I haven’t been able to write much in the last week, or even focus well on my novel, and work stress is one of the major reasons. As a writer, I want to spend my few free scraps of time thinking about my characters and story, so that I can be prepared to sit down and write at a moment’s notice. Lately, though, creeping thoughts of work and pending conflict there tend to drive everything out of my mind. If I really want to keep this writing thing going, then I either have to check out at work or take a deliberate approach to keeping my story in my head.
Day Job Stuff
I’m an admin wonk at a university in Japan. That, in itself, is not a particularly stressful job, I know. Nobody dies if I slack off in my job for a day, and I know the difference. I was on the ground in Afghanistan for 9 months and specifically responsibility for the safety of my unit. This job is nothing like that. No, it’s not the job.
It’s me. I do this to myself.
I am a perfectionist. If I see something wrong at my job, I want to fix it and I have a hard time letting things go. I guess I assume that since I noticed the problem, it is my responsibility to fix it, and if I don’t, then I am failing. . . somebody, dammit. I hate failing people, even when said “people” are figments of my imagination. As you may be able to imagine, this approach to work results in a lot of unnecessary stress. But, at this point, it’s still something I can deal with. Accept the things that are out of my power to change from my position in the organization, and fix the things I can, including gaining buy-in from those around me.
Problem 1: My entire supervisory chain is of the “don’t rock the boat” personality. They don’t want my fixes. In fact, they don’t see the problems I see. If I bring a proposal to my team senior or supervisor, I simply get ignored (and then get more work dumped on me, because clearly they had allowed me too much time to think). This is stressful, but I filed it away as #justadayjob and decided to keep my head down and plow on.
Problem 2: I am in a position of minor authority and have a responsibility to the people “below” me. If I’m the only one with a problem, I can put up with it and keep going. Nine years in the Air Force Academy/Air Force taught me that I can bear just about anything. But it also taught me to stand up for my subordinates. And when they have a problem too, then I need to take action to fix it. I don’t actually have subordinates (we don’t actually have an organizational structure that makes any of that clear), but I do have people on my team who come to me with their problems with the chain above and trust me to help them solve them. Now, I can’t just throw out my hashtag and check out.
So, that was entirely too much information about my day job, perhaps. But the point is, I’m in a position where I’m expected to solve problems that I have no real means to deal with. I worry constantly about pending conflict and letting people down, and this fear takes away from my ability to concentrate on my writing.
Overcoming Work Stress and Writing
Work stress is not going to go away until I’m successful enough as an author to quit my day job. That’s not going to happen unless I can overcome the stress to focus on writing.
I’ve tried thinking it’s #justadayjob, but the truth is, that’s just not going to work well for me. I get invested in whatever I’m doing and I tend to lose sight of the bigger picture. I have lifetime employment under Japanese law, so theoretically, I could be like the guy at my old job who just shows up, browses the internet for 8 hours, then goes home. But I can’t. I’m going to stress about the job. I’m going to try to make things better and worry when I can’t. So I need to overcome that.
So, although two weeks ago, I thought I was about ready to start writing, I wasn’t I needed to sit down and make a plan to overcome distraction.
I heard this all the time when I was working on Banner, make character profiles, reference sheets, etc., but I ignored it. Scrivener has awesome tools for this, but I ignored those, too. Word count was everything to me then. Until 2/3 through when I forgot what color Baric’s eyes were, or how old he’d been when his father vanished.
So, here’s what I’m doing for the current book: Complete character profiles, plus updates. After each chapter, I have set myself a “Habit” goal (using my new favorite motivational tool, Habit RPG) to reflect the results of each chapter on my characters’ profiles and settings, rather than plowing on to the next chapter.
Speaking of that, setting profiles, too. I am terrible at working in sensory inputs. So, I sat down, used the template from Scrivener, and made sure to write in the sights, sounds, and smells of the places my characters will visit. For me, it’s important to understand why things are the way they are, so I had time to do that while writing the setting profiles.
And here’s the most important thing for both of those profiles: Use Them!
Before I sit down to write each day, I have set myself a goal of reading through the character profile of each character in the scene as well as the setting profile. Furthermore, I am going to write my way into the scene. I tend to build slowly, and I love that stuff, but I get that most readers don’t. No more the days of Tolkien taking 90,000 words before Frodo leaves Bag End. So, I write my way in for me, find where the important section begins, and cut later.
One Last Idea: Using Audio to Capture Lost Time
The problem with the ideas above is that they take time away from fingers-to-keyboard time, and I don’t have a whole lot of time, in general, especially not in large chunks. However, I do have time when I’m driving to work and home. I usually use that time to catch up on podcasts, but I could conceivably record my character profiles and play them on audio to help reinforce the ideas in my head. I’m not planning on jumping in to this right away (I enjoy my podcasts too much to give them up), but it is a potential plan.
So that’s where I am this week. Stressed, but overcoming it in the interest of writing. Writing in the interest of getting rid of the stress in my life. And all for the goal of spending more time with my family and being a better (less stressed) father.
What’s Your Anti-Stress Method?
If any of you out there have other methods to overcome stress and get down to the writing, I’d love to hear about them in the comments below!