You 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!
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.
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?