The anxiety is as heavy in my chest as a boulder tumbling downhill. Always moving, destructive, and impossible to ignore.
The reasons are the usual overwhelming struggles of life but also a book deadline.
You might face creative stress too, from NaNoWriMo, deadlines, writer’s block, or just the challenge of balancing creativity with the demands of daily life.
After years of working in creative fields, I've found that the best cure for creative stress is creative joy. In the whirlwind of stress, find the eye of the storm where things are just plain fun.
Here’s how to find creative joy even when writing feels like a slog or life is stressful (and really, who isn’t stressed right now?).
Be weird as hell
Brainstorm the strangest ideas you can for your current novel or a past one. They don’t have to fit the plot, world, or characters; you’re being unhinged right now.
Pick one of your crazy ideas and write it. Just go for it. You might incorporate it into your story by finding a way to make it work despite being weird.
Or you might use it as an alternate universe non-canon story (like Marvel’s What If...?). These can be great for promo!
Or you might never look at it again and pretend it doesn’t exist.
All of these options are valid! The goal here is to have fun with it.
Create something in a different medium
One word: maps.
It gets your brain working on your story in a new way. This can rekindle joy for the project.
Plus playing around with a map can lead to finding new ideas for your world, characters, and plot.
Challenge yourself to create locations not yet in your story or worldbuilding. What lies beyond the world you already know or what lies in regions you haven’t paid much thought to yet? Who lives there, what are they like, what do they want and how do they live? (The Essential Worldbuilding Blueprint and Workbook can help you build new realms as well!)
Or if maps are not fun for you, try a different type of art. Draw, color, take a pottery class, play music, or dance. Whatever creative endeavor you find enjoyable (and you can always tie it back into your story: compose a song for one of your fictional social groups. Draw geometric patterns that a character has a tattoo, etc.)
Revisit stories you love
We all have stories that inspire us to write our own. Characters and worlds that speak to our souls and spark our imaginations.
Revisit yours, whether it’s books, TV shows, video games, or someone’s oral storytelling. Return to it and remember why you love it and why it inspires you to create as well.
Seek out new experiences
Sometimes we need to fill our creative well from the outside.
Neil Gaiman calls it the compost heap:
I think it’s really important for a writer to have a compost heap. Everything you read, things that you write, things that you listen to, people you encounter, they can all go on the compost heap. And they will rot down. And out of them grow beautiful stories.
Fill your heap with new stories, new places, new people, and new experiences. If you’re a homebody or short on funds, watch a movie you'd never pick normally. Visit the library and pick a book from a section you rarely visit. Take a different route than usual to work, home, or school.
Aside from filling the well, or the heap, sometimes we just need a break from creative pursuits to do other things.
Talk with other writers and artists
Hearing others get excited about their creations can rekindle your own joy for your own projects. When someone else gets excited about your work, that’s even better!
This tip is tricky because not everyone knows other creative folks or feels comfortable putting themselves out there. That’s completely valid.
If you’re willing to take the risk, you can find other writers in your local NaNoWriMo group or the general NaNoWriMo forum.
We’ll be building an inclusive online community for writers to connect and become writing buddies year-round as well. Stay tuned for that.
Write, write, and keep writing
I find the best way to spark creative joy is simply to write. The more time I spend with a group of characters and their dilemmas, the more I love them and the easier it is to keep going.
But also know when to stop. Some days, you just need a break, or something else more important comes up. Sometimes your creative well is dry and you need to refill it before you can go on.
That is, start writing and keep going but if no words come, they come at a painfully slow pace, or you feel off, give yourself the grace to walk away for a bit
(It could mean something isn’t working in your story and we can help with that.)
Pay attention to your mind and body and learn the signs of when you need to stop and when you can keep pushing forward. Keeping a journal about writing and creative pursuits in general might help with this.