anyone else in the world will want to read or buy it. Writing for publication can be draining. Writing for the joy of the magic you can create with words is inspiring. You may just sell some of those stories you write for yourself! All good wishes Kate Hogan

    • Kathy, that sounds like good advice. I think we can get too tied up in trying to write for ‘a market’. Actually, if we write what we like and enjoy, the chances are, someone else will like it too! (but obviously, if you’re writing for People’s Friend, leave out the wild sex and bad language!)

  16. Leonora Francis says:

    I totally agree with KH. When I was trying to write for the mags i.e. giving them what I thought they wanted, it was a disaster. I’ve sold lots more stories since I started writing for myself. It also helped me to find my own voice. One day I put all the rejected stories and the unfinished ones in a file and swore I would never look at them again. Best thing I ever did. Now, I get up in the morning and set a timer for one hour. If I find my muse and keep on writing until midnight, that’s okay. If I write one sentence that’s okay, too. If the piece isn’t working for me, it goes in the file and I start with something new the next day. It has really freed me up and made my writing day less stressful. Write for yourself for a while, like KH suggests. You just never know what might happen. Good luck. Leonora Francis. P.S. Love your stories

    • Leonora, I’m so thrilled you’ve left a message on my blog (and it’s great advice!!). I love your stories. They’re always a little bit ‘different’ – and I don’t just mean because the characters are ‘multi-cultural’! They have real warmth and humanity -and often humour too. (ooh, are you blushing now?!) You’ve clearly hit the right note with WW and PF (your name was mentioned in Shirley Blair’s talk at Swanwick, by the way, in very complimentary tones!!) and clearly, your method of working is working for you. Good for you. And thanks for dropping by!

      • Leonora Francis says:

        Well, thank you for your kind comments. Yes, I am blushing. You’ll be blushing too when I tell you I have been following your blog for years. It’s just that I’ve been afraid to comment because I’m a little shy of my work. You’ve always got such interesting information to share and you’re so generous with it, too x

  17. Ninette says:

    I’ve just seen a comment above supposedly made by me! ‘Okay we’ll pick you up at 16.45’ You must have wondered what an earth that meant!!! I did write that in an email..(to someone else – very creepy) I cannot understand how it ended up here as a comment. So sorry. I don’t seem to be able to remove it!

    No-one has queried it, as far as I can see. Must be because we’re mostly mad writers and accept the bizarre. I’m sure there could be a story there somewhere.

    By the way, at this moment I am trying very hard to do number 6 – finish what I have started…believe me there seem to be many unfinished pieces of writing; a radio play, two novels, several short stories and even a screenplay. Thanks as ever for this wonderful blog. I’ve read it a few times now. 🙂

    • Ninette, I was WAITING – where were you at 16.45?! I was all dressed up and raring to go.. to wherever it was (some kind of mystery tour, clearly). It was the best offer I’d had all week, month, year…! No, actually, I did see it and I thought ‘Uh? That’s not meant for me!’ and then I forgot all about it until you spotted it! Very mysterious. Let’s hope your diary entries don’t suddenly start appearing on my blog! Could be embarrassing?!

  18. Emily says:

    There’s some great tips here that I’ll definitely be trying out. I agree with the point about feeling guilty for not writing when you’re reading; I thought I was the only one who felt like that!

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