Stress Plotting

Stress is a real prose buster for me.  I’m a worrier, who comes from a long line of worriers.  Stress means I’m generally very focused on whatever the problem is, which makes it very difficult for me to focus on writing actual prose.  Certainly not GOOD prose.  I am, of course, a huge proponent of consistency and habits as a writer, so usually I’ll keep trying to write, but it falls flat and it’s really just going through the motions, trying to keep the mental wheels from rusting such that I wind up with a nasty case of page fright.

Then sometimes the stress is bad enough (or circumstances are busy enough) that I just…can’t write.

So then what?

Well, there’s stress eating, which I’ve been doing far too much of the last few weeks.  We aren’t going to talk about the backslide with my weight other than to say UGH, and I need to get a handle on it STAT.

There’s also stress plotting.

Say what?

Yeah, I tend to plot when I’m stressed and can’t write.  This is, I suppose, a sign that when my usual channel of creativity is shut off, my brain has to find some other way to create.  So as things draw nearer to the end with my grandmother (any day now), I find my brain engaged in peopling and plotting out a YA Mirus trilogy.  It’s the rest of the story I briefly mentioned after our last trip to Texas that’s based on this character sketch.

I started a blueprint this morning since conflicts and relationships are starting to gel in my brain.  Until a couple of days ago, all I really had was Emily and the general overall conflict she found herself in.  Then I started figuring out more of my YA cast.  This morning I figured out the love interest, and the assorted connections between the characters…lots of delightful details that figure into their motivations and the conflicts that will help drive the plot.  The blueprint makes it real work, so I don’t feel so much like a slacker.  It’s not forward movement on the book I’m “supposed” to be working on, but it’s still productive work.

What do you do when you can’t write?

As an aside and in the realm of “You should read this, it’s awesome and funny”

Tahereh Mafi wrote a fantastic post about 9 Things Everyone Needs To Know About Writers.

Also Chuck Wendig roasts a bunch of traditional writing advice with his usual, snort-inducing hilarity.  Beverage warning before opening this one.

13 thoughts on “Stress Plotting

  1. Yeah, I agree that going into another part of the creative process and/or another project can be very helpful. And as you say, it’s all productive work. 🙂 Funny, we had a small discussion of this kind of thing on my blog yesterday.

    Also, I love the expression ‘page fright’! 😀

    I’m sorry about your grandma. I don’t know what else to say. Except that you’re a trooper for keeping working at such a difficult time in your life!

    1. I totally get page fright! It’s like if I don’t write for a few days I freeze up and forget HOW. It usually takes some really horrible prose to get the wheels turning again.

  2. I read anything I can get my hands on when I can’t write, and I watch A LOT of movies in the genre I’m writing in. I also tend to start letting characters run loose in my head to see if they can figure out why I can’t write. I know that sounds really weird, but it works most of the time–like setting aside a part of my subconscious to work on the problem.

    Sorry to hear about your grandma. Hang in there, kiddo.

    1. I do a lot of the reading/watching thing too, though not always in the genre I’m writing in. It’s funny you should say that about your subconscious. It used to be thought in cognitive psychology that when you had a problem and walk away, then come back to work on it and find the solution, that it was because your brain was working on it subconsciously. There’s actually been some fairly recent research that suggests that what’s actually taking place is FORGETTING. You forget some of what wasn’t working, which opens your mind up to new alternative solutions to the problem. I thought that was pretty interesting.

  3. Thanks for the link, Kait! Much appreciated. I have to remember to swing by here more often, so thanks for the prod.

    — c.

    1. I just have a permanent beverage warning before visiting your blog. It is not allowed as part of the morning breakfast reading, as I’d hate to spew tea all over my laptop…

  4. When I can’t write, I write more. I know that sounds weird. Writing is my escape. It’s like comfort food or a favorite blanket for me. I work on something different, or just write a random scene, or force myself to finish a blog post, or something else… But I force myself to write, and it’s like working out: It begets more and better writing the way excercising begets better performance on the next workout.

    Now I just have to get back to working out…

    1. I definitely don’t count my blogging as writing. I can spew out a blog post under almost any circumstances, so that doesn’t get me unstuck. I have such a limited time frame to write each day anyway that it often winds up stressing me out even more to try to squeeze it in. Now the real ideal would be to find a way to exercise WHILE writing…

  5. I’ve been working on beating my procrastination habit. If I feel like I can’t face a certain project, I work on something else, maybe even something new. Eventually, I’ll start to avoid one of those projects and get back to the orignal one. 🙂 Actually, it’s working. I’m getting stuff done and feeling a lot less avoidance.

  6. I have a tough time writing anything decent when I’m stressed, too. In fact, I need to feel like I have plenty of time and no outside pressures in order to really get into the flow of writing. It’s sort of a yin/yang thing for me. Writing is yin. It’s hard to get in that state of mind when all the yang of life is clamoring in my ears.

  7. I don’t plot often. And I can’t write well while travelling.

    But while travelling, I plot! Plane and train journeys are usually where I get story ideas.

    It’s only recently that I’ve got into the habit of writing them down while I’m at it, and I’m loving this discovery.

  8. You are lucky you can plot during stress. For me I get too unfocused and work goes out the windown…All I can do it make notes and try to reasearch…This is not the case always but at times I’m not good with working as stress hits.

    1. It really seems to depend on whether it’s a stress I have control over (I’m a Doer) vs. a stress I don’t. When I don’t have control of something, I seem to have a need to exert control wherever I can. On paper seems to do the trick.

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