Using Your Upswing: Coping Strategies for Writers

Guest post by Karen Evans.

Karen Evans has been writing SF/F with her husband for almost 10 years and enjoying the roller-coaster. She planned on being a writer _H1A2364-Lsince third grade where she learned cursive and knew she could now write. When not writing she enjoys crocheting, embroidery, and other busy-hand activities so she can listen to the voices in her head. She lives in New Mexico with her husband,a dog and a variable number of cats. She and her husband write for the Grantville Gazette, a shared universe created by Eric Flint in the novel, 1632, and have several stories in that magazine. They also have a novella available on Amazon Ring of Fire Press called “No Ship for Tranquebar”.


I think we all sometimes have difficulties. These can be things like depression, panic, and anxiety, financial difficulties, trials of faith, or family obligations. I don’t want to belabor the point, just that there are definitely things that can take us out of the “writer’s trance” and interrupt our work.

I don’t want to look at reasons, I want to talk about coping strategies. A coping strategy is something a person does to take control of a difficult situation and ease past it. These can be such things as walking away from stress for ten minutes or doing your thinking while you are crafting. I had a friend who would try and avoid angry outbreaks by counting to one hundred in Portuguese.
I discovered one of mine recently. I was attending an out-of-town convention, speaking on panels, while dealing with personal health difficulties. Conventions in general, are enjoyable for me, but I have to use a lot of energy to put on my extrovert mask, and be “on” in front of strangers.

The area of the convention was not in the high desert of the mountain west, where I am accustomed to walk and breathe. It was in Tennessee, in the deep green of a rainy and humid climate. It was beautiful, but the heat and the humidity made it hard for me to breathe, and I was just about worn through.

The evening of the second day there, I walked into the garden at the hotel. There were fountains with carp and frogs, flowers, and twinkle lights. And from one end of the garden to the other, the hotel scattered wooden rocking chairs with tables in-between. I sank into a rocking chair, put my heavy conventioning bag down, and let my feet swing me back and forth.

I could feel the cares fall from my shoulders. With each back-and-forth of the chair, my anxiety and despondency eased, and I was as pleased with life as I had been when, as a five-year-old child, I had spent the afternoon at the park, swinging by myself for what seemed like an eternity. I remembered the poem my mother often read to me before I went to sleep.

Swing

by Robert Louis Stevenson

How do you like to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so blue?
Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing
Ever a child can do!

Up in the air and over the wall,
Till I can see so wide,
River and trees and cattle and all
Over the countryside–

Till I look down on the garden green,
Down on the roof so brown–
Up in the air, I go flying again,
Up in the air and down!

When I related this event to a friend of mine, she pointed out that it could also hearken back to my time as an infant rocking in my mother’s arms. So the rocking chair brought me back to a time when I was safe and happy. And I was able to continue to repress my introvert, and be the temporary extrovert. I call it Manic Reclusive.

Another thing that has always worked for me is a long drive in a car. Somehow when I feel like the walls are closing in, and my muse isn’t speaking, my husband and I get in the car and drive through wild places. It doesn’t work as well in the city or settled areas. I like to see long vistas, fields, mountains, or clouds.

Somehow when we are driving, it is as if I have escaped the problems for a while, and I can revitalize myself, build new strength. Then, when we return, and the same old difficulties are waiting for me, I know what to do with them, and I can attack them again.

Then there is my husband. When I am beset by self-doubt and self-loathing, he is able to come in, brainstorm with me, and remind me of my goals and outline. When I tell him that it feels like every line should have been scribbled with crayon, he reminds me that one of my personal demons is just trying to keep me from working. And then I can see more clearly, and thumb my nose at the demons while I go back to work.

The final strategy is one that many have witnessed who have seen me at events. I crochet. It sounds so minimal. But I have found that to tame the beast of ADD, if I keep my hands busy with beautiful and useful work, my mind is clear to listen, think, and respond to anything the convention can throw at me. I make small blankets, and donate them to charitable organizations, so that when one of my demons tries to stir up guilt that I am wasting my life pretending to be a writer, I can tell him, “At least I am making something useful. What are you doing.”

So my question for you is, what is your coping strategy? What kind of thing works for you when you face one of these difficulties? Do you think you can improve it? Does it help you write? Take a moment, find your center, and see what you can develop to cope with your demons. Sometimes the simplest thing will make the difference.

 

Jennifer Bennett

About Jennifer Bennett

Jennifer J. Bennett was born in Southern California as the youngest of six children. Her imagination began to develop as a child creating worlds in her backyard. Books have always played a big role in her life; favorites growing up were “The Country Bunny” by Dubose Heyward, “The Light in the Attic”by Shel Silverstein, and “Island of the Blue Dolphins” by Scott O’ Dell among many, many others. She also enjoys music, theater, travel, and cooking.

Jennifer moved from Southern California in 1989 and finished high school in Southern Utah where she met her husband Matthew Bennett who currently works in educational administration. They reside in St. George, Utah with four amazing kids: Haylee, Chase, Conner, and Libby. After her father was diagnosed with cancer, she began writing her first novel, “The Path”. Her father encouraged her to move forward with her writing and she has continued since. He passed away in 2009.

Jen, as her friends call her; can be found buzzing around California from time to time in search of magical elements from the past. She tries to balance fun, being a mom, and trying to be a grownup (which she really isn’t sure she ever wants to be).

Visit Jen’s blog at: http://www.jjbennett.com/

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