Sunday, October 08, 2006

Locus of Control—Stress and Writing

So, something we've talked about in Wyrdsmiths from time to time is how life stress affects our writing. There seem to be two basic models.

1. Stress = no writing.

2. Stress = more writing.

Under number one, the writer needs a place of calm to work from, and stress prevents that. It's more complex than that of course, but I'm much more qualified to talk about the second model because that's where I land.

Under number two, the writer finds writing to be one place in their world where they can exert some real control and so does more and more writing work.

As I said above, I tend to the second of those models, though there does come a point where stress can push me over the edge into reduced productivity—it never seems to truly stop me. I think in my case that's an interaction between control issues and being a happy writer. Writing makes me happy, and when I'm happy I tend to write more. It's a positive feedback loop. There's the converse negative feedback loop, not writing makes me unhappy, being unhappy means I write less, etc. But I'm simply not as prone to that because being unhappy also makes me want to do something to exert control over the situation, and for me work is one of the best ways to re-exert control, which breaks the negative cycle and kicks in the positive one.

So, how about y'all? Do you fall into mode 1 or mode 2? Or something completely different? How does mood interact with writing for you?

5 comments:

Naomi said...

Stress = No Writing.

Although, if I'm under enough pressure from a deadline, I will suck it up. But if the stress is bad and I CAN stop writing, I do.

Some of this may be related to parenthood. Constant interruptions make it really hard for me to keep the narrative going in my head, so it's hard to get motivated and disciplined to sit down and work if I know I'm going to be interrupted momentarily. For me, major stress is often linked to a situation where I'm not getting breaks from the kids to write. (For example, last fall when Ed's mother was dying and he was out of town for a month.)

Douglas Hulick said...

Naomi pretty much sums it up for me.

The worst is the vicious cycle Kelly mentioned, where no writing means more stress which means no writing which means...and so on. Unfortunately for me, with the kids and everything else happening in my life, it's not always a simple "I know need to write, so I will" option. Scheduling the time to write, and then being in the right mental and physical place to write when scheduled (not exhuasted/sleep deprived, overwhelmed with other commitments, sudden emergencies, illness, etc.), is just as big of a hurdle as any stress-induced inertia.

Actually, I suppose that is all stress, too, but it's a more directed form. :)

One thing all this has taught me is how to better manage and direct my muse. I used to be an "as inspiration strikes" kind of writer, even when I was producing regularly for various industries. I wrote when I wanted, for as long as I wanted, any time of day. Now, I have very specific windows in which I get to write, with little lee-way. Of course, the fact that I should be doing seventeen other things in that same window (critique, clean house, run errands, see the doctor/dentist, exercise, etc.) adds its own kind of stress, but that's easier to deal with in some ways.

Sean M. Murphy said...

Kelly asks: "Do you fall into mode 1 or mode 2?"

Yes.

Okay, that seems the easy answer, hedging bets. But it's also true.

When I got divorced from my first marriage, I basically stopped writing. This was a stress of a type and on an order of magnitude that it effectively crippled my spirit, my creativity. Talking with someone the other day, I noted that my personality effectively became, during the months and years immediately after the divorce, that of a hedgehog who has had its stomach gouged open and has curled up into a defensive posture. There was little room for exploration, risk, possibility; I was in lock-down mode.

That sort of stress sets off the cycle of not-writing, not-happy, etc., especially when it looks like life, in general, is pretty crappy and not going well.

Other stresses tend to make me want to write more. Work stress, for instance, makes me want to write more. Excepting High Holidays, which is more an issue of exhaustion than stress, I tend to spend more time writing when I have stress at work. This may be out of a sub-concious desire to eventually write full-time, or it may be a form of escapism, or it may just be that I find it so rejuvenating to be writing.

Stress is part of the story. Being in a positive frame of mind, though--stress or no stress--has a much greater impact on whether or not I am writing. When I am down, it's hard to get the energy to write. Conversely, when I feel that life is pretty much good, I tend to want to achieve even more, which translates roughly into Kelly's positive and negative feedback loops.

So, like I said to begin with: Yes.

(How's that for folding and unfolding sentences, Kelly?)

lydamorehouse said...

Depends on the kind of stress. Life stress fraks me up, and then I fall into mode 1. If it's the stress of a deadline, I'm totally motivated.

Muneraven said...

Big stress = no writing. Especially big KID-related stress. I thrive on having a boring, routine life, lol. When that routine gets really thrown out of whack big-time, my writing grinds to a halt.