The Writer’s Frenemy by E.M. Youman

Writing has taught me a lot about who I am and what I will put up with and won’t stand for.

About three years ago I was sitting at my job ready to scream. Not that it’s a bad job or anything. My boss is actually very nice. But I was feeling rather sucky about my ability to meet certain goals. At the back of my mind, I kept thinking, I don’t want to do this. I stopped sending out e-mails and opened up notepad and started writing. At the time I didn’t know that I wanted to write a story, it was just a need. My body was signaling to me I needed to focus on something else. It could have been anything, but I take it as a sign that I chose to write.

After twenty minutes I looked over what I wrote, laughed at my characters and went back to work. I was in high spirits for the rest of the day. That weekend I decided I wanted to write more on this story. So I booted up the family computer which sits in our living room and tried to write while Judge Mathis made fun of his defendants. I couldn’t and I knew that if I wanted to continue writing, I needed my own space.

A week later I headed over to Costco and bought a laptop. I was really uncomfortable plunking down that much money in one day and on myself. I’m used to spending money on other people, but once I committed to buying that laptop I told myself I needed to consider it an investment in my writing future. That meant I needed to at least earn back what I spent on my laptop.

Enter stressor number one: Earn back investment in writing.

Forget about the fact that no one should ever get into writing or any creative field for money, or that a lot of investments are never earned back. This is what I told myself in order to feel good about the purchase.

So I decided I needed to finish this story. I told myself I needed to write five hundred words every day. It seemed like a lot at the time. I pantsed my way through the story and often wrote past my word count. I started thinking this writing thing was easy. Plus, I was having so much fun.

But then I started getting knocks on the door:

“What’s for dinner?”

“You’re spending an awful lot of time in this room. Why don’t come down for a while?”

Suddenly life was calling me back, and I had to leave my sanctuary.

Enter stressor two: Balance writing and life

It feels like writing should be inclusive, but it turns out, it’s a never ending either, or situation.

Ex: Spend time with your family or write.

Sometimes writing wins and sometimes life loses. It doesn’t feel good at all, I want everything to win. So I decided all I needed to do was managed my time better.

Enter stressor number three: Time efficiency.

Don’t dawdle at the grocery store. Watch one hour of T.V. with the fam. Take thirty minutes and eat.

At this point the stress that started me on this journey was a gentle tap on my shoulder. But now it has gotten stronger, because I’ve given it a lot of fuel.

I finish my story and start researching agents. I discover a lot of them like to support writers who have writing credits. Which means I needed to write a few short stories and get them published in magazines.

Enter stressor number four: Write a lot of shorts.

Which ties into I must write a lot of shorts to earn credits, to get an agent to sell my novel to earn back my initial investment. Don’t even bother trying to bring logic into this mess. Stress hates logic, because if I brought logic into the equation, I would’ve said why in the world am I putting so much pressure on myself?

But you might notice, instead of writing being fun, must has crept into my vocabulary. Must is a very strong tool for stressors. When must enters the equation writing stops being fun.

And then you start talking like this:

  • I must write a thousand words a day.
  • I must write a good story
  • I must submit to x number of magazines

When you first started writing, did you ever stop to contemplate if it would be good or not? My gut says no. You were excited about writing a sparkly new story, and before you had time to invalidate it, you’d already finished writing it.

So what’s the moral here? Stop writing when it gets to be too much? Don’t stress? I scoured the web for hours each day trying to figure out how to fix the problem. I came upon a blog that resonated with me. It said: “Stop looking for answers outside of yourself.”

Don’t let your Frenemy become the center of your life

The problem with stress is when it becomes your motivation for doing everything. When stress is at the center, writing becomes hard. Some people believe writer’s block isn’t real. I’d like to counter that writer’s block is real and it’s you. You block yourself, most likely when stress is the center motivation.

If you come to the page pressuring yourself about writing x number of words a day, is it really a surprise when you can’t even write five hundred?

When you come to the page and think about how must hurry and get the end of the story, is it a wonder you struggle with writing the middle?

What I want to stress (pun intended) is that putting pressure on yourself has further reaching bad side effects than ruining your writing.

For instance, stress can make you forgetful. Does this ever happen to you? You run up the stairs and when you reach the top landing you forget what you came up for? Most of us chalk it up to age, but what if it’s really stress beating you down?

So you’re saying stress is the enemy?

Not at all. Stress is a tool. For instance, it’s great for deadlines, and keeping you focused. I knew I had to write this blog and instead of waiting until the end of the day to write, stress made me get up first thing in the morning and put butt in chair.

My solution to stress

Be nice to yourself. Come to the page hoping to do one thousand words, but if you didn’t reach that goal be happy with what you have written. Read over it and pat yourself on the back if it’s a particularly good passage.

Goals are great, without them I wouldn’t get anything done, but writing for the sake of a goal turns your brain off. I am not a machine. That’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned from writing.

About The Author

E.M. Youman is a freelance writer from Oakland, CA. Some of her short stories have been published by Black Cat Press, S/tick Magazine and IFF. When she’s not writing fiction, E.M. Youman, works at an independent record label and runs a music blog. She is currently working on her first romance novel.

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