Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Stress Relief for Writers

'Niggle' Box (or 'Gripe' Box)

This is a great exercise for writers. Presumably, you like writing things down and trying to find the exact words to express something! The focus in this instance is not going to be on your fictional endeavours, but on your own personal niggles, quibbles and gripes - whether these are to do with your life as a writer or not.

Image: Fotolia
As a writer, even  if the profession is your ‘dream job’ - there will always be worries, anxieties, irritations and concerns to deal with along the way. In any career - as a teacher, landscape gardener, vineyard manager, parachute stuntman - there will be teeth-gnashing moments - whether it’s vexation with work colleagues, anger at your boss, despair at the work-load, new directives, enforced changes in working-hours, the faulty photo-copier and so on. As a writer, these concerns are likely to hover around areas of uncertainty and insecurity; aching for that great idea to fill out in your mind, finding time and space to get the story down, waiting for feedback from an agent/editor, waiting for figures on book sales, waiting for payments, fraught deadlines, panic when a broken wrist or PC meltdown clashes with a string of last-minute edits to your novel.
The potential for distress as a writer is far-reaching. Take my writer friend, for example; she faced a classic humdinger. Before she secured an agent, an editor at a well-known publisher said she was ‘really interested’ in her novel, but felt the angle wasn’t quite right. She suggested my friend do a complete re-write – which she did – grinding away on the manuscript for nearly a whole year. She contacted the editor a couple of times, but was advised to get back to her once the book was finished. She did so - only to find when she finally submitted the novel, that the editor had left…and no one else had heard of the author or was interested in her book. Grrr… Or there’s a recent one of mine, when I found a gap on my royalties’ sheet. There was no explanation, so I had to ask, only to find that one of my overseas (non-fiction) publishers had gone out of business and wouldn’t be giving me a penny for all the copies of my book they’d sold during a period of three years. Right…

Things you'll need:
Blank paper, pen, small box (eg shoe-box, plastic box for file cards or pencil box).

Filling my 'Gripe' Box...
1. Cut the sheets of paper into scraps of about 7cm square (or tear an A4 sheet into smaller shapes).

2. Identify each issue that is troubling you at the moment – it doesn’t matter where you start, just aim to articulate as many as you can.

3. Write the date and one concern on each scrap. Be sure to write them all down, no matter how big or small – directly related to writing, or not. Include concerns about your family, car, holidays, bank account – anything that’s uppermost in your mind and making you anxious. Be clear, detailed and specific. For example, instead of, ‘Worried about selling the flat’ write, ‘Worried that the current offer will be withdrawn.’ The more specific you are, the more this will work.

4. Take each issue and ask yourself, ‘Is there anything I can DO about this worry?’ If the answer is Yes, write the action you could take on the back (even if you don't feel like doing it right now): ‘I could phone Lucy about this’, for example. It could be a small thing – such as finding a relevant phone number, emailing someone or asking for help etc. Be rigorous with yourself. Most issues have something that can be done about them, even if it is only to talk to a friend about the issue. Have you ever had this issue before? Is it familiar? Look at similar situations in the past and how you dealt with them. How would you advise a friend if they had this problem? Continue until each concern has an action point. Don’t worry about taking the action just yet – just be aware that you’ve noted it, for now. If there’s no possible action, just date it.

5. Fold each sheet of paper and put them all into your box. 

6. Shut the lid.

7. There they are – all in one box – not inside your head. 

8. The next part is optional, but really powerful if you choose to do it. In your mind - offer up the box to someone else for them to take care of it, for you. This could be a loving relative who has passed away, the ‘universal energy’ around us, an Angelic, God or Goddess figure or any kind of higher-power you believe in (or would like to believe in).

9. Once you’ve asked for your worries to be taken care of, you may feel something has shifted. If you didn’t do the last point, just writing down worries helps to shift them outside our heads. Our minds are rather like a ‘washing-machine’ - a tangle of thoughts, fears and worries. This technique helps you to separate out this mass of feelings and inner thoughts – and to set them apart from you. It allows you to work out which issues need attention first and which ones can wait for a while. You will begin to discover the difference between worries you can do something about and those you can't. I often feel a weight has been lifted when I do this exercise – and less powerless.

10. Then - when you feel ready, return to the action points you’ve identified and GO…

If you want to know more - and would like more tips for looking after yourself - I’ve written about dealing with worries extensively, as a Psychotherapist, in The Self-Esteem Journal.
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AJ Waines is the author of Psychological Thrillers:  The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train.
Both books went to Number One in 'Murder' and 'Psychological Thrillers' in the UK Kindle charts.

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