Writing a novel is hard. If you’ve been writing for a while, you know this, it is not news. But sometimes we scare ourselves out of doing hard things, because we think of stress as only a bad thing. You are not alone; our culture embraced the idea that all stress is bad stress a long time ago, so you are getting constant messages related to reducing stress.
I understand that not all stress is good either and knowing the difference is key, but psychologists have been learning that stress and the use of it as a growth opportunity combined with our mindset around that can determine many of our outcomes. I am sure you’ve heard of grit. Well, mindset is a related concept that involves how we think about the things we do and the experiences we have. The way we conceptualize something frequently determines the way we interpret it, which in turn affects our outcomes and choices as we go forward.
Think about this for just a minute. What if Marie Curie had thought, “You know, I don’t have to figure this out. It probably isn’t important anyway.” Or Hedy Lamar had decided that she was just a pretty face. Or Liz Cheney had said to herself, “this is going to cost me.” Stress can be a limiting factor, or it can be fuel for growth.
One of my favorite authors is Laura Hillenbrand. She has a way of taking a historic moment and making it real. She puts in the research, she interviews, she writes and she rewrites. She does all of this, as some of you probably know, with a debilitating condition which limits her ability to work. What if she decided it was just too hard and the stress was too much? We wouldn’t have Unbroken in the world.
If stress is something you are dealing with that is limiting your ability to write or revise your novel, think about reframing it. A lot of the things that are most worth doing are difficult. If they weren’t, everyone would do them. I listen regularly to the Hidden Brain podcast, and the title for this piece came from a recent episode (linked below) about reframing stress and using it to empower yourself to do hard things.
The story goes that psychologist Alia Crum was in the lab working towards a graduate meeting with her advisor. She was stressed and out of ideas. The IT guy happened across her and when she told him how she was feeling, his response was, “Just another cold, dark night on the side of Everest.” Then he walked out. She says in the podcast that this was a turning point for her. She realized that getting a Ph.D wasn’t supposed to be easy, just like climbing Everest isn’t easy, and I would add, writing a book isn’t easy, but it is a thing worth doing.
Your novel is worth writing, even if it is hard. Even if sometimes you are stressed and out of ideas. Take a walk, call your coach, call a writing friend, go for a jog, get a cup of coffee, do whatever it is that lets you take a moment and breathe. Acknowledge that you are doing something hard and that is okay. It will challenge you, and that is a good thing!
Here are the links to the podcasts, listen to both, but the first part is the one that inspired this message. 🙂