Anxiety and Outlining

When it comes to my blog posts, I plan really far in advance. I know it isn’t exactly an outline, but it works as one. Then there are my short stories and my novel. For these, I’m usually a “pantser,” writing everything that comes to mind as it arrives. But I’ve learned over the last year that I can’t write a novel like that. Short stories? Maybe. But a novel? That ain’t happening.

So I’ve spent hours continually going through the vague idea in my head, attempting to create a tentative outline, and it stresses me out to no end. But overall the idea of finishing it and actually working on the book has been inspiring. At one point, amidst my excitement and motivation, I messaged Azelyn to tell her how determined I am to finish the first draft of my novel this year and that I was actually trying to create an outline, which obviously surprised her. What she didn’t expect was a stream of messages over the next few days (or weeks, really) complaining about the process of outlining a book that I’ve been wanting to write for years now. I wasn’t even complaining about the process as much as I was about the fear of not being able to create the themes I want to flow through the book.

I kept telling her I would finish the outline and send it to her for months. Then one day, I forced myself to sit down with a cuppa, a container of Cheerios, my computer, and Facebook Messenger and type away. I set goals for the book and then for each section. After that, I thought about every major thing that I wanted to happen, and I tried to organise it and fit it into the sections and then into chapters. I finished my outline.

After months of procrastinating, complaining, and staring at a blank screen, I finished it.

But here I am, actively writing a book, still freaking out about my outline.

Will I even be able to use it?
Will the lessons I want to teach through it ever be realised?
What if something I don’t expect happens to the characters? How will I work that in?
How will I be able to fit all of these scenes together?
Is there even enough stuff here to make a story long enough?
Or is there too much?

I’ve already thought of some scenes that I had been so excited to write that I now have no idea how to fit into the outline, and that scares me.

But that’s the thing about an outline: It isn’t set in stone. You can change it.

Don’t let your fears or anxieties stop you from outlining, but more importantly, don’t let them stop you from writing. I know it can be stressful, overwhelming, and confusing, but it’s worth it. You’re worth it.


Are you a “planner” or a “pantser”? How do you handle your anxieties about outlining and plotting? Let me know in the comments!

Advertisements

Setting Goals

I think everyone knows the struggle of setting goals. Whether it be writing, exercise, reading, creating, or monetary goals, we can’t seem to stop ourselves from creating giant mile markers in our lives. We usually set the goals when we’re feeling on top of everything and ready to tackle the world, but we don’t often take into account that once that motivation starts to fade, the things we’re enjoying and planning to accomplish tend to become the same things that stress us out to no end and are put on the back burner because life just gets in the way.

My writing goals for 2016 are a great example.

Goals Accomplishments
Screenplay(s) for Eragon

(because everyone knows it needs to be redone)

It hasn’t even been started.

…but I did reread the book.

Novel It has been started, but it is only at 4187 words out of a minimum goal of 65000.
Ten short stories Three shorts stories were plotted, but none were finished.
Twenty poems Eight poems were written.
YouTube scripts (one a week) Only about ten YouTube videos were written, and only five recorded.
Blogs (two a week) Well, this went well for a few months, and then everything went awry, and I’m just starting back up (yet again) with a goal of one post a week.

Originally my goal was to finish my novel and the screenplay by June on top of half of the other goals as well. What I didn’t account for was my motivation or stress levels. I quickly encountered problems with that blog of mine disappearing, trying to balance part-time fast food work and a few full-time level freelance gigs, trying to find new roommates, looking for steady work, and traveling.

The thing is, though, that if I had taken a few things into account and simply structured my goals and my schedule better, I could have easily accomplished these goals.

  • Set aside specific days to work on specific projects.

I’m far more likely to work on them and reach my goals, even if I’m still not very good at sticking to it. I’ve been trying to write blog posts on Thursdays so that I can have them ready to post on Mondays. Although I’ve been awful at it for the last few months, when I push myself to do it, I can easily whip out a blog and put it up on the editing page that Azelyn and I use.

Now this technique looks different for writing my novel and all my other projects. Starting in January, I’ll be aiming to write a minimum of 2700 words a week for six months. I’ll be trying to split that throughout the week, but I will be setting aside the most time on Sundays and Fridays to work towards this goal. I’ll be planning like this for my other goals as well.

Here’s what my average weekly writing schedule now looks like:

SONY DSC

Now this might seem excessive (it certainly does to me), but if I routinely follow this schedule and manage my time, it should be relatively easy to follow. I’ll definitely be allowing myself to work ahead on any/all project if and when I like, and I’m quite excited to do so.

  • Set smaller goals at different increments that will help you reach your larger goal.

As you can see in my planning chart above, I’ve come up with specific goals for each week, and even each day. Obviously, nearly every day has overlap, but I vary the degree of difficulty/time commitment from day to day. But the most important factor is that I have a minimum goal for every week.

I’ve found that having weekly goals helps me most, but some people prefer daily, monthly, or quarterly goals. Having the weekly goals, but a daily plan gives me some leeway on what I should/could accomplish in a given day. I’m already aware that there will be days or weeks that I cannot finish the tasks I’ve marked. My schedule and the goal to work slightly ahead will help when those times arrive.

  • Work ahead when possible.

I know this is something I tend to hate thinking about, just like many of my friends do. But sticking to a schedule and getting ahead of the original plans can not only help reduce stress in the future, but it can also help your creativity become an integral part of who you are and get you in the habit of working on your projects, even when you don’t feel like it.

  • Find someone to help keep you accountable.

This can occur in so many different ways. I’ve tried several systems, and each has worked in its own time. Currently I use a combination of a couple accountability techniques: inquiring, nagging, and punishing.

Azelyn and I already talk on a daily (or as close as we can get) basis. However, amidst our regular conversations and fangirling, we still constantly ask each other how our projects are coming along. Largely, this is just because we’re curious, nosy, and each other’s number one fan. But also, we do it to ensure we’re actually being productive. The nagging is very rarely towards Azelyn, and it’s usually just about getting her post on our editing page earlier so I don’t have to edit it super early on Sunday morning. It’s a whole other matter for me. Azelyn is constantly nagging me about any and every project I’ve set before myself because I am the queen of procrastination…which is one of the reasons we’ve added punishments to our accountability. Right now, this is specifically meant for our blog posts, but once the new year hits, it will also include my videos and my novel word count. We’re still working out how those punishments will work out; but for the blog, every day that I fail to write a blog post past its deadline, I owe her a dollar. (Right now that’s up to $13. *oops*)

  • Reward yourself for reaching your goals.

Now I have no idea how I’ll do that this coming year yet, but I have a few ideas in mind, given that I have the money. This could be as little as eating a cookie when you reach your weekly word goal or as big as taking a vacation when you finish your novel. But whatever it is, don’t make the goals too small and the rewards too big. Make sure you actually have to work in order to be rewarded; then the victory will taste even sweeter.

What are some techniques you use to help set your writing (or life) goals?
What are some of your favourite reward systems for reaching your goals?
Let me know in the comments!

Coping with Anxiety

Goodness knows I let my anxiety overwhelm me on a regular basis. But even with moving into a house, still job searching, meeting so many people, and having so many things to accomplish, I have officially gone a month without a panic attack. That doesn’t mean I haven’t felt super anxious at all in the last month, but it’s still a huge improvement.

Over the last year I’ve been trying to recover from the worst general and social anxiety breakdown I’ve ever had. The panic attack that made me realise just how much I’d lost control was full of sobbing, hyperventilating, and feeling like I was going to die and lasted over an hour and a half. Thankfully I had a network of family and friends that dropped everything to come to my aid (in person and from a distance) over the days, weeks, and months that followed. I never imagined that my anxiety could get so bad, but that’s the thing—mental illnesses and their effects can be incredibly unpredictable. However, with practice and more help than you’ll probably want to ask for, they can be managed.

These are some of my favourite ways to help take control of my anxiety and depression, and I hope that they can help you too.

  • Surround yourself with things that make you happy.
room
This is part of my new room. I’m surrounded by my books, by some of my most prized possessions, and my my favourite colours.

For me this ranges from bright colours being scattered about my room and belongings and buckets worth of tea to books and Disney music. Whatever they are, find the things that make you most happy and make them obvious throughout your daily life. If it’s specific colours, find or make decorations for your room/house/apartment in those colours. If it’s a particular food or beverage, treat yourself. If it’s a show or movie, get posters or fan art to hang up in your room. If it’s music, sing it, dance to it, blare it through your speakers as you drive.

If you openly celebrate the things that make you happy, you’ll tend to feel happier.

  • Do breathing exercises.

There are so many types of breathing exercises and meditation that can help you relax and clear your mind. Many of the ones I know I originally learned because of my heart and lung problems. One of my favourites is breathing in deeply through your nose for five seconds, holding it for six seconds, and exhaling through your nose for eight seconds. Another is tucking your thumb inside your fist, putting it up to your mouth and breathing as if you were blowing up a balloon. You may feel a little ridiculous, but it helps so much.

  • Get plenty of sleep.

This might be really difficult and sometimes requires sleep aids, but getting enough sleep can make the world of a difference in how you respond mentally. When I don’t get enough sleep, I am far more anxious and terrified, and it’s easier for me to feel the overwhelming, numbing sadness. This happened just a couple days ago and when combined with a few other circumstances it caused me to start slipping mentally. I felt awful. It was one of those days where I wished I could slip into non-existence for a while and be consumed by nothingness as well as where I was so scared that I didn’t want to and nearly couldn’t do anything. Part of the reason I felt so bad was because I had gotten less sleep the previous night, and if I had, it would have been able to break out of those negative thoughts.

  • Talk to your friends/family.
message
An silly message with my best friend that made me feel loads better on a day I was struggling.

This may seem like common sense, but for me, it is actually one of the most difficult things to do. My anxiety tends to make me believe that no one would ever want to talk to me or hear from me, that I’m a burden, that I am an annoyance. But lately I’ve made a point of talking to specific people every day. I want people to know that they are cared for, even if I do get annoying. But also, if I talk to them on a regular basis, it’s far more difficult for me to believe that they don’t want to talk to me. I know on occasion they may not want to, but that is rare, and it’s okay. Talking to my friends and family, spreading love, and being open with them has changed my life.

 

  • Go to a counsellor/therapist/psychiatrist/psychologist.

I haven’t been able to do this in a while because of not having a car among other reasons, but whenever I go to my counsellor, even if I’m feeling wonderful that day, I leave feeling ten times better, unburdened, and hopeful. I know this isn’t always the case and I am incredibly blessed to have the counsellor I have, but it can be such a huge help to have someone separate from your everyday life to talk to and to occasionally give you advice (and medication when needed and appropriate).

  • Read inspirational quotes.
mug
A photo from a few days after I bought the mug.

I always feel a little silly and embarrassed when doing this, but it is one of the things that has kept me going throughout the last year. I even make frequent use of a mug that says “Think happy, be happy” on it that I got during my last stay in France. I had been having a difficult time, and it reminded me of a video by Carrie Hope Fletcher about positive thinking. Although I don’t believe that you can truly choose to be happy and then feel that way, I do believe in the power of positive thinking, even if it is fallible. Finding inspirational quotes and writing or printing them out and posting them where you can see them throughout the day can be incredibly encouraging and help you remember how special, important, capable, and loved you are.

  • Find a hobby.
draw
A quick sketch I did about a month ago.

This can seem incredibly overwhelming to some, and that’s okay. But finding something you do on a regular basis for your own enjoyment is such a huge relief and help for controlling anxiety. I tend to go a little overboard and have far too many hobbies, but I am also rather fickle and whatever hobby I do bases entirely on my mood. I could crochet, write, knit, paint, draw, colour, study languages, or make videos. But whatever hobby I choose is an outlet for me to work creatively and freely to escape or express my anxiety and depression, whether other people can tell or not.

  • Write.

Writing out whatever is overwhelming you and then destroying it or finding a way to make it positive is one of the practises I do quite frequently. It can help you vent fear, sadness, anger, disappointment, and everything else in a healthy way while also helping you to either rid yourself of the thoughts or situation or find a way to turn the thoughts or situation to your advantage.

  • For every negative thought or impulse, list five positive things about yourself and/or the situation you’re in.

This self-explanatory one is big for me. I constantly have incredibly overwhelming fears and negative thoughts and occasionally negative impulses. When I list five positive things, I can usually see the unreality of the negative thoughts and fears immediately and cause them to dissipate, even if they don’t go away entirely. But even if the positive things don’t have that effect, you are still finding things to love about yourself, and if you focus on those, then you can not only change your world, but the worlds of those around you.

What are some ways that you manage your anxiety, depression, and other disorders? Let me know in the comments! ❤︎

Talking about Writing

All writers do it. We babble on and on about our current and future projects, we make promises we have every intention to keep, but no determination to do so, and we talk about our work some more. We can spend hours—years even—talking about our blog, novel, poem, and short story ideas. But if we never start planning and writing, what is all the rambling about?

We spend too much time talking about what we’ll write and not enough time putting the words on the page.

I am just as guilty of doing this. I’ve spent nearly three years talking about my novel, but at the beginning I only wrote around 350 words, planned about four scenes, and jotted down a semi-detailed plot. Two years later, I completely scrapped everything but two specific characters and the overarching plot. Now I have approximately 6000 words written, but I haven’t touched it much for over six months. I keep talking about it to everyone, but I never really try to create Zoe’s story.

Don’t get me wrong, talking can be a huge help in plotting, writing, and getting past writer’s block, but it can also be a wonderful tool of procrastination and even kill your desire to write.

When you spend all your time telling others about your ideas and giving them detail after detail, you may lose your yearning to actually create the work you’ve been rambling on about for ages. You start to feel as if you’ve told everyone who matters all the important things about your project, and as a result, you don’t feel as though you need to write it anymore. This has definitely happened to me, multiple times. It happened when I first started writing my novel. That’s one of the reasons I started over almost completely. It happened when I started my blog back of last time. I talked about it, but when I sat down to type my posts up, I couldn’t think of anything because I had already told a large part of my audience what I would be saying in my posts. At that point, it didn’t seem to matter anymore. So I stopped writing as much, and eventually stopped writing altogether (though there were other circumstances that played into that poor decision as well).

Speaking to your friends about it can actually wear you out and cause you to get bored of the project. I’ve done this with a few short stories. I’ve talked about them so much that I got tired of them, set them aside, and never picked them back up again. Thinking of which, I should probably look through some of those. But if it’s all you talk about with people, they’ll start to think it’s the only topic you want to discuss, so they’ll ask about it. And you’ll have to talk about it more, answering questions that may or may not be sincere and wishing you were talking to a cat about sleeping all day instead.

If you’re rambling on about your project, make sure you’re actively working on it as well. And leave some mystery! Don’t delve into all the details, just mention what you’re stuck on, how much you’re writing or plotting currently, or some broad ideas. When you omit details in conversations about your projects, you may spark their interest and they may become one of your most avid readers. Leave a possibility for intrigue, work your butt off, and see how your stories flourish.

How do you talk about your writing projects? Do you indulge your listener with loads of details? Do you talk about it until you’re bored? Let me know in the comments!