Writers: How to avoid the current frazzle
I love being a writer, and I love writers. I love the support of a writing community, the pleasure of reading another’s words, and the joy of knowing there are like-minded others in the world. We tend to think deeply, feel deeply, and bring our intelligence to bear on situations.
However, in times like these I recognise that our sensitive personalities also bring with them certain challenges.
We can be more prone to emotions that – in an unprecedented situation like the one we’re in now – are not particularly helpful. I am not listing them here because I think sometimes even the look of a word can trigger an unhelpful feeling, and these emotions can lead to writers becoming easily frazzled.
In addition to that, in our regular lives we’re faced with having to sell our work to agents, publishers, or the public. We also have to carve space out of our busy lives to write, perhaps leaving less time for a wordless space where we can breathe and just be. Not only that, but many of us work not just hard, but really, really hard, trying to make our prose right, our plots flow, our adjectives appropriate.
I used to be constantly frazzled, as a writer. Then, a few years ago, I was faced with a huge crisis – which affected my personal life to an unprecedented extent – and the heightened emotions that hit me then taught me the imperative of a life without frazzle.
It made me recalibrate how to be a writer. I ended up relearning the way I ran my life, and it released me.
I’m still a writer – in fact, I wrote a book based on what I learned. But I’m a different sort of writer now, and it’s enabled me to let go of those unhelpful emotions that were clouding my ability to unfrazzle. So if you’d like to do the same, below are a few tips, adapted for writers from my book, that I hope will be especially useful at this particularly challenging time in all our lives.
If you’re feeling particularly frazzled, come off social media and delete your apps (you can reinstall them any time via the app store). Even if you’re feeling OK with your frazzle, set a particular time when you’ll do social media, and be strict with that. I prefer to use it later in the day, so the words from newsfeeds and others’ opinions don’t cloud my writing head.
I’ve seen plenty of posts saying social isolation = no excuse not to write! or similar. If you relish the time to write, then go for it. But remove any pressure to do so. You don’t have to write (unless you’re on a deadline, of course). Think about it: writing should be feeding you – spiritually if not financially. If it’s not doing either, perhaps it’s time to question if it’s right for you, right now.
Writing is often not-writing. I’ve rarely had my best ideas while sat in front of my laptop. If you’re not on lockdown, go for long walks (keeping a two-metre distance, obviously): at the moment the streets are very empty, and when they’re back to busy (which they will be, one day), take yourself down the quietest routes. Don’t consciously search for ideas – they may come, they may not.
Give yourself treats. One thousand words (or whatever your goal may be) = a treat. Don’t crack the whip and force yourself on. Take time for whatever nurtures you – a bath, a cup of tea while gazing out of the window, curling up with a novel.
Take at least one day off from your laptop (or your notebook, should you write that way). I also recommend avoiding use of your phone on the same day. Your writing brain needs plenty of reflection time – probably more than you think. I used to write seven days a week, because I’d been told by everyone to ‘write every day’. It kept me going for one novel, but then I was completely unable to write another because I had writing burnout. Your schedule must be sustainable.
You may well think that all the above means it’ll take you twice as long to complete your piece of work. Yes, it probably will, but unless you’re working to someone else’s timetable, you can totally do that. I’ve learned to my cost that emotional and mental health comes before everything else, even writing. It’s impacted me financially, but at the same time, other opportunities have sprung from that headspace I’ve discovered. I’m a better writer than I used to be, I have more ideas, I’ve made more connections with others, and my writing life has expanded into areas I never expected.
Of course, the current situation is affecting all of us, me included. But some people are calmer, and more clear-headed than others. They’re the ones who were less frazzled to begin with, and so I take my cues from them. It’s vital that we all dial down the frazzle and discover our inner calm. I strongly believe we all have an ability to get back to it, and that the tools to access it don’t require special knowledge or a daily mindfulness practice: the trick lies in recalibrating the way we already live our lives.
Stephanie Lam’s new book Unfrazzle: The easy way to reclaim your calm is out now. It’s a six-step plan to help you discover headspace and time out within your everyday life and is available as an ebook or paperback which you can order online.
Stephanie is also a journalist writing on wellbeing and creativity, including the popular Everyday Escape back page column for Breathe Magazine, and for twenty years she has also worked as a teacher alongside highly-stressed people held in immigration detention.