by Lillian Csernica on December 11, 2017
Here we are in the holiday season. This time of year will stress out anybody, even those people lucky enough to have a “normal” family life. Writers often come from dysfunctional families. Writers often have mental health issues. Put it all together and the holiday season can be quite a gauntlet to run, between day jobs, holiday preparations, family gatherings, and the desperate struggle for time and space write.
My therapist taught me a skill that I will now pass along to you. This skill is designed to buy you the mental and emotional space you need to survive when you find yourself overwhelmed. Your mileage may vary, but give it a try. Three simple words:
Achieve literary distance.
How does one do this? Here’s my method. I always have my tote bag with me. At the moment it contains four notebooks, two manuscripts, one of those zippered pouches for pens, and a few other odds and ends. I take the tote bag everywhere. When life gets too intense, I pull out a notebook and a pen. If I’m stuck in a line, I spot the most interesting people and jot down quick lists of their notable physical and behavioral traits. If I’m in a waiting room, I might write a scene involving two of the people waiting there also.
The point here is to derail our anxiety by making our trains of thought switch tracks. Becoming consciously more observant puts us into a more objective state of mind. Sometimes what we really need is to get out of our own heads. By calling on the skills that help us achieve literary distance, we can at least get out of the Anxiety Attic and go hang out in the Creativity Corner. When we deliberately shift our focus outward, we may very well lower our anxiety levels.
I know this works for me. I get all stressed out about being on time, getting everything done according to my To Do list, or I’m all knotted up mentally because of a conflict with a family member. When I achieve literary distance, that helps me step back, take that deep breath, connect pen to paper, and re-establish a calmer, more flexible state of mind.
Make this skill work for you. If you like texting ideas on the Notepad function of your phone, go for it. If you need a blank journal with no lines and a few broken crayons, more power to you. If you just want to sit in a comfy spot and take some mental notes along with a few deep breaths, that’s good too.
Writing is our superpower. We can use it to rescue ourselves.