When Writing Starts to Feel Stressful Instead of Fun

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Last night I did a brief reading from Grey Stone for the Midwest Writer’s Guild. It was my first reading from Grey Stone and was fun and a good learning experience for any future readings that might come up. After the reading the Guild president asked me, “What has been the most unexpected thing for you in publishing a book?” I answered that it was the marketing–how much effort it took to launch and promote a book. That was the truest answer I had in that moment, but as I’ve thought about the question over the last couple of days, I realized that the most unexpected thing for me has actually been the pressure. Before Grey Stone was published, I wrote for an hour or two every day. Every day. But it was squeezed mostly into the evenings or some quiet times in the afternoon. This was necessitated through my stay-at-home-and-care-for-my-kids status, which I thoroughly enjoyed, but which took most of my daytime hours. Every couple years I’d publish an article or story. I had a food blog that I maintained. I read good books and tried, occasionally, to think a deep thought. And I really enjoyed my place as a sort of hobbyist writer.

Since Grey Stone released (and my children all got old enough to go to school), that hobby status has changed, and with it the pressure I’ve felt to produce and perform has risen in ways that were, for me, completely unanticipated. I’ve hesitated to even think too much about this “problem” as I am well aware that fulfilling a dream and getting a book published are huge blessings, which I’m extremely grateful for. And yet. That doesn’t mean that the blessing hasn’t come with a cost. It’s this cost that has been the most unexpected thing for me. And it’s this cost that I think it’s important as writers (and human beings) to recognize and confront early on in the game. Shortly after Grey Stone‘s release, I felt a tremendous amount of pressure to produce its companion book Grey Lore, as quickly and well as possible so that it is ready to come out next summer. Then my co-writer had a great idea for another series that we will write together. And I woke up in the middle of the night a few months ago with my own idea for a teen crime mystery (how that came into this girly brain will ever be its own mystery). Plus I’m helping a dear friend write her own memoir about her life as a drug user, addict, seller, and then her recovery and transformation (so maybe a little of the crime mystery mojo came from that). And then I have my food blog. And I’m still a mother of four kids, still a wife, still the owner of a house and several gardens with more weeds than it seems karma should have granted me. This is all stuff I love, all stuff I want to do. But just after Grey Stone‘s release I found myself feeling angry about a lot of it, stressed, and losing sleep. I realized one day that all of the sudden, instead of anticipating writing with the euphoria that I used to feel when I had the privilege of doing it at the end of the day, I was starting to view it as a sometimes tedious task that had to be completed. And, frankly, it was cramping my style. It’s really hard to be creative when you feel like you HAVE to do something, and do it well and do it quickly. I didn’t want to lose the thrill, joy, peace, and open creativity that I’d felt previously with my writing. I also didn’t want to lose the fairly healthy balance that I’d found in my life between family, work, and those tedious little life things (like cleaning your bathroom) that just have to get done.

And so I stepped back. And because I like lists, I’ll tell you what I did.

-I stepped away from the crazy marketing monster that was trying to eat me, and decided to only do marketing for an hour each night.

-I also agreed with myself that I would write every day, but that I would not set a time limit for myself necessarily. If I got some writing done, I got a pat on the back. And with this I found that I almost always wrote for at least an hour, often longer. I also tried to give most of my time to Grey Lore (and do work on it every day), but to commit a bit of time several days a week to the other projects to keep them in my foremind and the creative juices flowing. In fact, I even have days for some things. Like, Monday is food blog day. That way it’s just easier to stay on top of things.

-I exercise each morning before I jumped into my writing. I’ve always been a daily exerciser, but as the pressure had mounted, I’d begun to try to get in an hour or two of work before my workout and then my workout would get cut short, or I’d be really tired. Or it’d be afternoon, and the day was just rolling by. Or–I’d feel crappy and tight and grumpy while writing. Whereas when I exercised first, I felt fresh and bright-minded and ready to go.

I would do what was most important first. This was hard for me because my writing was very important. But there were other things that were more important–my kids, my husband, my faith, my health. It was sort of easy to cram these things into the corners of my days because I was telling myself I’d get to them later or that this was just a busy time, or that I was doing well enough so it would be okay. And there is a time and a place for that attitude in life–times when you just “get by,” times when you ask those you love to hang on for a minute because you just need to get this done. But for me it had reached a threshold. It was time to stop cramming the most important stuff into the side places of my life.  So I started forcing myself to do them before writing. And, yes, I had to force myself. I had to think harder about stuff because just “spend some time with kids” was too vague and would end up not getting done. I had to ask myself, “What do I need to do for my kids this week that I don’t have to do, but that would benefit them?” Then I had to write it down. Sometimes on my hand. Because otherwise, I would just get caught up with other in-my-face things and forget what valuable, yet less tangible things I had decided to do in life (so, yes, you just heard me tell you to write the valuable, intangible things in life on your hand so you remember to do them). It didn’t even usually take very long (and I’m still not perfect at doing this), but it meant that the very most important stuff started getting done more often and better than it had been.

It’s brought a little balance back and the fun of creativity.

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