I emailed a friend of mine from grad school to see how she was doing. She has another year and a half to go before getting her MFA, and she wrote back telling me how stressed out she was with the workload, the research papers she has to do on top of writing and trying to maintain some semblance of sanity (as though there really is such a thing to writers).
I understood and sympathized with her due, in no small part, to the fact that I have been down that road. Stress CAN kill you, whether you’re a grad student or an established writer, but I’ve got a few tips that might help:
- Take one day off from writing each week. Writing is like any other job, meager-to-nonexistent as the pay is, and like any other job, you need some time off. Take this day to do something, anything, to regain a measure of control. If you have bills, use this as a day to pay them. If you’re schedule is out of control, plan your writing objectives for each day of the next week. If you have nothing at all to do, veg out in your pajamas and sleep in.
- Keep a journal and try to write in it daily, even for just a little bit. I find a journal to be much more convenient than a therapist because you can go to the journal whenever you want for however long you want, and there’s no gigantic bill to deal with. After a while, you can go back to some of your earlier entries and see how far you’ve come as a writer, how much more focused and diligent you are now as opposed to then. And don’t forget, a journal is a great place to jot down ideas that you can use for later projects.
- If you don’t have a hobby, find one. Have yourself a movie night. Revisit old boardgames. Take up dancing (with or without your clothes; I don’t judge). Find something you can do for fun that is NOT related to writing. If you feel like you’re too crunched for time to invest into a hobby, you can kill two birds with one stone by setting time for your hobby on your day off from writing.
- Break up your workload into smaller portions that are easier to manage. If you really have to get through a draft of your writing project in one day, go through it a page at a time and take short breaks between pages (depending on, of course, how long that project is). And try not to rush through it. As they say in the Army Rangers, “Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast.”
- Keep yourself physically active. Exercise. Play sports. Get laid. Physical activity is well known for stress relief, what with the endorphins and all, and it keeps you looking dead sexy for when you speak at a writer’s conference.