On Writing and Bad Stress

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Today I want to talk about stress. So, here’s a funny thing: I think there’s good stress and bad stress. Good stress for me is an exciting new deadline! Revisions that have to be done right now! Feedback that has to be incorporated! Bad stress, on the other hand, deals with everything that isn’t related to writing. It either originates from a non-person related outside source (e.g. like a shortage of funds or not having enough dark chocolate) OR… OR… OR… it comes from me either seeking or listening to other people’s opinions/drama–and there is no shortage of either. Not all of them (opinions) are valuable, and most of them aren’t related to “me” at all. Typically, they fall into one of two categories in my experience: “This methodology worked for me (or for a writer I met), so I assume it’ll work for everybody else.” And “I’m not sure what full-time writers do, but here’s a bunch of opinions about that based on my romanticized views of [insert famous author here].”

I realize this may come as a shock, but writing is work. Like any other job, writing can be a calling and, in my case, it definitely is. But, how to move forward, how to take on/find more mini-jobs, how to build a career… That is where my head needs to be, and where it’s always been when I’m not suffering from bad stress. I realize this line of thinking, to treat writing like work and an actual job, is unsexy. It’s plain. It’s vanilla. It’s yet another cat picture, and not a good one at that. But, if I don’t take it seriously and treat writing as a job, I don’t write, because then it’s not a priority for me. Then it’s a hobby that I do whenever I feel like it, and that is hugely damaging to my career.

What I do about Bad Stress

Realization time! Every rotten moment I have had as a writer originates from bad stress, and the vast majority of those moments come from what I couldn’t control. Why am I not beating myself up over it? 1) That’s in the past. 2) I can only manage what I can control, but the number one thing I need to do is write. Period. And 3) Encountering bad stressors is normal, because it happens to everybody. What matters, then, is what I do next. How do I use those moments to inspire me to keep at it?

To this end, I use the K.I.S.S. system which I am quite fond of. I use K.I.S.S. as a motivational tool, rather than as an excuse to sacrifice quality or take shortcuts, etc. Here’s what I do. Ready? It’s so simple, I probably sound like an idiot who mixed anchovies and oranges and peanut butter together with vinegar. Ew! Anyway, here goes: I come up with slogans to cheer myself on.

  • Real artists ship
  • Writers write
  • Can’t get paid unless I hit Send!
  • Want to be a novelist? Finish my novels.
  • Want to be hired for comics/novels/etc.? Finish my comics/novels/etc. on spec.
  • Create > consume.

Or, alternatively, I come up with a zillion mini-goals I can sneak in throughout the day that I know I can achieve. This helps reduce bad stress related to feeling like I’m not getting the non-writing bits done, provided my priorities are in place. Notice, none of these goals are meant to take longer than an hour. I am a mini-tasking self-proselytizing evangelist, as breaking up larger goals into smaller chunks really helps me get through the day.

  • Clean my desk
  • Free write up to 3 pages
  • Read a short story by somebody else
  • Spend 30 minutes re-organizing my computer files
  • Spend 30 minutes cutting down my e-mails to less than 50
  • Spend 30 minutes researching new markets
  • Spend 30 minutes e-mailing folks I haven’t talked to in a while
  • Spend 60 minutes on a word sprint!

Notice how all of this is to ensure I stay on task and write? A focus on word count and production doesn’t mean I don’t care about building relationships or forming networks, etc. This is all about reducing bad stress by ensuring I don’t get distracted, as words are my stock and trade. ‘Cause when I don’t write? That is the worst possible stress of all. That’s when I don’t have any reason to plan for a career, because I have nothing without dem words.

Monica Valentinelli is an author, artist, and narrative designer who writes about magic, mystery, and mayhem. Her portfolio includes stories, games, comics, essays, and pop culture books.

In addition to her own worlds, she has worked on a number of different properties including Vampire: the Masquerade, Shadowrun, Hunter: the Vigil, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, and Robert E. Howard’s Conan.

Looking for Monica’s books and games that are still in print? Visit Monica Valentinelli on Amazon’s Author Central or a bookstore near you.

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