Stress and the Part-Time Writer

My mind—like most minds that grew up watching television—runs non-stop during waking hours. There is always noise just below conscious thought that can sometimes be suppressed through short bouts of great concentration or music. It’s something I’ve come to deal with as a part of life.

But when I’m stressed, that noise gets louder and louder until it’s not noise anymore. Instead, it cracks and breaks into thoughts–partial and complete—zipping across my brain like each of them has had five shots of espresso. I could sit for hours and not finish a line of thought having entertained hundreds of racing ideas and snippets of internal conversation.

This makes it difficult to write, to say the least. I recently set a weekly goal of 7,000 words (outline and prose) with the intention of being DONE with draft 1 of SAAFire in about 6 weeks.

This is week one. I’ve written about 400 words of outline. To stay on target, I need to write 6,400 words in the next 24 hours.

Is that going to happen?

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During these busy times, it can be difficult not to see writing as a chore. The daily word count, the weekly word count, and the long stretches between opening up Scrivener become Work with a capital “W,” not part-time hobby/work—all while spending much of my “free time” lost in my own thoughts, mentally planning out the next scenes.

The danger in this is that, as I’ve mentioned before, NOT writing makes the stress worse. It’s a creative catch-22.

I’ve come to know that a solution that works for someone else won’t necessarily work for me, but I’ve come to believe that a single solution won’t always work for me. I need an arsenal of potential stress-combating weapons to keep me on target.

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Maybe it would be better to use the Force, instead…

Usually, I fall back on exercise and sleep to help me stay rested and ready to take on life but, this year, I’m training to hike the Grand Canyon so the whole exercise angle is actually working against me. Not only does it take up more time than usual, there is pressure to perform at or above a certain level—and it’s not always fun.

This time around, I’m going to try a couple new things.

Less is More (aka Outlining Instead of Prose Writing)

I’m going to back off prose writing altogether (except for one chapter for The Wandering Penguins and because I’ve practically written it anyway) and work on finishing my outline. This lets me paint broad strokes and accomplish much instead of spending unproductive hours figuring out little details and get just as little done.

This means I’m bringing my weekly word count threshold to 3,000 with a goal of completing my outline for the entire book (including what I’ve written because I’ll likely have to rewrite much of it) by November 1st. But, since this is the first novel-sized outline I’m trying to finish, that’s a flexible deadline.

Playing for Keeps (aka Bringing Music Back Into My Life)

Lesser known facts: I played viola in middle school and high school and I still have my instrument–mostly because it was a huge investment on my parents’ part but also because I always thought I might want to pick it up again outside of a classroom environment.

Sure, it took about 8 years to get there but, hey, I was in New York for two of those!

For those who don’t know what a viola is, it’s something that looks like a big violin that plays notes an octave above a cello. It’s the best of both the violin and the cello and anyone who makes fun of it is just jealous. 😉

I very recently got my viola out again, spent about an hour tuning it and figuring out where my fingers are really supposed to go (with my trusty tuning app on Android), and downloaded some simple sheet music I am already familiar with (so I know how it’s supposed to sound).

Turns out, I really missed playing music. I’m kind of looking forward to building up the callouses on my soft little fingertips again. Apparently, I really like playing music and maybe pressure from class and teachers was ruining the fun.

And that’s the big thing. That is what I don’t want happening to my writing. That is what I think most part-time writers are terrified of: our hobby becoming our chore and a job we have to do, not one we want to do.

Of course, there will always be deadlines and Work time for professional writers of any stripe, but that’s not what I mean. I put my viola down for 8 years because I couldn’t stand to listen to classical music or play because someone else told me to anymore. My writing is different, it’s more a part of who I am rather than a thing I do, but an unhappy writer will create either an unhappy story or a poorly-written story. I don’t want that to be me, so I’m easing off the writing throttle and playing music again as ways to carry my story through a stressful time.

I guess we’ll see how it works.

Of course, there’s always my trusty Zoe, who is a registered therapy dog and provides cuteness and happiness to me and the people we visit.

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I think you can keep this toy mom, it doesn’t squeak right.

What do you do to relieve stress and keep your story strong? Leave a comment below!

Author: JA Goodsell

I write YA fantasy, blog about it, and then take my dog out for therapy. My current manuscript is INNATE, a story of two sisters caught up in a war between the gods. Find me on Twitter at @JAGoodsell or Instagram at books_and_dogs

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