Personal time is precious, and a million things compete for limited off-hours. The daily grind is stressful, full of responsibilities and deadlines. For writers, the delicate balance between writing for fun and bearing the work of writing like an overwhelming weight can often be upset. One of the leading causes of this: Writers take themselves way too seriously!
What is Your Purpose?
People who take on writing projects do so for a reason. These reasons vary by project, but some lend themselves to writer stress more quickly than others. This isn’t meant to be a preachy post. Most writers will have each of these purposes in mind at different points in all types of projects. Here are three big ones:
Entertainment: Most fiction (and creative non-fiction) writers write to entertain. Let’s be honest, who picks up a work of complete falsehood for any other reason than to be entertained? If this is the purpose of the work, do not lose sight of that. It’s easy to forget when the reality is as follows: In order to make money from writing something creative, someone has to buy it. In order to sell to more people than just family, it has to be entertaining enough for people to talk about it, good enough for people to recommend it, and unique enough to be remembered after the reader finishes someone else’s book.
This is a lot of pressure. Here is one remedy for this, meant to keep the work fresh, interesting, and rich with creativity. While writing, envision and feel in yourself the emotion you want your reader to feel in each scene. Some authors use music to do this, others use concept art, and still more demand silence in order to basically meditate their way to the emotive experience. You will be just as entertained as your reader as you get to ride the story through its creation. This isn’t the only way to address this stress by any means, but it is a place to start.
Instruction: Non-fiction is great stuff! It doesn’t have to be dry at all, even though some readers rarely branch into the wonderful world of creative non-fiction. The direction of an instructional purpose is relaying facts, illustrating methods, or attempting to persuade readers of something. Writers of non-fiction (especially students writing papers) often take on a significant stressor is they assume they know enough about the topic on their own. This may or may not come along with the belief that it is their duty to set the world straight on this particular topic, and/or tear down any existing opinions contrary to their own. The key word here is “opinion”. Even history books are 80-90% opinions. This is just the nature of the beast since every time a story is told, it passes through the filter of the creator’s opinion.
The stress and seriousness of the writer’s duty, then, is directly related to the strength of their belief in their own side. Well, it might be better to say this stress is tied to the strength of the writer’s opposition to the other side. The best way to relieve this stress is to recognize and respect the other way of telling the facts. You don’t have to agree, just respect that yours is not the only perspective out there and every reader will choose their own side. So instead of fighting an immortal battle of wills with the universe itself, the work is a sincere sharing of your side in order for it to be heard and accepted by those of a like mind. At the very least, this perspective might loosen the creative muscles from battle-ready tension to a state of openness for sharing.
Blow their Freakin’ Minds!: Seriously, this is a purpose for some people, but it shouldn’t be the only purpose. A more fitting way to title this would be “make my mark”, “be impressive”, or “write the next great American novel”. However they phrase it, this purpose of proving oneself is the quickest way to bring down the stress pile and stop up creativity.
One root of this stressor is a mistaken belief that the audience is a hostile creature intent on tearing us down and they must be definitely proven wrong. Not true, first of all. The audience is not only the first priority in any work, they are also a source of endless inspiration, support, friendships, and (in some successful cases) regular meals… they basically pay the bills! So any hostility within ourselves for the audience must be rooted in some fear which needs to be treated quickly. Think “fish are friends, not food”! Setting out to prove a point with a creative work rarely pans out the way the creator hopes. Second of all, this attitude causes contention and damages your professional branding. The mantra “any attention is good attention” is false in this case. Go instead with “you catch more flies with honey”. So if you must blow their minds, do so for their own benefit and enjoyment!
A second source of stress in this purpose comes from holding ourselves to an unreasonable standard. We want to skip directly to the best version of the work we have to share, but forget all the steps between “idea” and “final product”. Writing a work you’re really invested in is a journey, one that can take anywhere from an hour to several years. Let it happen, realize plans will change, drafts will suck, scenes will be left out, and characters will rebel. This is a beautiful process, and one that belongs exclusively to the writer. Don’t deny yourself this.
Whatever the reason for writing something, don’t let your purpose become a burden. If this has happened and the flow of creativity or motivation has been dammed up, do all that is in your power to make it light and enjoyable. Your free time is precious; use it for something worthy and make sure it’s enjoyable!