Writing through distress

There are lots of things that can get in the way of writing. There’s the usual excuses (or realities) of not having enough time, too many obligations at work, home, etc. TV, video games, books, comic books, etc. are wonderful entertainment distractions. There are even moments where you’re just not sure where the story should go and need some time to think about it before you can really get any work done.

But the one that gets me every time is mental stress.

See I have a double whammy. My job is programming so requires a lot of mental power for logic and designing algorithms (especially at the moment). And writing requires your brain as well.

Now I have a fairly even keel personality, so my brain’s not typically subject to random emotional shifts. But I also have a brain that tends to over-analyze, compulsively. This serves me well when my brain is working in the background on trying to solve a particular plot point, or problem at work, but when that system gets compromised with a problem it can take days or even weeks to clear it.

I’ve tried the thing you sometimes hear of trying to channel emotion into your writing, to use it as fuel. My experience is this only works on a project that is already somewhat akin to the emotions I’m feeling, something where I might have tried to conjure a mental state in the first place. But typically, regardless of the character situation, I write from a place of mental peace, and so often these kinds of distractions are unproductive.

Maybe the only way is to design a project specifically catered to running off those emotions, but it can be difficult to create new ideas when you’re distracted.

I’ve tried exercise as well. Engaging the physical body can have a pretty restorative effect on the mental world, while you’re doing it. The problem is a good physical activity will often leave me drained for the rest of the day. I guess I could try something akin to a power nap, twenty minutes of good activity a day, but for me physical exertion that really helps to get rid of frustration takes time to warm up to.

I’ve even tried prayer, which is where my instincts tell me I should start. But it can feel a little weird to pray that you’ll be able to get writing work done again. It doesn’t feel like a particularly important enough thing, despite the fact that it is one of the great passions of my life. And more often the thing I’m obsessed with, no matter how minor mind you, seems infinitely more important to deal with than just the practical problem of being able to write again.

Just so you guys aren’t worried, this isn’t one of those times. I just think there are lots of aspects of the writing life you don’t talk about when you’re first trying to get your feet under you, or that can feel deeply personal and difficult to share with a larger audience.

How do you write when life is distracting? Is writing something that only requires mental peace or is there more to it?

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Writing through distress

  1. Tonya R. Moore

    It’s tough. I’m a police dispatcher who works 12hr shifts. It’s hard to shift gears from that. One thing that helps me is simply doing a bit of “stream of consciousness” writing. I grab pen and paper and I write down any and everything that pops into my head. At first, it’s usually a lot of nonsense but after a while you start writing coherent ideas. The only drawback has been I often end up with and abundance of new ideas instead of content for what I’m working on. Even so, it does help to shift me back into that Writing state of mind.

  2. I feel ya’, Ben. Hanging out with a four-year-old all day can really drain on the brain. A lot of times, I sit down to write after he’s gone to bed and I just can’t concentrate. The only thing that I find helps is a change of surroundings. Instead of sitting at my desk, I’ll use my laptop and find a different room. If that doesn’t work, I grab my notebook and work out details to tackle when my brain is clear enough to work directly with my story. Or you can always wash some dishes and do some laundry for a change of pace, which I’m sure the wife would appreciate. 😉

  3. Chuck

    Zen and self awareness through the art of washing dishes. Nice.

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