March 8, 2010

How Much Pressure is Too Much?

By Carole St-Laurent

For those of you with a day job, you know how much pressure at work can affect you. Sometimes, with a little pressure, the best comes out of you. A little too much and it’s the reverse.

I’m a stay at home mom. Or a full time writer, depending on the day. I’m in the process of completing my first manuscript. I don’t need anyone but yours truly to put the pressure on myself.

In January, I took an on-line class titled “How to Defeat Your Self-Defeating Behavior” by Margie Lawson. I learned how to slay my inner dragons and let my creativity soar.

During the month-long class, the exchanges between the teacher and the students became a snowball effect; we goaded each other in a positive way, and motivated ourselves to the finish line. There was such a ruckus in my office that all my dragons remained respectfully at a distance.

Then February came. The quiet came back. So did the dragons.

It’s so much easier to take on a bunch of monsters with a band of superheroes surrounding you. Now I had to apply what I learned in Ms. Lawson’s class by myself.

What did I learn?

Now it’s March and I need to regroup and put my foot down. I know what my dragons are:

a) Procrastination

b) Guilt

c) Perfectionism

d) Unrealistic Goal-Setting

First, everyday I repeat this to myself: Change is hard work: it is inconvenient and painful. So bite me.

To slay my procrastination dragon, I remind myself how good I feel when I just do it, when I sit down and write that scene.

I calm my guilt by accepting my decisions: I will clean house on Wednesday, and write on Tuesday and Thursday.

I defeat my perfectionism by writing forward: no more self-editing the heck out of my first few chapters. Doing this doesn’t help me in FINISHING the manuscript. (I have to admit here that’s the hardest thing ever for me to let go, but I promised the perfectionist in me that when it’s done, she’ll have her day.)

I set goals that I know I can achieve. Sometimes I get too ambitious, but I try not to let my inner negative voice bring me down.


What happens when I relapse? When I set too many goals in a week that I don’t achieve, which leads to guilt, which leads to procrastination? I sit down and review my yearly goals.

I have twenty-two scenes left before I reach THE END of my current WIP. I have seven blog articles to write and six online classes to coordinate until June.

The goal closest to my heart, the one I really, really want to reach is to finish my manuscript and make PRO before RWA’s conference in July.

I know I can do it.

I know I should be able to do it.

So why do I relapse some weeks and get myself late on my schedule?

When the fun takes a vacation…

I realized why last week.

I put too much pressure on myself. My inner voice has switched from negative to pushy: come one, finish, finish, finish! No time for fun stuff!

Ah, that’s where I went wrong!

I took the fun out of my writing. It started to feel like going to work every morning, to a job that’s uninspiring and soul crushing.

Meanwhile, my writing is so slow that all my other characters started to buck, because they want their turn in the spotlight, too. In my tunnel way of setting my goals, I had no time for them, and that was just another way to avoid a fun task.

So last week, I tried a different way to set my goals: I made time for the fun stuff. I did one character profile and now Little Jen went back inside my head, happy I listened to her. I tucked away her information for a later date, but at least it’s all down on paper and I won’t forget her.

I started an online class: how to draw Manga characters. I can do it at my leisure and it stirs my creativity. I liked it so much that I blogged about it last week.

What happened?

My WIP is back on track. I’m still two scenes behind schedule but I’m fairly certain I will be able to recoup them. Strange how adding more items on my to-do list help me DO more.

In a way, I didn’t really ADD anything. I just took a little pressure off, by transforming the times when I agonize over my WIP to do something creative. Then, with my inner pushy voice muzzled, my WIP became fun again.

Carole St-Laurent is a French-Canadian living in South Carolina. She’s hard at work to complete her first historical romance set during the French Revolution. She co-authors, with her writing partner, Sharon, a weekly blog titled Romance & Beyond.





Sharon Bernas said...

We share the same behaviours, Carole, so your dragon-slaying techniques are life-savers. Thanks for the reminders. Great advice.

Anna Kathryn Lanier said...

Oh, I love Margie Lawson. Her workshops are awesome. Thanks for sharing your dragon-slaying experiences with us, Carole and for hosting my blog today.


Leni said...

Are you sure we weren't separated at birth? I so relate.Thank you so much for this post.

Meg said...

It is nice to know that there are other writers out there that struggle with the same issues that I do. It's encouraging! Thank you, Carole!

Susan M. Boyer said...

The biggest, hairiest, fiercest dragon in my head is NOT KNOWING HOW to SAY NO. Most of my life I've bitten off more than I could chew, then ended up stressed and freaking out from the pressure I put on myself to "Do it all." I'm also acquainted with Perfectionism, and the combination of these two dragons--needing to do everything and needing for everything to be perfect--nearly drove me mad. I'm in recovery, but I have to constantly be on guard not to backslide. Kudos to you for keeping your dragons at bay!

Sherry Isaac said...

Carole, remember: You are not alone. Call your CC. Whip is always at the ready. You have accomplished so much and I admire your courage as you continue to reach forward blogging, learning to draw manga, planning your book trailer and slaying dragons. Every hurdle you meet you find away to leap over. Don't forget to play!

Mary Ricksen said...

I wish you the best of luck. We all have to look for our muse at one time or another.

Virginia said...

I think we all share the same things. We also put thr pressure on ourself most of the time! We need to learn to chill out!