Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tuesday Tip: Detox Intelligently

This first Tuesday Tip in awhile was inspired by events from last week. I recently had to do a stint at a sort of expo/convention booth, answering questions and talking to random people. I hate this sort of thing. I'm shy by nature and not very confident when it comes to speaking. (I think that's part of why I like writing. I can think things out and move the words around for maximum effect.)

I'd been stressing pretty hard over the event in the days leading up to it. That morning I also had to drive an hour and a half to get there. Or at least, it's normally an hour and a half drive, but I'd never tried driving it during rush hour, and I had never driven to the place I was going before, AND The Husband insisted it would take longer than I thought, so I left two and a half hours before the booth was to open.

Of course, I got there an hour early.

Well, at least I'm not late, I thought. I can't stand being late. But I can't get into the hall at all for another half an hour. So even though I knew I would be on my feet all day, I started wandering around. Most of the place was still closed up, but there were a few eateries open. I stopped at one and got a bite to eat, and hung out and listened to the guy who was performing there, voice and guitar, until the hall opened. It was a really nice way to blow a half an hour, and I was relaxed and happy when I went to go set up the booth.

The point of this is to demonstrate how important a little detox can be.

My old job used to stress the hell out of me. I liked the people I worked with, and I loved the industry, but as a whole I hated my job. I was always stressed out because I had too much to do. This meant I was still stressed out when I got home from work.

It is very hard to write when you're stressed out. It's not impossible, of course—I wrote my first contracted work in the months leading up to my eventual lay-off—but stress drains your emotional energy and distracts you, making an already difficult task even harder.

Of course, my favorite way to relax and clear my head is to take a nice hot bath and read a book. But while this works great as far as relaxing goes, it does not make me detox in a way that means I will be productive later. Reading in the tub is at least a half-hour time commitment, usually longer, and most often leaves me wanting to slack for the rest of the evening.

What worked about my detox before the booth stint was that I couldn't do anything, and I knew I had to be productive later. I couldn't read, I didn't have my notebook with me (and planning stuff out in my head doesn't work that well for me); I just had to sit there and relax and let my brain veg out. It was awesome. I don't normally give myself permission to do that—I have to be doing something! All the time! I have too much to do to waste time like that!

So the trick is to find ways to detox that a) leave you ready to be productive at the end and b) don't take up so much time that you won't let yourself do them and c) won't stress you out and will actually let you relax. For example, if you find walking your dog to be a detoxing activity, great! If you look at walking your dog as a chore, it will not de-stress you. Find something else (or learn to look at the activity differently, if you can). Checking your favorite blogs might detox you, but if it sucks up an hour of your time then you aren't being productive.

Find some way to de-stress and clear your mind before you write. Maybe journaling works for you. Or you might try staring at a candle flame and doing deep breathing exercises for a few minutes. Play with your Tibetan Singing Bowl for 30 seconds. Short rituals can train your subconscious to set aside all that other stuff and get down to business, but only if you're consistent. I find that just coming into the conference room after work and setting up my netbook helps center me: I've been doing it long enough that my brain has learned "I'm about to start writing. Time to switch gears."

Give yourself a few minutes to transition from daily life into writing time. Stress takes up the space that your muse needs to talk to you. Get rid of the stress, and the muse will have the room she needs to work.

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