Stop and Have Some Fun: Avoiding Burnout and Unnecessary Stress

2014-03-22 22.39.37So I have a not-so-secret secret for you: too much nose to the grindstone with zero fun makes you crazy.

Yes, I know, not exactly genius. But you’d think it was. I’ve been pushing really hard to get a book ready in time for conference. Like crazy-time pushing, meaning I didn’t even take the weekend off. Every day meant thousands of words, either writing them, deleting them, or a bit of both. Which is fine, for a little while. But as my mind narrowed too much on the story, and all I could see were the two remaining chapters that weren’t working, what it translated to was me seeing the entire manuscript as not working.

Seriously, on Friday last week I almost would have printed out the entire manuscript just to start it on fire. This is not a healthy approach to my work.

So I took the weekend off. And I stewed on Friday and Saturday, felt generally miserable even as I started to play up in the craft room (I’ll post on my other blog, Craft Room Chronicles, what I was up to). And then Saturday night I decided yet again not to work, even on the critiques I owe my partners (Friday night is critique night in my world). Instead I watched the first Harry Potter movie, with all of those actors so young, just kids, and the beautiful sets that beg you to recreate them in miniature.

And suddenly I felt a lot better. The rest of the nonsense I’d been worrying about, all sorts of things I have absolutely no control over, that evaporated. Today I could go back to writing, and while completing a chapter-by-chapter synopsis, I could actually see maybe the book was, gasp, not terrible!

So again with my not-so-genius advice, which I’m ashamed to say both my husband and best friend advised (and I duly ignored and denied). Take a break. Have some fun. Your brain and mental outlook will thank you. It’s a bright beautiful world out there, and sometimes we just need a change of perspective. 🙂

Ever have that moment, where you’re just too stuck in what you’re doing to know when you need to step away?

Thanks for reading, and hope you have a great week. Happy writing!

8 Ways to Shake Off the Winter Slump

Remember last week (and possibly the week before) when I mentioned how I was kind of in a slump? Kind of down and into running away?

I think I’ve finally started to shake it. And I thought I’d share how, just in case you’re still stuck in a state of Winter-Blahs since spring seems oh so far away (first day of spring was Thursday here … and it snowed. Again. I hate snow is becoming a motto to live by.)

Anyhoo, some of these things are really not rocket science, and I’ve heard them before … but I have a very hard head, evidently, and sometimes it takes more than once (or possibly a small anvil) to get me to actually help myself. So without further ado, how to shake off the blahs and feel better:

  1. Connect to people. Talk to them. Meet new people. For me, this was and is hard. I like talking to people, 2014-03-22 22.39.37but I find actually putting myself out there to meet people a bit terrifying. I’m afraid of being burned, hurt, shut-out. But the reward of a funny conversation with someone new, a shared smile, is SO worth it. Promise.
  2. Let in the sun. Whether that means going out for a walk or even a drive, let the sun shine on your face, and let in good feelings. Sometimes we’ve been shutting them out without even knowing it.
  3. Give yourself something to look forward to. I have an upcoming vacation which does help, but I also found that I’ve been feeling down how to get through the weeks after, since spring seems soooo faaaaaarrrrr (note the more stupid snow on Thursday?). And then I got my new seed and bulb catalogue from a Garden and Nursery company, and just looking through those pictures started getting me excited about my garden, and what I’d plant, and what this year would turn out like. When you’re a gardener, seeds are naturally imbued with hope (they really are the future), but other things work, too. What about events that are coming in a month or so? Look for something to put on your calendar and start counting down the days.
  4. Put on some upbeat, happy music. Music seriously affects my mood, which is why I have specific disks I’ve made with “happy music,” some of it just music that I really love, some stuff amusing, like “He’s got high hopes.” Sometimes it’s just a great song on an upbeat radio station. (And if you’re looking to create a compilation for yourself, try showtunes, seriously. They’re so cheerful it’s almost nauseating … but fun.)
  5. Read or watch something funny. Read a funny book, watch a funny movie. Let yourself just enjoy, without over-analyzing or trying to be down (though that might just be me.) 😉
  6. Try to see the world with a child’s eyes. Ever notice that kids love snow? They love playing in the rain and out in the puddles. They love playing, altogether. And sometimes, it really pays to just get down with them and let yourself try and feel some of the sheer joy they feel. Because that’s allowed – and strongly encouraged! And it’ll probably at least give you a smile.
  7. Give yourself a little treat, especially a silly one. The little … “thingy” in the image? He was my treat one day, quite some time ago. He was free, I have no idea what he’s supposed so be, but he made me smile. On weekends, I love to go to dollar stores, just ’cause if I find something I like (craft supplies, home stuff, kids stuff, etc), I can buy something and not have to worry about the cost much. Those are my little treats. Do you have some for yourself?
  8. Go play! Take your play seriously, letting go and just having fun and shutting out all the voices that want to stop that fun (like inner editors when you’re trying to write, ambitions, to-do lists, etc.) Make something with no particular purpose. Write something just because you want to. Go jump in puddles. Just remember, play. Life’s too short, and way too dull otherwise. 🙂

Okay, so that’s my two cents and my likely reused advice. But know what? It works.

What works for you? Why not share?

Have a great week, thanks for reading, and here’s to sunshine, happiness, and some play. 🙂

Self-Doubt and Toilet Bowls: 10 Tips to Climb out of Despair

I recently found myself whirling around the toilet bowl of self-doubt. I know it means I’m on the downward swing of the usual emotional rollar-coaster stuff, but trust me, it still felt pretty awful. This was after, as I tried starting rewrites, it felt like I had bashed my head into a brick wall enough times that said wall had bloodied my forehead and torn away the tips of my fingers. This led to the whole floundering around in toilet water.

There are some writers who claim to never experience this downward swing – or in fact, any emotional rollar-coaster of confidence (or lack thereof) and emotion throughout their career. If you are one of them, congrats to you, but this post is not for you.

For the rest of us, pop your head out of the toilet-bowl long enough to read this. I’m hoping it will help.

The quote, by the way, of spiraling down the toilet of self-doubt is not mine – but unfortunately I don’t know exactly who said it first to attribute it to them. Suffice it to say they did a great job of accurately assessing the feeling. Here’s the thing: writing – especially if your goal is publication via traditional means – can get frustrating and disheartening. And most of us aren’t perfect (none of us, actually, but if you think your different … again, probably not the post for you). Anyway, my point is that as we go through stages in building our career and fine-tuning our craft, it can be easy to fall into pits of despair, and in the worst case scenario, even give up writing or do something likewise drastic – and unnecessary!

Here are 10 tips to help you escape any self-imposed despair (I’ve been trying them myself, and my clothes are almost dry after all that floundering and splashing around).

  1. Separate yourself from the road or path that you’re on. The pitfalls are part of the road – not you. Think about this for a minute. Especially now, traditional publishing is still reeling, and it’s never been easy in any case to get your book in print-form. That’s not your fault. Trends change. The path can be easier for some … and now harder for you. You can’t know how long your path will be – only that it’s yours alone, and that you will never reach the end if you don’t keep going.
  2. Create self-affirmations about you and your writing to keep you going (or get you going again). For me, a reminder to separate myself from the road is a help. Reminding myself that today – or tomorrow – is the day I succeed. Inspiring quotes by other writers. Whatever works for you. Make a jar of them to draw when needed. Sticky-note them in your workspace. Or post them on a wall you see from your work station as I did. Whatever works to help you see those positive thoughts when you have trouble thinking them.
  3. Take an attitude break. Step outside of the current situation and your negativity – maybe by doing something fun, trying to get a bit more objectivity on the situation.
  4. Don’t borrow trouble – or disaster – unnecessarily. Remember that we have a tendency to blow things out of proportion. A small problem becomes a disaster. Step back, assess, or discuss with someone else for greater objectivity.
  5. Ensure that your self-talk and inner voice only says the kind of the things you’d say to you best friend if they were in your shoes. Seriously, the things we’ll say to ourselves are things we’d never say aloud to another living being; do yourself a favor and try and curb this.
  6. Give yourself a tea (or coffee) break. Literally, walk away from whatever is frustrating you for a little while. Lay on the sofa. Go for a walk. When you come back, it might not be as bad as you think.
  7. Read and do things that make you feel good. Check out positive books about success against the odds, watch a favorite funny movie, go spend some time with friends – do things that will make you feel better, and allow yourself to feel better.
  8. Don’t do things that will hurt you. Did you just read a terrible review? Why? Who says you have to? Do you search for disasters in the news posts? Don’t do things that make you more upset or confirm your gloominess; it’s useless.
  9. Share love and kindness. Make eye contact and smile at a stranger. Give a loved-one a hug. Tell them how important they are to you. Love and kindness has a way of coming back around – and tends to make us happier (go figure).
  10. Remember that YOU are the only one who can write your story. Your writing may not be perfect. The manuscript and plot may be a mess, and others have told you they’ve heard a werewolf / mystery / [insert your story idea here] before – but your take on it will be completely different than someone else’s because it comes from you. And unless you hold true to your vision, keep to your path, it will never get shared with the world.

Thanks for reading. Climb on out of that toilet, and have a great week.