What Writers Need to Do to Benefit from Stress

Filed in Productivity and Time Management by on June 17, 2019 • views: 439

Americans are the most stressed out people in the world.

That’s the news according Gallup’s most recent annual Global Emotions report. A total of 55 percent of Americans said they’d felt a lot of stress the day before the survey. The global average was 35 percent.

If the survey had consisted of only writers, I’ll bet the percentage would have been even higher.

Writers are often stressed out. Not only are we worried about the quality of our writing, but about finishing our projects, building our platforms, and fitting all our writing-related activities into our busy lives.

You can incorporate regular stress-relieving activities into your days—exercise, journaling, and meditation are all good options—but if you think you’re going to get rid of stress completely, forget it.

Not only is it impossible as a writer, it’s not even desirable. In fact, you need stress in your life if you want to improve and build your career. The key is to use it correctly.

The Process for Getting Better at Anything

Stress is necessary for progress.

Think about your physical fitness. How do you build a healthier body?

“No pain, no gain,” they say, and we’ve all experienced it when trying to get fit. You start out at one level, then push yourself to get better. Maybe you can jog a half-mile, and you want to work up to five miles, so you start increasing your distance to a full mile.

While you’re pushing toward that first full mile, it’s not much fun. Your body hurts. You doubt your ability to keep going. Your lungs burn. You’re sore after your workout. You’re stiff the next day. It’s all stressful.

So you rest. You recover. Then you go at it again.

You’ve probably engaged in some sort of exercise program like this. Maybe it wasn’t running—maybe it was biking, lifting weights, or playing tennis. Whatever it was, it was probably difficult, and you may have wondered if you could do it.

But gradually, it got easier. Your muscles and your cardiovascular system responded to the stress, becoming stronger, and pretty soon you were jogging a full mile like it was nothing.

This simple process of stressing yourself at regular intervals with rest periods in between helps you improve your fitness, but you can also adapt it to help grow your writing career.

The stress is going to be there, whatever stage of writing you’re in. You really can’t avoid it. The key is to be sure you take the right steps in between those stressful periods.

Writers Must Rest Between Stressful Periods

There’s one thing that can mess up any fitness program—injury.

If this has ever happened to you, you know how frustrating it can be. You were losing the weight. You were getting stronger. You were running faster. And then something happened. You strained a muscle, pulled a tendon, or suffered some other mishap, and suddenly you were grounded.

You had to rest, and during that time, you probably lost a lot of the progress you’d gained.

Worse—that injury? It was most likely your fault.

You probably pushed it too hard too fast, without adequate rest in between. The rest is just as important as the stress, for it’s during the rest periods that your body repairs muscles, tissues, and bones, making them stronger.

Without enough rest, the body can’t fully restore itself, meaning that some degree of damage remains. That little bit of damage can build up over time, leading to injury.

The same can happen in your writing career. Too much stress can cause burnout, exhaustion, writer’s block, and overwhelm. Suddenly you’re no longer the writer you want to be.

That’s why the first key to writing success is to build in rest periods between the stress periods. After you finish that novel manuscript? Take some time off to rest, relax, and have some fun. Do the same after you launch a book, attend a conference, or finish redesigning your website.

Without rest, you won’t be ready for that next round of stress, and have no doubt—as long as you’re a writer, the next period of stress is just around the corner.

Never Let a Restful Writing Period Last Too Long

Have you ever “hit a wall” in your fitness program?

If so, you know the other pitfall in the process—resting too long.

Once you can run that mile without stress, you have a choice—you can continue jogging the mile easily, or you can challenge your body again and go for two miles.

Sticking with one mile is less stressful, but it’s also likely to become boring. Plus, as your body becomes more efficient, the exercise will have less of an effect.

It happens with every exercise program. You get to a point where your body adapts, and your workout no longer gives you the results you want. Maybe you start gaining weight again, or your muscles stop growing.

You have to shake it up and challenge yourself again. If you don’t, you’ll stay right where you are if you’re lucky. It’s more probable that your body will start going backwards.

The same thing happens in your writing career. You go through certain challenges, you learn and grow, and then it all starts to get a little easier. At that point, you have a choice—you can stay where you are in that comfortable little space, or you can challenge yourself to grow again.

Rest too long in your comfort zone and your career will probably stagnate, or even slow down.

The Three Steps to Steady Writing Progress

To keep progressing as writers, then, we must be sure we’re getting enough rest in between our stressful periods, but we also have to be sure those restful periods don’t last too long.

How do we find the right balance?

One word: Reflection.

Here’s how the process works best:

  1. Stress
  2. Rest & Recover
  3. Reflect

You go through a period of stress. Let’s say it’s a book launch. Once the book is out into the world and gaining reviews and readers, it’s time to rest and recover. Take some time off, get outdoors, and let nature work it’s magic on you. Spend some time with family and friends, and engage in a fun hobby or two.

Once you’ve rested enough that you feel recovered, however, you want to be sure to take some time to reflect on what you’ve just gone through before diving back into another period of stress. (Stress always comes with striving toward your next goal.)

During that reflective period, put yourself into a state of mind that encourages creative thought. Make sure you’re well rested before tackling this part of the process.

Then using your journal, answer the following questions about your recent writing experience:

  1. What went right?
  2. What went wrong?
  3. What did I learn?
  4. What can I do better next time?
  5. What’s the next step for me?

If you don’t go through this critical part of the process, you may go back into another stressful period unprepared. You may choose the wrong project to tackle next, or you may risk repeating the same mistakes.

Just a few days spent in reflection can help you make sure that the next step you take in your writing career is the right one to propel you forward.

Signs a Writer Needs Rest and Reflection

To raise the odds that you’ll reach all the goals you’ve set for yourself, embrace the stress, but make sure you engage in regular periods of rest and reflection in between. Use these signs to determine when it’s time for each.

You need rest and reflection when:

  • You’ve just completed a big writing or writing-related project (written a story or novel, published a book, completed a new website, started a podcast, etc.)
  • You feel tired and have to force yourself to write
  • Your ideas are running dry
  • You’re discouraged or disheartened
  • You’ve been working on a project for a long time and you’re stuck
  • You’re irritable and angry
  • Your burned out or just about to be

When you noticed these signs, take a few days off.

Similarly, you need stress to continue growing and getting better. Use these signs to determine when it’s time to challenge yourself.

You need stress when:

  • You’re feeling apathetic or ho-hum about your writing career
  • Everything seems easy
  • You’re content or comfortable
  • You’re bored
  • You feel listless or lackluster
  • Nothing about your writing career scares you at this point

If any of these sound familiar, think of the next steps you’d like to take in your writing career. Then choose the one that scares you the most and go for it! That will plunge you back into that stressful period, and you’ll begin to grow again.

How do you alternate between stress, rest, and reflection?


Sources
Ducharme, J. (2019, April 25). Americans Are Some of the Most Stressed-Out People in the World. Retrieved from http://time.com/5577626/americans-stressed-out-gallup-poll/

Gallup Inc. (2019). Gallup 2019 Global Emotions Report. Retrieved from https://www.gallup.com/analytics/248906/gallup-global-emotions-report-2019.aspx

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