Keeping Creative in Stressful Times

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had just about as much media overload as any one person can stand. In my corner of the world, my state has shut down non-essential businesses and issued a stay at home order for my county and several others. If we do go out in public, social distancing is strongly encouraged. And the stores…well, you’ve heard how people have been hoarding. But hubs and I did manage to find the groceries on our list, so hopefully we won’t have to venture forth again any time soon.

Well, other than for work. Because we’re also both essential personnel. I am a biologist, and my lab is still open, so I am in every day there is lab work and analyzing data and writing reports when I’m at home. And then of course there’s just life itself, and we all know how that can be.

It’s a lot for someone to handle. And I know many of you are feeling the same kinds of stress, or even just the stress of being at home, not having enough to do, or worrying about paychecks. And on top of this, I’m sure you may have seen the posts encouraging us writers to write a “quarantine novel.” I’d love to…if I wasn’t still working full-time. (Thanks to all you essential workers out there…you’re keeping us going!)

But how do we keep on top of our creative endeavors when we’re feeling so much stress and pressure, when things are so crazy out of control?

I have three quick tips, and feel free to add your own in the comments.

Set reasonable goals.

I say this one for a lot of situations, but one of the biggest things you can do to boost your creativity when you’re stressed is to set goals that are attainable. Write a sentence a day? Sure! Browse the interwebs for new ideas? That works!

Perhaps make a list of potential goals that can help you baby-step forward on your larger goals. Then, you can check less stressful things off in a way that’s still making progress.

Whatever you’re working on, just set goals you can hit that won’t overwhelm you during this time. And you may even find that once you start working on these smaller things, you’ll have the fuel to keep going longer than you expected!

Find and consume inspiring things.

I don’t know about you, but for me, consuming certain things can really boost my inspiration and make me excited to do creative work.

This may be reading articles or listening to podcasts related to writing. Or sometimes it’s looking at pretty pictures to inspire settings or paintings. Maybe what you really need is to take a few days to just read new books.

Whatever it is, find the thing that excites you to get back to work!

Cut yourself some slack.

Yup, don’t put so much pressure on yourself. Don’t be afraid to change your goals or even to step back for a bit to reset. It’s okay to take a break if you need to…without criticizing yourself for whatever you’re not getting done. It will still be there when you’re ready to go back to it.

Concluding Thoughts

This is a hard time for everyone, but there is so much community online. Reach out to your friends and peers, your fellow creative individuals. Let’s build each other up during these stressful days and try not to be hard on ourselves (or others), no matter how much or how little creative work we’re doing.

And don’t forget that we’re all in this together.

Stay safe, my friends! ❤

Writing When Life Gets Crazy

As writers, we often find joy, peace, and stress relief in our writing (ignore those infuriating, anxiety-inducing things like “sharing” and “querying” for a moment). Once we dedicate ourselves to our writing, we even find that we want to make time for it on a regular basis, that it gives us excitement, energy, and purpose.

But when we are just starting out or when our lives start changing, that can be more difficult. Maybe we have full-time jobs or responsibilities that cut into our writing time. Maybe we have a lot of hobbies that eat up our free time. Or maybe events happen in your life that change your ability to write for a time, such as planning parties or weddings or starting a new relationship.

Personally, I encountered this between the end of March and beginning of May. I got married on April 21 (yay!), which meant that for the weeks leading up to the wedding I was insanely busy and stressed (boo!). It also meant that the weeks following the wedding I was traveling and recovering from being insanely busy and stressed.

And you know what? Not having the time, creative energy, or motivation to sit down at the keyboard took its toll on me. I became irritable and anxious about everything, even toward the man I love more than anyone. I started having stress-related health issues (which I’m still trying to fix). I battled my anxiety and my depression to keep from losing it completely (when they say weddings are stressful, it’s an understatement).

All because I had no outlet and I let myself get caught up in not doing the things that restore me. I wasn’t creating and my dreams felt stagnant. I wasn’t working toward them. My job felt pointless and unfulfilling. And yeah, there was good reason I wasn’t working toward my dreams, but still, being able to do something to move you toward your goals is SO IMPORTANT. I knew it was a temporary situation, but I really did suffer for it.

So, in hindsight, let’s discuss how to deal with your writing (or any other dreams) when life gets a little out of control. And maybe next time, I won’t lose it so much either!

  1. Use the time you can find. It can be hard to find time to do things that restore you when you’re busy and stressed and ready to explode. But you know what? You can. It won’t necessarily be your first choice, but if it’s something important to you or something you need for your own self care (like writing for me), then you need to just do it.
    So what do I mean? Can you set your alarm five minutes earlier in the morning and just write for five minutes? What about staying up five minutes later? Brainstorm while you’re on your commute? Take a couple minutes out of your lunch break? As soon as you get home, scrawl a sentence into your work in progress? These are all tiny, but if you can do even one of them, it can make a huge difference in how you feel. It’s small, but it’s not stagnant. You’re keeping your creative brain active and awake. I wish I had done that this past month instead of letting everything sit and fester.
  2. Cut yourself some slack. Listen. Life gets rough sometimes. You run into issues or things get away from you. It happens to everyone. Don’t beat yourself up. We’re all doing the best we can. Your dreams will still be there no matter what you do. Try to take little steps, but if you can’t even do that? Give yourself a break. As writers, we have enough forces coming at us in the form of rejections and critiques and reviews that we really don’t need to add to the negativity just by opening our own mouths.
  3. Take care of yourself. Make sure you put yourself and your health above trying to crank out work. Yes, do those things that you have to, like wedding planning or building a relationship or whatever it is that is interfering with your writing schedule… but don’t forget that your health is the first priority. That includes mental health. So take that bubble bath. Read that book before bed. Take a walk. Just take care of yourself in whatever way you need to in order to get through the tough time.
  4. Refuel yourself. Listen, tough times drain us. They drain us emotionally, physically, mentally, and creatively. Don’t expect yourself to jump right back in as soon as things get better. You need to recover. Make sure you’re putting coins in the bank of creativity: keep notes while you’re busy of things you can come back to later, make every experience count toward writing fodder (as I call it… this is anything I consider usable writing material). But while you do that, give yourself time to relax and refill creative tanks without pressuring yourself to get back to your former writing performance. It takes time. For me, it was my honeymoon. I spent a week with no responsibility, seeing things I’d never seen. And by the third day, I was already inventing story ideas in my head. Refueling is vital!
  5. Keep dreaming. Don’t give up, even if you can’t be as involved and active as you want to be. Life can be hard. But don’t let it steal your joy.

Writers are such a unique breed. We need to write to take care of ourselves, yet our writing is also one of our greatest sources of stress and anxiety, especially when we can’t work on it. So, knowing this, we need to work extra hard during the tough times to take care of ourselves and do what we can to keep the creativity flowing. Or to at least make deposits in the creativity bank. If we can’t take care of ourselves, our writing is going to suffer, and so are we. Take care of yourself.

For now, that’s all. I’m ready to dive back into more creation! Good luck, and please share your tips and comments below. I’d love to know how you deal with your writing when life is busy!