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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Uncertainty, Helplessness and Resilience in Writers

Please welcome guest blogger Jessa Slade

With all the changes taking place in publishing these days comes a lot of uncertainty. Much of what we’ve learned over the years in writing organizations like RWA is open to new interpretation. We don’t have all the answers yet—and anybody who waits for ALL the answers is probably going to wait a very long time—which can lead to anxiety, anger and paralysis. (And also excitement, but that’s for another post.)

The recent economic recession inspired a lot of articles on how people react to uncertainty and the role of emotional resilience in coping with uncertainty. I found a few elements about how to increase emotional resiliency that I think apply nicely to writers.

Acknowledge that stress affects your mood

Writers under deadline (whether that’s a contract or a self-imposed deadline) may feel they don’t have time to have moods. They are too stressed to stress! Which of course means nothing to the biochemical changes that stress inflicts. Acknowledging the problem opens the door to dealing with, maybe even eliminating, the stressors.

Popular suggestions for dealing with stress:

— Take a walk. Increased blood flow helps clear toxins from the body, and movement gives the mind a new perspective.

— Do something you’ve never done before. Trying something new—whether it’s as simple as cooking a new dish or going skydiving—can jolt the brain and body out of unproductive ruts.

— Say no. One of the most common stressors people report is the feeling of having too much to do. If you’re facing too many tasks that aren’t in line with your needs and goals, learn to cut.

Find an emotional safe place

Having a place to go where the uncertainty isn’t helps us rest before returning to the battle. There are three sorts of safe places:

— A physical place: Your office (with a locking door maybe), a coffee shop or a desk at the local library.

— A state of mind: The experts recommend active states of mind—like reading or meditating.

— A trusted relationship: FF&P and RWA are emotional safe places for me. I know I can always find a friendly, understanding, and sympathetic ear here. And more, I can find suggestions and answers to my uncertainties.

Establish routines/rituals

Fake it ‘til you make it. Not only do routines provide their own kind of certainty in uncertain times, they create a framework for work to get done even in times of crisis.

You can create routines around:

— Your writing time. Make your writing time sacred—for you and the people around you.

— Your writing process. Plotters understand this inherently, but even for organic writers, having routines around HOW you write can help reduce the doubts and hesitation about what comes next. That could be as complex as full notebooks of worksheets or as simple as searching out an image for your hero and posting him next to your monitor.

— Your successes AND failures. Remember to reward yourself for your attempts and improvements. I read about one writer who pays herself for every rejected submission; now she tears into those emails and envelopes without that feeling of dread. She made a ritual of her effort, not the outcome.

Create a plan

One of the most important inoculants against feeling helpless is having a plan. Knowing your next step helps you bounce back more quickly from uncertainty. Some of the key components to planning are:

— Lay out short, medium and long term goals and leave room for flexibility in the plan.

— Make sure you are planning, not dreaming. Goals must be fully within your ability to manifest. “Get published by NY” doesn’t work because that isn’t in your control. “Self publish my story” is within your control. (See initial parenthetical about uncertainty and excitement!)

— Ah heck, while we’re at it, have a dream too. While dreams might be out of our control, they are the flipside silver lining of uncertainty. Might as well turn the energy of uncertainty to inspire us.

Do you have a technique you use when you are feeling uncertain or helpless to get yourself back in balance? Leave a comment for a chance to win a signed copy of VOWED IN SHADOWS and a set of Marked Souls romance trading cards.

Jessa Slade sold her first book after winning an RWA writing contest...but only because a discrepancy judge’s high marks replaced her lowest score, thus opening her up to a lifetime of uncertainty somewhat similar to Schrodinger’s cat. You can decide for yourself whether she lives or dies by reading more about the Marked Souls series at http://jessaslade.com. Or join her in an emotional safe place online (ha!) at http://www.facebook.com/jessaslade or http://twitter.com/jessaslade.

Two lost souls
One last battle
None will remain

Book 3 of the Marked Souls

The war between good and evil has raged for millennia, with the Marked
Souls caught in the middle. Now two lost souls will tip the precarious

Possession by a demon cost Jonah Walker his faith, his humanity, and
his wife. Once a righteous missionary man, he endures immortality with
nothing but a body for battle and a bent for retribution. But his last
devastating fight left him wounded beyond healing and his only chance
to redeem his soul lies with a fallen woman.

Thrust into a wicked underworld of shadows and sin, Nim Hamlin can’t
believe her wanton ways as “the Naughty Nymphette” enthralled a
demon…and a damned saint. The world she knows doesn’t deserve
deliverance. But the touch of this good man’s hand holds an unholy
allure–and she’s never been any good at resisting temptation.

As darkness gathers in the sweltering Chicago summer, Jonah and Nim
must conquer the demons of their past to face even fiercer monsters in
one last assault. But first they must put aside their doubts and
disbeliefs and let their passion for each other burn through the
shadows to ignite their furious power…

“Dark and sexy and intense.”
New York Times Bestselling Author Nalini Singh


Alicia McCalla said...

Hi Jessa:

This is a great post. I just recently took the plunge and created my website. It was one of the most stressful events in my writing career.

I took some time each morning just clearing, focusing, meditating, and reading my affirmation cards. The experience was overwhelming but I was able to balance it and try to work on my WIP at the same time. If I hadn't been doing the morning clearing via journaling all those things that needed to get done, I think I would've gone insane. LOL!

Jessa Slade said...

Thanks for stopping by, Alicia. I just read the story on your blog about the fight with your uncle. Yay you for sticking up for the stories you loved! And double yay for writing stories that will bring the stories you love to EVERYone.

Danielle Monsch said...

Loved the post. I think it's important to remind us author types we need to step outside of our writer world on occasion, clear out the cobwebs and get some perspective.

It's way too easy to get into the habit of refreshing your email every five minutes to see if anything has come in!

Jessa Slade said...

Dani, I was with you right up until the "no refreshing every five seconds" part. You did say five seconds, right? ;) Guilty!

The crazy-making is soooo easy these days, right at my fingertips. Ah well, I'll call it another chance to give my self-discipline a work out.

Lynn Jordan said...

Jessa, thanks for a great post. These tips were just what I needed to hear. Being sick has disrupted my routines and really raised the stress level. I'll print out your post and put it up beside my computer.

PS. Only you could use Schrodinger’s cat in a bio ;).

Alexis Morgan said...

You are so right on target, Jessa. There is so much beyond our control in this business. I think that makes setting our own goals and routines that much more important.

What has helped me through good times and those other kinds of times is a strong support group. My friends are there cheering when something goes right, but they are also there for me when something goes wrong. I wouldn't survive without them.