Stress: the author's friend

January 16, 2019

Is stress bothering you? Is it getting you down? When you hear these words, it's usually followed by someone telling you to take some form of medication, or to relax - because that would never have occurred to you!


But what if that stress is actually a good thing? What if there are certain situations where the right kind of stress is going to help? 


Let me tell you a brief story to explain why I'm writing this post. 


When I gave up full-time work I agreed to freelance for the company and write their marketing copy. At the same time I resumed work with a company where I'm a director, producing online learning resources. For much of last year the marketing work was steady and the other work almost non-existent. That changed suddenly when the quantity of marketing demands increased as the company geared up for expansion and the online learning projects multiplied. Suddenly it was like working full-time again as I juggled workload. (I'll state now, I'm not anticipating this situation to be permanent, more a case of both jobs peaking with projects simultaneously).


If you've been reading my blogs lately you'll have seen how I've bemoaned the creative vacuum I'm in. And that leads me into this discovery: my creativity exploded and my writing suddenly found new meaning! The ideas for my Work In Progress appeared, they're actually imaginative and haven't needed a frontal lobotomy. I liked what I was writing too - no more tantrums with the computer screen.


So what's happened? The answer lies with Stress. That monster we believe we hate. I'd anticipated I'd find myself in a panic with deadlines queuing up but that didn't happen. The online learning stuff, after an initial grumpy phase caused by it taking me away from my writing - which had been going soooo well - vanished and I started to enjoy it. I found myself skipping (metaphorically!) from one project to another and on to my writing. 


I've researched to understand this situation better. Here's what I found.


Researchers from Columbia Business School found creativity actually increased when people switched tasks. They found that when attempting problems that require creativity, we often reach a dead end without realizing it. Regularly switching back and forth between tasks at a set interval can reset your thinking, enabling you to approach each task from fresh angles. Frequently changing gears forces you to change your view of each task as you revisit it.

The mixed-media American artist JJ Peet, during an interview, showed how he developed numerous projects simultaneously by keeping them in cupboards, locked away so he would take one out for a set amount of time then put it back and start on another for the same amount of time. He's prolific!


The common factor in these examples, and others, comes down to one word: FLOW. We need to seemlessly switch from one project to another to keep our minds active and prevent them from getting stuck in mental cul-de-sacs. The science bit states that during periods of FLOW, our brains secrete a healthy dose of pleasure-feeling chemicals such as dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine into the system and we become more creative as a consequence


So the juggling of the different projects stopped my brain from obsessing on the negative, on the frustration, instead it jumped that barrier and went to work on something else. I've found the effort of writing this post to be enjoyable, it's making my brain buzz at the prospect of knowing I can overcome this writer's slump I've been in for so long. 


I've often wondered how it was I came to write my trilogy of novels while working full-time and also enjoy the process so much. As someone who considers himself now to be a full-time writer, I couldn't work out why I'd lost that passion and all the ideas. Now I know. I need to flow. I need different projects to keep me creative. 


Ironic isn't it? The stress I was feeling wasn't linked to the deadlines of projects commitments. It was caused by my writer's slump. The deadlines caused the stress to disappear! I hope this helps other writers and artists as much as it has helped me.

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