Writing has an interesting relationship with stress. It would probably be more appropriate to say writers have a complicated relationship with stress. Stressors can help inspire creativity; writing can relieve stress; stress can create writers block. While removing stress from life really isn’t an option, understanding these three conflicting dynamics with your favorite craft may both relieve them and encourage higher productivity.
Stress is a common excuse for skimping on the word count for the day. Whether you call it writer’s block or just own up that something else is on your mind, if it’s blocking your work that’s your own issue. There are two types, however. Writing relates to internal stressors and external stressors differently. Often the writer’s block stressors are internal. These are the negative voices that cloud out reason and give an easy excuse to just not get a draft out. Conquering internal blocks is a favorite subject of anyone who writes about writing. All things boiled down, write. Write something. Write new. Write old. Write long. Just put words on the page. Fake it till you make it and push on.
External stressors, however, are a bit more of a challenge and writing has a different relationship there. Real life happens, especially with a day job, family, bills piling up, disasters, or disease crashing in on life. Those are things that need attention. Tending to your own mental and physical health, even if it means putting aside your writing project for a time, should take priority. There are many writers out there who will say something like, “Write away your stress!”, or they take the boot camp approach saying, “You’re not a real writer if you don’t get X hundred words written every day before sun-up!” It’s this and many other all-or-nothing strategies that, when taken as gospel truth, glorify the tortured artist image that’s so damaging to writers just trying to create something worth sharing.
There’s a twist here. Writing can relieve stress. Yes, the last paragraphs say writing causes stress. It certainly can, but changing the subject matter can turn the act of writing into a therapeutic release. Not every technique works for every individual, but using time to write out your experiences and emotions has been shown to reduce stress. It’s the emotional writing that makes the difference in the studies. We talk about writing for emotional health a bit more in an earlier post, Journals and Diaries: Writing for the Self.
Here’s the kicker, stress can stimulate creative thinking! Yes, this means stress isn’t a full-on bad thing. Consider deadlines, meaning real deadlines set by someone other than you and with people to whom you are accountable. While the product of stress isn’t always the best quality, it’s still words on a page. Few things are more “inspiring” than a real deadline with a client. This creativity-generating stress is also one of the benefits to holding a day job in addition to writing projects. Limited creative time makes it more precious, something to look forward to and plan toward until there just never seems like enough to get down all you have to write. Thoughts have time to generate, ferment, and develop before you commit them to paper and this can weed out some of the more impulsive ideas to leave room for better ones to come along. Exposure to new types of stresses provides fuel for creative work too. This can include talking to new people, learning a new language, taking a class on a new subject, or taking a trip to a place you’ve never been.
Writing isn’t a miracle cure for much of anything. There are too many variables as to how, when, what, and how you do it. Stress isn’t a deadly condemnation for creativity either, again because the types and circumstances differ widely. Know your stressors, address those that can be dealt with, tend to your real needs, and work within your emotional state. Writing can be both a cure and an affliction, so use it for what you need in your current circumstances.