Saturday, June 25, 2011

Writing: The funny things stress do to your head

I've spoken before about how different writers handle stress. I recall Jay Lake talking about writing during a bout of cancer, and a friend of mine post February 22 finished and submitted a novel to a publisher.

Unfortunately, what the last four months has proved to me that when it comes to the crunch I find it very difficult to write, especially fiction, during times of stress. My blogging has dropped off too. My fiction writing has taken another hit in productivity in the last couple of weeks. I hate myself for it, and I hate myself for facing up to it and blogging about it because it sounds like just another massive whine.

But it's not. I have to remind myself that this time in my personal and Christchurch history is the toughest thing I've ever had to go through in my life. I know I'm being hard on myself, but I can't help it. I've always had high expectations. I promised myself to be accountable for my word count, and I'm failing at it.

Two weeks ago I thought things were starting to get a little better. While some big changes were happening personally and around the city, I was beginning to feel more optimistic and really happy that my writing was getting back on track. I'd finally got that holiday I'd been promising myself for almost six months, and I was starting to feel refreshed. I'd even written something that excited and invigorated me.

Then June 13 happened. Two large aftershocks in one day, within 90 minutes of each other, that worsened the damage around the city and set back recovery efforts (one of them was a 6.3, the equivalent magnitude of February 22). The only thing I can be grateful for on that day is that I wasn't at work. I believe if I had been at work in town I would have been triggered with flashbacks and sent right back to square one (apparently equipment fell down in my office this time which people agree would have set me off). I don't talk about the Day Job here, but I am making vague references here just to illustrate where my writing head is at.

And it's not great. I have a 'deadline': a competition I want to enter closes mid August and I'm really struggling with the story I want to write for it. I don't want to give up on it because I love the venue that it's going to. But at what point do I admit defeat? I have the Big Idea of the story, but every time I sit down to get it out, it's coming out all wrong. If I don't believe in the story, I'll half arse it, and it will show. I believe in only submitting my best.

Amongst all this writerly angst I can see the lessons. I am learning that I don't do deadlines well, and that's a first step towards figuring out how to deal with them. I imagine I will have more of them if I ever get serious about writing The Novel. I am learning how far I can push myself into the writing habit depending on the state of my headspace, and I believe I'm getting better at partitioning the stress. I can write when I really BELIEVE in what I'm writing - the story that excited my so much in the last couple of weeks I completed on June 14, when I was feeling pretty weird from the day before. Perhaps the distraction is good - sometimes getting into my worlds is helpful for taking my mind off things.

The one thing that is sustaining me is the amount of stories I have out there on slushpiles. There are many. I'm not caring if I'm getting rejections. Oddly enough, not much communication of any sort from anywhere, but that's OK - having them out there is the thing.

Keep Calm...Keep struggling your way through, and carry on writing.

Admit it: you are jealous (of relaxo-cat)

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