Listen, uncertainty is coming at us from all sides. From the "what the f*** is it now" sideshow in Washington DC or the simple economic realities of your home town, we are dealing with more and more stressful and uncertain times. If your a writer, you're managing all of the societal stress as well as the never-ending struggle of making a living, selling books, dealing with reviews, and communicating like a human being with your readers. That's stress on steroids!
Stress will kill your creativity.
In, How Stress Assassinates your Creativity, Robbie Blair gives an overview of the reasons stress might give you writer's block, and will certainly zap your creative energy.
"Whenever we're stressed, the brain reallocates resources to the primitive parts of the brain, prioritizing primal emotions over abstract thinking and motor control over creativity. When we get behind the barrier of stress, we're locked out of the creative part of the brain at a basic neurological level."
In the article, he goes through the theoretical construct of "evolutionary" brains -- reptilian, neo-mammalian, mammalian -- as well as the research science behind the reduction of creativity due to stress.
Basically, our modern life stress convinces our brains that we are in a life and death struggle. We loose access to the higher levels of our brain (neo-mammalian, mammalian) and thus lose our creativity. If we have early life stressors (basically the shitty early life of most writers), we're more likely to fall through to the reptilian brain in no time flat.
What's a writer to do?
Let's face it, historically, most writers eased their stress through the use of substances such as alcohol or drugs. Hemmingway was a well know alcoholic. James Joyce was, as well. We know that Jack Kerouac took off across the country on a benzedrine fuel trip. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and William Burroughs were opium addicts. Jack London was a pothead. Of course, we all know about Stephen King's struggle with alcohol and cocaine.
And the women? -- what women used drugs and/or alcohol for their stress? Sylvia Plath had terrible, blinding migraines which she took a variety of medications for including the antidepressants credited for her suicidal ideation. Elizabeth Barrett Brown was an opium addiction, specifically Laudanum. Ayn Rand was addicted to meth amphetamines. Carson Mc Cullers and Dorothy Parker's alcohol dependence cut short their lives short.
The truth is that we don't know a lot about the substance use of women authors because, like everything female and writerly, the media focuses on men.
The bottom line is that substance abuse is not the answer. Drugs and alcohol steal creativity and cut short your life. They are no answer to dealing with your stress.
3 ways to manage stress for greater creativity
- Start each writing session with a few minutes of meditation: The best way to keep stress from invading your creativity is to create a practice in which you take a few minutes to meditate before each writing session. The easiest way to do that is by using a free meditation app such as Calm.com (not an affiliate link)When I was first writing, I would get very anxious just writing. I wrote entire books with the Calm.com ocean beach playing in the background. It helped keep me calm and creative. I often leave my journal out when I'm meditating to capture any stray thoughts that may be running around in my head.
I think of meditating before writing as simply "good writing hygiene." It helps you make the transition from the world to your writing life. It can set you up to be ready to get the work done when you have time.
Would I still meditate if I had only an hour to write? Yes. It's worth it.
- Set a timer for 90 minutes. We now know that more than sitting more than 90 minutes at a time is as deadly as smoking cigarettes. Set a timer on your watch, phone, or computer for 90 minutes. When the timer goes off, get up and move around. Do a few jumping jacks. Press out five squats. The 7 minute workout is awesome. Pull up bar, push ups, run the stairs -- just get moving.
You're thinking: "90 minutes? I'm just getting started! This will make me more stressed out." It does take some getting used to.
What we know is that by sitting around, the stress builds up in our bodies. A five minute break every hour and a half helps siphon off some of that stress. Practice this for a week. You may just find that your overall stress level reduces. You might even drop a size in your favorite jeans
- Stay in your lane. I get it. We're called to show up in so many areas of life now. As authors, we have a broader perspective on the world. For those of us who write international intrigue, the newspapers and social media are literally our research materials. We cannot shut down the world so that we can get some work done.
You did not come to writing by accident. Most authors feel as if they were born to write. This is particularly true for women because there are so many barriers to our writing careers.
If we scatter our energy toward every email we receive asking for help, we will spend all of our time and energy doing everything else but writing.
We are writers because we were born to do this work. Your greatest impact will always be where from your writing. If you feel called to make a difference, do it through your writing. Try being more honest. Include characters who represent different ethnicities or abilities. Write about situations only you know about. Get real with yourself and your story.
Here are three easy ways to cut down on distractions:
a. Write on a computer that is not connected to the Internet. Yes, it sounds extreme, but you can do research on your phone. This is also a great way to keep those who hack out of your unpublished work and personal information.
b. Use a browser extension that blocks websites. My favorites are the one from Calm.com (this ones brand new) and Block Site. The apps are free tools which block websites where you tend to waste time. You set it up so that you can block out what you need, while keeping the sites you don't need.
c. Headphones, baby. Life is noisy. Get yourself a pair of noise-blocking headphones. You can listen to music for focus (search "focus" on your favorite music streaming site) or simply listen to the quiet. People are less likely to interrupt you if you have on headphones. They assume you're on a call or can't hear them.
With a little bit of prevention and stress release, you will continue a high level of creative work! Good luck!
--Claudia Hall Christian 10/11/2017