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2018 Goals Review

While I hit the majority of my 2018 goals, I’m not entirely satisfied with my progress this year, which is why I’m making some major changes to my writing life for next year. But that topic is next year, and this post is about 2018 and all my success and less-than-success that has come and gone.

Let’s start with the metric-based goals:

I wrote every day in 2018.
I wrote 150 or more words every day.
I wrote 1,000 or more words 33 days out of 40.
I wrote 205,068 words over the year, exceeding my goal by 20,068 words.
I read 53 books, exceeding my goal by 18 books.

Overall, success! I didn’t write 1,000 words in a day as often as I wanted, but after spending three years developing a steady writing habit, I no longer have trouble producing words. Which is a huge success, as anyone who has experienced a second of writer’s block knows well.

While the words flowed easily, I spun my wheels on projects more often than I finished them. I spit out words to write the words, instead of writing to write a story. Writing was a rote process, instead of a creative adventure. Which is why I did not finish a draft of a novel this year.

I made progress on a novel, decided what I was doing wasn’t working, and I scrapped the whole outline. On paper, not finishing a novel draft is a failed goal, but I learned a lot about what wasn’t working in my approach and figured out the novel I want to write (mostly). So even though I didn’t “finish” a novel, I made progress that will help me write that novel in the future.

In general, that’s how I feel about my progress this past year. I spun my wheels, I learned a lot about which pressures and obligations were causing negative results, and reflected on how I want to make changes to my writing life going forward. 2018 was very successful, don’t get me wrong, but I’m looking forward to taking what I learned about my writing life and applying it to my writing future.

 

How did your writing in 2018 go? Did you make progress in your goals?

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Writing on Days When You Feel Drained

If you feel drained of ideas and motivation, that could be a sign that you need to take a writing break and let yourself entirely off the hook. Spend the day reading a book, catching up on TV, or actually, you know, interacting with people. I find that having conversations with other writers and creators is often the best way to find inspiration again.

But let’s assume for a moment that you can’t take a break and you have to write no matter what (ahem, like when you’re in the middle of NaNoWriMo). What do you do on those days when you have to force yourself to write?

Maintaining a Streak

If you’re writing to maintain a streak and it doesn’t matter what you write, so long as you write, it may be a day to shelve the current work in progress and try something new.

Shift over to your ideas notebook, grab a random prompt from the internet (there are a jillion, so if you don’t have a favorite site bookmarked, Google “creative writing prompts” or “writing prompt generator”), or ask your friends if there’s a story they’d like to be told. I’ve written some fun one-offs about my original characters inspired by things my friends prompted me or scenes they wish they’d read.

If you’re still struggling to get any words on the page, or are generally finding yourself uninspired, it’s time for some free writing. This free writing could eventually evolve into a blog post or story, but it might just be an activity to get you writing again.

Start with a question about what’s bugging you. This could be anything from, “Why am I so tired today?” to “How am I so uninspired?” Once you have that question nailed down, twist it into a question you can analyze and/or give advice about. “Why am I so tired today?” might become “How can you write when you’re tired?” or “What’s the greatest obstacle between a writer and a nap?” or “Why is sleep so important to the creative process?” Once you have a question, and one that is built on a topic that’s currently bugging you, you have something to write about. And turning it into a question that you can either analyze or give advice about lets you turn free writing about your problems into a positive exercise. Too often free writing about problems can turn into negative thoughts and self-immolation, but turning it into a question to be answered lets you think about the same topic in a completely different way and hopefully can inspire you to help yourself!

Writing to a Deadline

If you’re writing for a deadline and you must work on a specific piece, the real problem is that you have to find inspiration in a specific work, so jumping to other pieces isn’t always an option.

But it’s still where I would start.

When feeling totally uninspired on one story, I start by writing on something else. If you have another project in progress, spending some time on that might reinvigorate your motivation for the deadline project. If no other project is available, you can take any of the suggestions above and apply them here—prompts, free writing with a question, etc.

No matter what you’re writing, set a timer to limit how much time you spend working on other activities or projects. I recommend 10–15 minutes for warm-up writing before trying to get back to the project you’re supposed to be working on.

Or, instead of writing something different, you can use prompts that allow you to work with the same characters or the same world, essentially approaching your deadline project from the side instead of head-on. Try posing what-if situations for your characters, alternate scenes/endings, or writing something from the perspective of someone else in your world.

You can use a similar strategy as the suggested free writing activity by answering a question related to the thing you’re stuck on—”How can my character get out of this situation?” or “Who should my character partner with for this mission?” or “How does the world’s society/laws limit my character?” Using the free writing format as an opportunity to organize your thoughts can help you work through the problem in a different way than just thinking about it. (This is why so often solutions might come when we’re talking to someone else, rather than when we’re just thinking to ourselves. Different ways of communication allow us to organize our thoughts differently, so if you don’t have a friend on hand, have a conversation with a blank page!)

If you absolutely must be working on your deadline-driven project and don’t have time for warm-up activities, try reading the last 1-2 pages you’ve written and allow yourself to revise and edit them. One of the best ways for me to get back into a story is by working to flesh out the last thing I wrote. If the last thing I wrote is literally what stumped me—and I had difficulty figuring out where the story goes next—I rewrite from where the story started to derail. Sometimes I might keep all the action and description, but change the dialogue. Sometimes I might move the setting. Sometimes I might scrap the entire idea, or even shift who is in the scene and take the whole thing in a completely different direction! It may not feel like you’re getting anywhere (especially if you end up trashing that version and starting again), but what you’re doing is eliminating the ideas that aren’t working and helping find the idea that does work.

 

No matter what’s going on with you creatively, there are ways to dig deep on those days when you’re feeling drained. And the more often you practice digging deep, the easier it can get. I still sometimes hit days when I’m totally worn out and need a break, and on those days I write my minimum word count using one of the strategies above and call it a day. But because I’ve put in so much effort, it’s easy for me to use one of those strategies and see success. So even if it’s hard now, know that putting in the hard work will help train you as a writer and eventually you’ll be able to sail past those inspiration-less days with no trouble.

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1,000

Tomorrow is my 1,000th consecutive day of writing!

On one hand it is a holy-cannoli moment. Ten years ago, I never would have dreamed of having this kind of regularity in my writing life. Even before I was depressed, I wrote in fits and spurts and when I felt like it, sneaking in a writing life in between work hours, chores, family functions, and everything else. I could commit during NaNoWriMo, or when I had a deadline, but I was wholly unconcerned about when I would write next or what I was building toward. My writing life was an amorphous thing and even though I had goals (get published!) I had no plan. I was basically an underpants gnome where my plan was:

Phase 1: Write

Phase 2: ????

Phase 3: PUBLISH!

I had this idea that I’d like to write every day, but I didn’t understand what it would do for me and I didn’t have the follow-through to make it happen. When I realized I had written every day the first week of 2016, it was a surprise. I haphazardly decided to keep going, but that cavalier decision hardened into resolve and I slowly figured out how to juggle writing and all my other responsibilities. I learned that I had to prioritize writing to make my writing life happen. I learned that I had to tell friends and family things like, “this has been fun, but I have to go write,” even though I felt silly and trivial doing so the first few times. I learned that writing was as important as my job (because I wanted it to be my job), so I had to value it.

All of those little lessons and small goals helped me to get to the other hand of how I feel about this landmark.

On this other hand, this non-holy-cannoli-moment hand, writing 1,000 days seems inevitable. It’s still an achievement, don’t get me wrong, but I see no reason why I won’t write for 1,000 more days. Daily writing is such a part of my life now that I no longer question how I will shuffle my day to include writing. And that’s the real power that comes from building a writing habit. I have confidence that I will write today and from that confidence stems other confidence:

That this won’t be my last great idea.

That I can figure out how to write this scene.

That I can find the right word.

That I can do this.

While I’m proud of having written 1,000 days in a row, I’m most proud of cultivating confidence in my writing life and developing the kind of consistency that makes me certain that, if I want to, I’ll be celebrating 2,000 days of writing in 2021.

 

If you’d like to know more about building a daily writing habit, I’ve written previously on why you should write every day and writing while sick. I’ve also written about apps that can make it easier to build a writing habit. If you’re thinking about or trying to build a writing habit, I’d love to hear how it’s going for you.

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(Not) Writing With Depression

Today I’m a daily writer. Even on sick days or very busy days I make sure to write at least 150 words. This is my third year of this schedule and it’s still working for me. There are days when it’s tough, and days when I write my 150 words and then erase them. There are days when I write in 10-minute bursts throughout the day or have to force myself to sit down and spend time writing something. But every day I write is a day when I don’t forget how to write.

That wasn’t the case for me in 2012.

In September of 2012 I started treatment for situational depression. Over the previous year I had lost the ability to feel emotions, to care for myself, and to pay attention to conversations, but the loss that hurt the most was related to writing.

I tried many times during 2012 and 2013 to sit down and write. Every time was an exercise in self-hate and improving my ability to berate myself. I went from writing 150,000 words in 2011 to 60,000 words in 2012 to 15,000 words in 2013. It was a clear—trackable—symptom of my depression, and one of the most frustrating ones.

Before I was depressed, writing was easy and I took it for granted. I would listen to a song, read an article, have a silly conversation with a friend, and—BAM—there I went, fingers flying across the keyboard, 2,000 words plopped out in an hour or so. There were days when I would write 5,000 or 6,000 words. Words were easy and plentiful. I didn’t understand how someone could be completely blocked. Writer’s block was an easy obstacle for me to overcome. If one idea was giving me trouble, I’d jump to another. Being unable to write? When I wanted to? Not me.

While I was depressed, even if I decided to come to the writing watering hole, I could not get my horse to drink. The times I tried to write, I would sit and stare at a blank page. I might ask a friend for a prompt, mull it over, struggle over 200 words, and then delete all of them. Between January 2013 and October 2013 I wrote on a total of 9 days. In November and December, after I’d decided to apply to an MFA program and was starting to feel better, I kicked into “high-gear” and wrote 10 days out of those two months. I wrote 19 days total in 2013 and now in 2018 I’m currently on a run of having written 942 consecutive days. That’s—obviously—a huge change.

Writing was not something that automatically came back after I started feeling better. I struggled in 2014, even after I started UCF’s MFA program. (Let me tell you, starting a writing intensive program while you’re still recovering from depression? Not recommended.) This time when I forced myself to write, I had a different attitude about it. I shut down the negative thinking and pushed forward, continuing to plunk down words. It wasn’t the best writing—oh boy, adverbs ahoy and the longest dialogue tags you ever did see—but it was writing. And it got easier the more I pushed myself to practice and the more I forced myself to keep what I wrote.

Part of the reason I applied for the MFA program was because I knew it would provide structure that would force me to write. With grades as a motivator, I knew I could propel myself to get past the hump and write something because I couldn’t turn in a blank page. I feared all my writing might be crap. I feared the depression might have stripped away whatever talent I may have started with. I feared I was forever changed. But I knew that an MFA program was going to force me to confront those things and either figure out how to write again or discover I was done.

In the Spring semester, the start of 2015, I felt something come alive again. I revisited some crazy prompts I’d seen in the last year. I wrote about sentient robots in an alternate history World War II and about a house that possesses a girl. I wrote short assignments that explored my divorce and reconnected with characters created pre-depression. I started working on my novel in earnest. By the end of 2015, I had written 83,000 words and I was invested in my stories again.

Do I still love what I wrote then? Not really. But it gave me a foundation for stories and, most importantly, for my confidence. In 2016 when I realized I had written every day the first week of the year, it was an easy decision to continue writing every day until the end of the month, and then the next month, and the next. I made daily writing part of my routine, and that routine has helped me get through grief-related depression and anxiety. Since 2016 I’ve written over a half million words. I’ve come a long way.

In my experience, there was no writing with depression, not really. There was writing while fighting to not be depressed. There was writing for recovery, writing to unload negative feelings and trying to find something positive. There was struggling to write and hating myself and trying not to hate myself. There were moments when I was me again and when I could find joy and when it felt like I might be out of the woods. There was writing after depression.

Writing after depression hasn’t been all happily ever after. There are still days when writing is a struggle, when depression rears its ugly head, when life doles out extra helpings of anxiety and grief. On those days I set a timer for 10 minutes and I peck out 100 words. Then I set another timer and peck out 100 more. I check in with myself and ask, “Are you done? Do you have anything else in you?” Most days I do. Most days I can hit 500 words, but some days I can’t and I have learned to say, “That’s okay. This is enough.”

2018 Goal Progress #2

It’s been a few months, so I thought it was time to check in on my Writing Goals for 2018. If you haven’t checked in with your own goals for the year, I recommend doing so soon. Mid-year is a great time to see how you’re doing and to make adjustments so you can still finish the year with success.

 

Day Count: 365 days

169/365

On track!

 

Total Word Count: 185,000 words

83,215/185,000

I’m currently at forty-five percent of my goal. With the planned 50K for National Novel Writing Month in November, I’m right on schedule.

Since my last goal progress post in February, my focus has shifted from drafting blog posts to drafting fiction, which is another benefit of reducing my blog schedule.

 

Daily Word Count: 150+ words

169/365

Writing at least 150 words every day hasn’t been difficult, but writing at least 400 words a day (my next tier in this goal) has been more of a challenge. I’ve missed 13 days, usually on days when I haven’t felt well, but it goes to show that I’ll push myself for minimums while letting stretch goals fester.

 

Write 1K+ Words: 40 days

6/40

I’ve made some recent progress on this goal, so even though that’s a low number, I’m feeling good about it. I need about 15 days before November to hit this goal, and with a recent shift in my schedule, I think I’ll be able to get it.

 

Draft a Novel

First drafts are always the most difficult step for me in writing a novel. I like revising so much that I usually start revising before I’ve written the ending. I’m still having some difficulty with forward progression, but I’ve got most of the scenes drafted through chapter 5, with a scattering of scenes in 11 other chapters. At the end of the summer I’m going to reassess my plans for when I think I’ll complete the first draft.

 

Revise/Write a Short Story

I put the short story I was working on in February on hold and have a nearly completed first draft of a different story! I’m excited about this, mostly because it’s a first draft under 2,500 words, which is unheard of for me. I’ll continue working on this story over the summer.

 

Read: 35 Books

23/35

Despite expecting my reading rate to drop off during the year, it’s actually stayed at a brisk pace. The 40-book stretch goal has superseded my original goal, and I may—for the first time since I was about ten years old and tearing my way through Baby-Sitters Club—be looking at reading 50 books in a year. This is an unexpected and very welcome adjustment to make to my goals! I think I have to credit audiobooks for keeping me on such a fast pace.

 

My goal progress overall is looking good. How are your 2018 goals progressing?

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Hesitant to Finish

I am resistant to finishing things.

It sounds ridiculous typed out like that. I mean, the point of starting a project is to have a finish product. In this case, it’s to have a finished story, and having a finished story is an amazing feeling! But even though I know that, I have a lot of trouble motivating myself to finish one pass and move on to the next. For me that hesitation comes down to three anxious questions:

  • What next?
  • Will I have another good idea?
  • But is it really done?


What Next?

This is a question that isn’t just about what project will I work on next, but how will I structure that project? What will my days be like? What is the routine?

I like ruts. I love working in ruts because I know how much work I’ll get done each day, when I’ll start, and roughly what I’ll do while I work. It’s comfortable and consistent and I am super productive once I have a well-worn rut. But getting that rut going is difficult. Figuring out the best way to work on a project takes time and patience, and often means experimenting with new workflows—new ruts—until I find the right one for the project (or for that stage of the project). As a project winds down, so do I, dragging out the last few tasks in anticipation of having to carve a new rut.

I haven’t figured out how to battle this question. The simple solution seems to be to develop a rut for each stage of writing, but every book I’ve worked on has been different, so that means the process isn’t cookie-cutter. For some books I’ve followed a structured outline, and for others I wrote scenes out of order. Perhaps one day I’ll have enough experience with each kind of workflow to immediately know how I’ll attack it, but for now I have to find other methods to banish my worries about what happens next.


Will I Have Another Good Idea?

Well. Will I???

The idea that what I’m writing will be the last thing I ever write is one of the most ridiculous anxious thoughts I could have, but it doesn’t stop me from thinking it nearly every time I near the end of a project. Obviously I’m going to write something else. Even through periods when I wasn’t as creative or productive, I never stopped getting ideas for stories. But this is anxiety talking and anxiety doesn’t have a firm grip on reality, so it throws out fearful doubts like this.

There’s no real defense against an anxious thought, except to not entertain it. I’ve gotten better at ignoring this question over the years, but sometimes it still catches me off guard and slows down my progress, keeping me from crossing the finish line so I can linger in my “last” good idea.


But Is It Really Done?

Of all the anxious questions I have that disrupt my productivity, this is the one that I actually have to answer. Figuring out if a project is actually finished is key to, you know, finishing the project. The problem is when this idea turns from productive checking in with the story to obsessing over commas, prepositions, and if I should start swapping around scenes just to see what it looks like.

I typically use revision checklists to keep myself on track and to eventually identify a stopping point. Sometimes I need to add things to the list—maybe during copyediting I uncover another crutch phrase, so I want to double back to search for that phrase, or I might finally figure out how to condense two scenes—but mostly I stick to the list and when the list is done, I’m done. Having that list as a definitive end point helps stop me from obsessing because I have something tangible to point to that says the story is done.

 

Knowing my weaknesses and having strategies to overcome them certainly helps, but it doesn’t stop me from struggling with finishing projects. Hopefully with continued practice it will get easier as time goes on.

Are there any aspects of finishing writing projects that stymie you? How do you over come those obstacles?

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Writing Sick Days

With my goal to be an every day writer, I can’t really take a sick day. But I also can’t expect a normal writing day while I have a sore throat, runny nose, and major exhaustion. When I’m sick, here’s how I make the adjustments to take care of myself and still be productive:

 

Put aside non-writing activities.

To make sure I have the energy to write, I take a sick day from all non-writing activities. That means I step away from the blog, editing, responding to emails, and anything else that is part of my “work” stack. Doing this lets me focus my time on self-care and on writing, which will not only help keep my writing streak, but hopefully let me get better faster.

 

Rest up, then write.

The moment I’m out of bed and feeling up to sitting at the computer, I go for it! That might be my only writing session for the day, but if I’m prepared for it, 10 minutes will be all that I need.

 

Lower the bar.

Normally my daily writing includes working on my current projects, but on a sick day I’ll let myself chase a stray thought or write something I might not complete.

My daily goal includes writing 400 words per day, but this is where my minimum goal of 150 words per day kicks in. When I’m not feeling well, I’m perfectly fine to stop writing after hitting 150 words. That’s the whole reason I have a minimum goal, so that when I’m really, really not feeling up to it, I have a low bar to clear while still making the effort to write every day.

 

Pick at it.

Sometimes I can’t do the 10-minute stretch, or the 10 minutes weren’t very productive, so instead of working in my usual method, I pick at writing. That may mean writing a few sentences on several different things, or writing one or two sentences at a time on something in progress. I keep the pace slow for my medicine-logged brain and go where my attention seems to prosper.

 

It’s tough to stay productive when I’m not feeling well, but usually my stubbornness is enough to get me to the page and keep me writing. Even though I might crawl back into bed and collapse into a pillow for a long nap, getting something written makes me feel better—at least emotionally.

What do you do to help yourself keep motivated when you’re not feeling well? Do you plan sick days into your schedule, do you let yourself off the hook, or do you push yourself to keep working?

2018 Goal Progress

Since I wrote last week about making adjustments to yearly goals, I wanted to check in on my progress and take stock of how some of these challenges are going (and see if I can convince myself to focus more explicitly on a few of them). So here is my current progress on my Writing Goals for 2018.


Day Count: 365 days

57/365

No days missed and I’m on track for writing 365 days in 2018.

 

Total Word Count: 185,000 words

27,203/185,000

I’m currently at 27,203 words, which is fifteen percent of my goal. Technically I’m a hair behind the daily average to reach this goal, but since I’m already planning a 50K month for November, it’s perfectly fine to be a little behind pace the rest of the year.

I’ve spent most of my writing time drafting blog posts, but my fiction word counts are starting to rise as I get back to work on my second novel.

 

Daily Word Count: 150+ words

57/365

No misses so far on writing at least 150 words every day. I’m actually doing fairly well on the next tier, which is 400 words every day. I’ve only missed 4 days so far! The slow and steady method of small regular word counts continues to be the most successful way for me to keep a writing habit and stay in practice when starting bigger projects.

 

Write 1K+ Words: 40 days

1/40

As I said in my goal setting, I expect to get most of my 1K-word days during NaNoWriMo, but with only one under my belt I feel a little behind. That should change soon, though, because I’m going to be getting back to drafting a novel, and even with a slow and steady pace, I know some scenes will hook me in and I’ll look up 1,500 words later.

 

Draft a Novel

I’ve made some progress toward this goal, picking up what’s already written and beginning the process of sorting out what to keep, what’s missing, and what needs to be reimagined. I’m a little behind the schedule I originally planned, so I’m readjusting my expectations to finish this pass by mid-March and then begin drafting again.

 

Revise/Write a Short Story

Similar to the novel draft, I’ve done a little bit of work on a short story. While I wanted to write it in order, the end was one of the first scenes that came to me, so I finally decided to draft a version of it so maybe I can concentrate on the rest of the story.

 

Read: 35 Books

8/35

I worked through four books in each month and I’m currently deep into one other book and starting three more. That progress tells me I might have underestimated this goal, but I will concede that two of those eight books were graphic novels (therefore, short) and two of the books I started in December 2017, so I expect this finishing speed to drop off throughout the year. Even so, I think by mid-year I’ll be looking ahead to my stretch goal of reading 40 books.

 

It’s nice to be able to report that I’m on target or ahead for most of my goals. How are your 2018 goals progressing?

Goal Adjustment

Making goals at the start of the year is exciting. “I’m going to do all the things! I’m going to live a better life! I’m going to succeed!” But a month or two into the year it’s easy to figure out all those big plans may not actually pan out. So, what do you do? Give up? Punish yourself? Make adjustments?

I’m an advocate for continuing in the face of failure and realigning my expectations. Realignment can come in a number of ways:

  • Trimming out goals that I know I cannot achieve
  • Breaking a goal into landmarks so I can check off achievements
  • Reducing goals to something that is more achievable
  • Replacing goals with goals that better align with how the year is going


Trim

Last year I planned to write two novels—one during the year and a draft of a new one during NaNoWriMo 2017. The novel I was planning to write over the year became what I worked on during NaNo. My time just didn’t align for being able to work on the draft earlier than November. Trimming out a new novel was an easy decision for me to make, even though it was disappointing when I looked back on my plans for 2017. But it was the right decision, because looking back on the year, I have no idea how I would have been able to work on another novel during 2017.


Break

For the novel I worked on last year, I kept feeling intimidated by the process. Rather than continuing to look at it as “draft a novel” (which only sounds simple on paper), I broke it into several steps: write a two-page synopsis, draft character arcs for the main characters, re-read what’s been written, write 1,667 words per day during NaNoWriMo. Breaking the task into those smaller chunks gave me a plan for approaching the whole goal, and, even though I didn’t actually finish the draft, I did all of those other things! So even though I didn’t hit the main goal, I feel good about the progress I made.


Reduce

Last year I planned to write 200K words. That pans out to 548 words per day. I hit the 200K early, but decided since writing was going so well, I should keep writing 548 words per day. Oh. Oh no. That did not work. Instead of beating myself up, I reduced the goal. I changed it first to 500 words per day and then to 400 and finally to writing on a specific project (and at least 100 words). Each adjustment fit with what was going on in my life and it kept me productive on the main goal (writing) without feeling bad about not hitting an unrealistic landmark.


Replace

I had every intention of launching my editorial website in 2017. By the time October hit, I realized I was not in a place mentally where I could offer my services to strangers. My friend had died, my cousin was in liver failure, and several other areas of my life were already in upheaval—did I really need to stick to a goal that could easily be pushed to a later date? Instead of pushing myself when I really needed to take care of myself, I dropped my launch goal and replaced it with a goal to take care of my mental health. I started grief counseling and focused my efforts on being mindful of my feelings, my grief, and finding joy. It was quite a switch from focusing on business, but it was the right switch for what was going on in my life.

 

Your goals should never be static, and they should never hinder you. If your goals are stressing you out and demotivating you, you should revisit them and revise them. Goals are supposed to make us better, to get us closer to the people we want to be, but we have to work with the people we are now and what we can bring to the table today. Realign your expectations, throw out what doesn’t work, but don’t give up.

Weird Ways to Manage Anxiety

Anxiety has been my companion through most of my adult life. Most people wouldn’t know this about me because I am so totally chill about everything, yo. (I made a joke about my NaNoWriMo co-ML and I that his job was talking and my job was planning and panicking—it’s an even division of labor.) Seriously, I do a fair job of managing my stress and anxiety, and mostly it’s through normal means, like taking a walk, taking a nap, or watching a funny movie. But I also manage it through some unusual means, and so I’m here to break down: The Top Three Weird Ways I Manage My Anxiety.


1. Memorization/Recitation

I am an avid fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’ve seen all the episodes, read a ridiculous number of books and comic books, tracked down interviews and read behind the scenes books. I know quotes, actor names, random factoids, and the name of every episode.

Let me clarify, I know the name of every episode in order. Forward and backward. With episode numbers.

There are 144 episodes of Buffy and when I’m feeling stressed out, I head over to Sporcle to play my favorite Buffy episode quiz. The quiz is simple—you write the episode title and it fills in on the list. And even though I know all the episodes, sometimes I’m a little rusty, or I remember them out of order, so I play the game over and over until I have the order correct forward, and then backward, and then under 10 minutes, etc. (I stop when I feel less anxious, but this can go on for bits at a time for days, depending on what’s causing the anxiety.)

When I’ve got Buffy down, I move on to Angel (110 episodes), and then Stargate SG-1­ (a whopping 214 episodes).

In some ways it’s a time waster, but when the anxiety is high, the repetition can help calm me down and the memorization lets me focus on something that isn’t whatever’s causing the anxiety.


2. Cleaning/Reorganizing/Book Touching

I usually have a smallish (read as: large) pile of paperwork sitting on the corner of my desk and a handful of other things sitting out of place around my space. Picking up those areas is a great way to deal with my anxiety because while I might not be able to get a grasp on other things, I know where these things go! (Some of it is the recycling, I admit.) Even if I don’t make it through the stack, diminishing it at all gives me a sense of purpose and success when anxiety is otherwise blocking my productivity.

Reorganizing my bookshelf is another way I deal with anxiety, but since my bookshelf is already organized, this is often a way of tricking myself into feeling productive. I might shift curios around or find a new bookend, but usually there’s very little to do. What I mostly end up doing is touching the spines of books, reading titles, taking in the colors, and occasionally picking the next book I want to read or identifying a book to give away (that last one is actually productive). Even if I’m not distracting myself by the task of reorganizing, losing myself in my book collection for a few minutes usually helps reduce my anxiety because I’m focused on something else.


3. Faceplanting in a Cat

When I’m stressed, I find my cat and I shove my face in his fur. Or sometimes, he finds me and forces me to cuddle (often by lying on me and shoving his fur in my face—at least we’re in agreement about what’s comforting). This also usually leads to him purring, and there’s little that soothes anxiety as efficiently as a cat purr.

 

Three weird methods, but they all work for me. The reason they work is that all of these activities take me away from whatever is causing the anxiety and allow me to focus on something else—and something I enjoy. Because even when I’m reciting the names of Buffy episodes, I’m thinking about a show that is funny and means a lot to me. So, yeah, even though it’s a little weird, I’m happy to do it if it means that afterward I can function. Do you have any weird coping mechanisms or things that you do before settling into work?