Saturday, March 20, 2010

How to Relieve Stress: Eliminate the Stressor

I should rethink the phrase "eliminate" the stressor. As a writer of mystery and suspense, I could be accused of suggesting a reader "kill" the stressor. If the source of one's stress is a human being, for instance, my advice would not be socially acceptable.

Speaking to and about writers, however, I suspect most stress originates in the writing process, is self-inflicted due to procrastination, perfectionism, or stupidity, and can be eliminated without killing anyone or destroying anything.

I will hold myself up as an example. I finished the first draft of a suspense novel early in the year and went to work on revisions, hoping to have a finished manuscript in time to pitch to an agent at the Northern Colorado Writers' Conference next Saturday.

Next Saturday. Yep, one week from today. Is my manuscript ready? Nope. Will it be ready by next Saturday? Nope. Have I continued to feel pressured because I had an insane notion in the back of my head that I would somehow magically find the time to finish? Yep.

This is a form of writer insanity.

Procrastination. We do this kind of thing when we submit to a publisher, get accepted, wait for months for the editor's instructions on revisions and editing chores, fiddle around for a while, then frantically work a few long days and nights to finish by the deadline.

Perfectionism. This one causes us to revise and rewrite a manuscript over and over. For years. Without ever submitting to agents or publishers. Eliminating fragments (even the ones that work), removing adverbs, rearranging chapters...forever.

Stupidity. I'm taking this one as my own. I gave myself a deadline which might have been semi-reasonable if I was an anti-social hermit living on a deserted island. I had plenty of time to get the job done, provided I didn't cook, clean, go to the grocery store, talk to people, attend critique group meetings or writing classes, do the taxes, or watch my favorite shows on television.

So to eliminate the stressor, I will give up the idea of pitching Dead Wrong a week from today.

The good news? I have another manuscript that has already been revised umpteen times. It's called Wishing Caswell Dead. Maybe its time has come.

See? It was that easy. Stress gone. Big sigh of relief. Now we can focus on the income tax return.

Ouch. Just felt a pain in my neck.


Tracy said...

Isn't procrastination funny, we do it to ourselves. We procrastinate because we don't want to do something and in the process cause ourselves even more problems i.e stress etc.

My secret to getting over the procrastination cycle, just start typing, anything, its amazing how suddenly you get in the zone. :)

Jemi Fraser said...

Taxes are stressing me out too. :( This time of year drives me batty. Everthing is computerized, why can't it just be done automatically?

I do worry about deadlines if I ever get that far, because my life is already chaotic enough! :)

Kay said...

Glad you had a back-up manuscript.

Hope you still mean to pitch. Even if the thing isn't perfect, the practice will do you good. Might even eliminate some stress the next time you pitch.

(Besides, the worse thing the agent/publisher can say is "no".)

Jan Morrison said...

Man oh man, this topic is in zeigist today! I tell my clients that there is no procrastination - we don't do things we SAY we want to because we are scared or we don't want to do them anyway and are just passively resisting instead of saying - nah, that's a crazy idea or a crazy time line or just not for me. I don't get to my taxes because I'm terrified. I can hardly write the word and I hate this time of year because that word is everywhere. Today I cleaned my office including moving desks that I wouldn't get to my paperwork. Genius eh?

Patricia Stoltey said...

It's bizarre how often these topics pop up on blogs during the same week, or even the same day. We're more alike than we realize.

And to Kay, yes, I'm still pitching at NCW. I haven't queried on this other novel since the last rewrite, so we'll see what happens. :)

Paul D. Brazill said...

Cormac Brown has a T-shirt which says: Procrastination-it's like crack for writers!

Ann Elle Altman said...

Oh, I'm glad you clarified. When I first saw the blog post title...I thought I would have to go and shoot my husband. ha ha ha. Great blog post.


Simon Hay Soul Healer said...

Procrastination is a terrible habit to get into. Sometimes I wonder if it's because I fear success almost as much as failure. I've thought about this a lot. I get to the tipping point 99% there and then lose momentum. I have to kick that habit. I'm about to write a query letter and here I am visiting you. "Yes please, two sugars with tea." Yikes! It drives me crazy.