This blog is all about increasing your productivity and writing better, faster. So I’d forgive you for thinking that all I ever do it write, that I’m chained to my keyboard when I’m not eating or sleeping. But I’m not all about that. In fact, I’m quite laid back. I realised a long time ago that it’s impossible to be working on your writing 100% of the time. Yet, for most writers, especially those who are trying to write their first novel, script or blog post, the pressure to keep yourself in front of a screen can be overwhelming. So I’m writing to tell you to take a step back, to stop worrying about what you’re worrying about, and most importantly, to stop stressing about writing.
And the best way to do that – share with you an experience that I had, and how I overcame it.
What happened to me
Only last year, before I started focusing on my work in a more structured way, I let the pressure get to me. I remember sitting on the end of the bed and, for no real reason, feeling really down. It was silly, as just downstairs my supportive family were tucking into their evening meal. But I had hundreds of ideas bouncing around in my head, but didn’t have anything to write them down on. The project I was working on wasn’t finished, and some initial feedback had given me at lot of work to do before draft 3 would be ready. I was really down, worried if I’d ever get the project finished.
Then the rest of the concerns and worries started flooding in. What if I’m not a very good writer? What if I’ve wasted my life on a pastime that I’ll never be good at, and will never really enjoy? What if my stories, even if I love them, appall and confuse my readers? Should I just pack up the laptop, close down my projects and give up?
(If you want to hear a similar rant, I really recommend picking up a copy of ‘Bird by Bird’ by Anne Lamott. I read it after I had this mini-crisis, and I wish that I’d done so earlier. It would have put a lot of my thoughts into perspective).
With a few deep breaths and I was able to take a step back. I tried to come up with a solution, and, after a bit of internal dialogue, I came up with one to help me stop stressing about writing. I came up with a plan. I resolved to remove distractions that were stopping me achieving my goal. I told myself to go downstairs and enjoy the time with my family. In hindsight, those five minutes calmed me down and stopped my panic developing into something more serious. And I realized – I had to relax more and stop stressing about writing!
Why learning to take time off makes you a better writer
Do you do any exercise? Do you know anyone who does? Are you aware of the concept of exercise?
You very rarely see athletes, or in fact anyone (apart from Eddie Izzard), exercise or compete for a number of days in a row. Unless they are competing in a low impact sport like golf, athletes need to take some time to rest and recover. If that is true of your body, why do humans expect our brains to work at high intensities, and not stop? We are constantly pushing stimulation and inputs into our minds and we wonder why it occasionally pushes back.
After exercise, muscles recover and grow stronger. A regular runner will find that they get faster as their legs get stronger. Without the rest between each sprint though, the runner’s legs won’t get a chance to get better. Good athletes understand that recovery is as important as the training. Your brain is as much of a muscle as your legs. You need to make sure that you are relaxing it when you get the chance. This will let it grow and get stronger.
Have you ever had a flash of inspiration in the shower, reading a book, or chopping vegetables? This is an example of your brain getting a chance to recover and process problems at a different speed. It’s an amazing tool and by focusing on something that isn’t your project you’ll find that it still works away. Just remember to come back to it in the end!
Ways to relax
I don’t know if I can really help you with this! I find that most people know, deep down, what helps them to relax.
Although TV is constantly berated for reducing productivity and distracting people, a few episodes of something like Brooklyn 99 or Gavin and Stacey can force you to stop and let your body and mind relax. And I don’t even like one of those programmes.
If meditation is your thing, try Headspace, or my favourite Stop, Breath, Think. A lot of people find meditation difficult but depending on how you use it, it can be a great way to go through problems, or empty your mind of what’s making you feel stressed.
When did you last try getting outside? Even taking five minutes to walk to the shops will help. Getting those legs pumping and the blood flowing will allow you to look upon the blinking cursor not as an enemy, but a friend. And if you’re lucky enough to live near some real wilderness, take the chance to get out in it every now and again. You’ll feel better.
One thing to remember
This shouldn’t be an excuse. Giving in to it every now and again is healthy. Don’t feel guilty for watching Netflix when you should be writing. Just make sure that you are still doing some writing and you have some kind of output. Relaxation will stop you stressing, but it shouldn’t stop you from reaching your goals.