Stress is like cholesterol, too much of it will kill you, but if you don’t have enough, you will make your own. I do that, in my writing life. Too many expectations, I think. What I should do, really, is let go of all of those goals, at least for a while, and work at my own pace. I don’t know where I got this idea that I have to be under pressure to get anything done.
I grew up around a certain amount of chaos. Whether or not it was really a lot depends, I suppose, on your frame of reference, but I find it interesting that in my professional (non-writing) life I have gravitated to situations that tended to be fairly chaotic. I got pretty good at functioning under stress, at getting things done with a lot of unhappiness and shouting going on in the background. But just because you’re good at something doesn’t make it good for you, or, for that matter, good for the work you are doing. Or trying to do.
Without some stress, I won’t get anything accomplished. Without something inside me pushing and nagging and complaining about my lack of effort, the book I am currently trying to write will never get where I want it to go. This situation is analogous, at least for me, to working out. It is something I enjoy both for its own sake and for the rewards I think I might get out of it, but I cannot do it properly without pushing myself. For them to be effective or even enjoyable, my workouts have to be reasonably close to on schedule and on plan or they will accomplish nothing. Mark Rippetoe says that if your workouts aren’t designed to get you to a specific goal, you do not have a program, you only have an activity, and I think that is a valid observation. If I apply that metric to my current writing project, yeah, sure, I have a goal, which is to finish my next novel and for it to be as good as I have the power to make it. The question is, do I have a design that will get me to that goal? Am I too structured, in my writing life, or too unstructured? Is it even possible for someone like me to impose order on something that has always been a somewhat chaotic process?
If I don’t have a program, to borrow Rippetoe’s word, I won’t get the book finished, not the way I want it to be finished, and I’ll be left with writing as an activity, which sounds pretty lousy to me. I could, I suppose, just write, just go on-line and complain about politics or sports or whatever, add my voice to the din… In my opinion, that would be both an insult to and a waste of whatever talents I have been given.
And there it is: I started out trying to get rid of some of my stress and wound up deciding that I need it after all.