Let’s talk about stress

I’m beginning to like these things. They are certainly a great deal of fun to write, and they get my thoughts out there in a new way. Plus, I get to ask you guys questions which, you know, is just oodles of fun for me. I love different opinions, they make the world go ’round.
So, why stress? Why now? Well, as writers we all have to deal with it in one shape or form and, if you missed it, my corner of the stress world led to the temporary shelving of Blood on the Quarter and this.
No fun.
No fun at all. Considering that this has been my pet project for the last two years, it was an incredibly difficult decision to make. But, when the whiteboard stares at you, patiently waiting for you to make the connections your story needs to bear fruit and you come up with nothing, maybe it’s time to shelve and work on something else.


I’ve learned a few things about myself whilst writing Blood on the Quarter.

1. I’m a pantser.
2. After I’m done pantsing, but before running away, I apologise profusely and offer to help put the pants back on.
3. The story that has just been pantsed is a petulant thing and doesn’t want my help.
4. After a lengthy argument we come to an agreement and I begin plotting.
5. Wash. Rinse. Repeat for remainder of story.


I’ve also learned that I’m easily susceptible to stress and it effects everything around me, including what project I’m currently working on. They say depression is an ugly thing (and it is) but rarely I’ve heard its red headed step sister given credit. Well, there was that NatGeo article on ‘The Silent Killer’ a few years ago, so I suppose there has been credit where credit is due. Anyway.

***P.R. NOTICE***

Stress doesn’t just come from outside sources, nor is someone else’s stress more stressful than anyone else’s. I highly doubt stress can be measured and compared in such a way. And, if it can, I will eat a hat. Really. Worcestershire sauce and everything. Maybe a bit of naan bread. Seriously, though, what’s important is learning how to deal with the stressors in our lives, and if we can’t, if we get overwhelmed, to get help from someone who is trained to teach these things for a living. My therapist was blessing when I needed her, and no one is ever a weak person for reaching out and asking for professional help. I don’t care what the stigma is. If you need help. Ask for it.

What follows is my recent experience with an instance of becoming overwhelmed. In no way shape or form am I qualified to give mental health tips. Because of this, I will not do so. I am simply sharing my experience and analysing it from a viewpoint of a writer learning about her craft. If you or a friend are experiencing signs and symptoms of depression or extreme stress, please stop reading and consult a medical professional immediately.


The stress in my life has been multi-faceted, and not just from work. Though my job has been a big part of it these last two months. And not even really the job. Hell, I’ve gotten used to *that* crazy. It was more like the crazy that walked in the door, sat in the catering manager’s chair and proceeded to turn the whole world upside down and inside out. But, I digress. That’s enough of that. Back to the writing bit.
Putting myself on a deadline just about killed me and the story.
I don’t know how published authors (self or otherwise) do it. Is there a secret? Was the first book the hardest?
Have to work on it, have to work on it, became the mantra of my day. Every day. All day. Didn’t matter. If I wasn’t working on it, I was failing. Epically. Then there were the high hopes. The imaginings of ‘breakthrough novel of the year’ and ‘newcomer to the Steampunk world shines with tale of murder and mayhem’.
Hey. Don’t judge. I can dream.
With the hopes and delusions of grandeur came the glaring plot holes and the ‘holy shit how am I going to fix this?!’ and, following plot holes, ideas spun around and around and around until I didn’t know my own story.
So around and around it went. I was in my head, stretching plot lines, trying to understand why one character did this, building the character arc of another, who’s really the bad guy here? Is there a bad guy? What was the plot, again?
Not for the first time since endeavouring on this incarnation of Old Ipswich Road, have I wanted to break down, give up, and cry. I didn’t. But I wanted too.
I also wanted to rip the story up and never look at it again. But it’s still there, sitting on notecards in my purse, taunting me.
Anyway. Moving on.
The thing that sucked about THE DARK KNIGHT RISES was Christopher Nolan’s staunch adherence to realism. It took all the fun out of Bane and made the movie a blatant statement about the state of America and Capitalism. Where H.G. Wells came out and said it in THE TIME MACHINE in such a way that it came across as an ‘oh by the way’ moment, Christopher Nolan shoved it in your face, backhanded and called you a bitch. And really, it’s apparent in the movie that Christian Bale didn’t want to be BATMAN anymore. I’m pretty sure the guy was just collecting a pay check. But that’s not the point. Shut up.


The point is, whilst writing,I was adhering to staunch realism. And not realism in the D&D world building sense where ‘here’s the rules, now go have fun and see what your imagination can come up with’, it was the realism that was more ‘well, I don’t know, can this really happen? Is this really feasible? Will people believe it?’ I finally settled on if it can’t/couldn’t happen in real life, it couldn’t happen in the story. Period.
End of discussion.
The human genome wasn’t mapped out until 1928. My idea of shifters and Octopods was null and void. Couldn’t happen.
Never mind that H.P.Lovecraft’s Cthulhu was perfectly acceptable in 1926. It. Couldn’t. Happen.
(It can).
Never mind that Darwin and his Theory of Evolution could quite possibly embolden a few scientists to experiment around with materials better left unmentioned and with ideas that shouldn’t have really been thought of in the first place.
Couldn’t happen.
(Why not?)
And why can’t the Irish Famine be a real problem way beyond its time? I’m writing science fiction, dammit! All I need is one little excuse to keep it going….
(See what I mean?)
This line of thinking made things more difficult and -ahem-unrealistic in terms of writing. Steampunk, at its core, is science fiction. There is an element of science to it just as there is an element of fiction. To make one thing happen, events have to precede and twist in such a way that it can happen. How they twist and in which direction they go is completely up to the writer.
Historical events are not necessarily fixed on a timeline, for lack of a better explanation.
And that’s where I went wrong. I had to be so damned believable, I became mired in my own world. Mired in motivations and the reason why rather than the story and the how.
So, I backed off. Obviously Blood on the Quarter isn’t ready to be written just yet. I’ve created a world, and in doing so I have to take a few steps back to go forward. Every world, everything has a starting point, I was just going about the wrong way of telling it. The guys on the Roundtable were right, I tried to tell too much. The story has to be separated. And I’m all right with that. In fact, I’m excited.
Stepping back is the best decision I could have made.
But what about you guys? Do you ever get stressed out about a book you’re writing? Or even a short story? Or hell, to make things interesting, what about life? What do you do when enough is enough? How do you cope?

5 thoughts on “Let’s talk about stress

  1. Yvonne Hertzberger says:

    When the writing ceases to be fun and exciting, I think it’s time to take a step back to examine why you are doing it in the first place. I had to do that recently. I had people clamouring for Book Three. I felt I owed it to them to wrap it all up before the end o the year. after all, they had bought books One and two. Didn’t they deserve the next one in a timely fashion? And that’s how my writing became a duty to ‘others’ rather than a natural journey my characters were taking me on. I am relieved to say that I have given myself a stern talking to and am back to writing the story as it wants to be told and not forcing an outside agenda on myself. It is flowing again. Whew!

    So what am I trying to say? I guess it’s that I know what you mean. Step back. You WILL regroup when you are ready.

    1. rjkeith says:

      Thanks, Yvonne! And YAY! Thank goodness the story is working for you again!
      For my own part, certainly when I put myself on a deadline-had that fun little counter here on my blog-the writing somehow felt like ‘I’have too’ because it’s expected now. Worst thing I ever did for myself. However, now, now that I’ve stepped back and taken a breather and stopped working on BOTQ, it’s becoming easier again, and fun.even if it is on a different story. It’s all going toward the same thing, telling the story I ultimately want to tell, just in parts. Which is the most important thing, I think.

  2. Bubbe says:

    Good for you RJ! You brought up how other authors do it with a deadline and mention the first novel maybe being harder. FIrst, my understanding is a first novel probably won’t have an official deadline unless you’ve already sold it, correct? A self-imposed deadline maybe but I think if you’re going to impose a deadline on yourself it should be more for discipline – not pressure. For example, there’s nothing wrong with giving yourself a date by which you’d like to have an outline done, or a chapter. I think that’s a personal decision. But when you put it out there on the web (i.e., your counter) that’s when the pressure to produce comes into play.

    I’m so glad you stepped back and are feeling good about it again! I’m really looking forward to seeing where you take this. And OF COURSE you can do whatever you want in YOUR book. Readers of sci-fi and fantasy especially are good at suspending belief and wanting to experience something outside their normal “real” lives.


    1. rjkeith says:

      Thanks, Bubbe! It was a self-imposed deadline on when the whole book was supposed to be done. I have people that want to read it so, naturally, it HAD to be done. I failed epically in that because the book wasn’t ready to be done. So, pressure built and now I’m shelving the book and writing a sort of prequel to it to hash things out and see where it all takes me. The ideas are still there, but I’m not going to write them yet.
      The suspension of reality is something I’m having the hardest part with. Maybe, because suspending my own belief is hard? I don’t know but, with the story I’m writing now, I have no choice. It’s a challenge for me to make the things I want to happen, happen. And I’ve already referenced H.P.Lovecraft so, there’s no turning back now πŸ˜€

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