Saturday, August 5, 2017

Stress: The Great Motivator

The deadline is tomorrow. You have known about this cutoff date for weeks, but you were so busy with other matters, so you put it off. The venue is perfect. It pays well, and the guidelines speak directly to you. You have a half-finished story that you know would work.
Now what?
If you are anything like me, this has happened often, and you know there is only one thing to do. Pull up the story and start on it, but until it is on its way, you will stress. You will ask yourself stupid questions like, "Why am I doing this to myself? Why didn't I start on this earlier? Is it worth it?"
Of course, it is worth it. It is what you love to do. Therefore, you forge on, one word at a time, one sentence at a time, one paragraph at a time, until you see the end, and the stress pours from your shoulders like sweat.
I teach at a small college. I earn enough doing that to support my family and myself, so after a long day in the classroom and in the office taking care of all the detritus that comes with the job, the last thing I want to do is sit in front of another computer and string words together. However, I do because stress in the form of guilt forces me to. Let's face it, I have heard repeatedly during my college days: If you want to be a writer, you must sit down and write. It's a truism, and I know it, so I sit and write. Not doing so would mean that I have given up and that is simply not in my DNA.
I'm a writing teacher and that means papers to grade—not just papers, but mostly badly written papers. I will do anything to avoid grading them—mow the lawn, wash dishes, surf social media, and work on stories or novels, of course. Some of my best work comes from avoiding grading papers. I constantly admonish my students for putting off starting their papers, and here I am, putting off grading those same papers. Eventually, I will grade them, of course, but at three in the morning because I promised to have them to the students by eight. Bleary-eyed, I walk into the classroom and hand my students their marked-up essays.
One of the great benefits of being a college teacher is that I can take the summers off if I want, and believe me, I want. This summer I set a goal of no less than five pages a day. Not an especially high bar, I admit, but I know my limits. Still, that's approximately three hundred and fifty pages. There were days when I simply didn't want to sit and write—days when the spirit deserted me—but the stress of not meeting my goal encouraged me to place butt to chair and fingers to keyboard. I wrote every day, and often exceeded my five-page goal. In fact, this summer break, I wrote and edited one novel, wrote another, nearly completed a novelette, and cranked out two short stories. I owe it all to stress. To quote one of my ex-students, "I do my best work under stress." Ah, there is truth to that.
Here how it works for me. I know I need to get the goal done, but the process of sitting in the chair and writing is difficult. There are too many distractions, so I stress and create scenarios in my mind. I imagine that I'm writing the words down and soon, the excitement and the fear that I might forget all that "brilliant" stuff I thought up builds, and I must put the words down in the computer. Once I start typing, the words string together like magic. Not all them are keepers, of course, but I'll come back and clean it up in the editing stages. The main point is to move the story forward, steadily moving toward the conclusion.
Like I said earlier, I know me. I'm a procrastinator. There is always something I'd rather be doing than what I should be doing, but stress motivates me. Guilt too, I suppose. So, I wait and wait and at the last moment, I complete the task. This blog should have been completed two days ago; however, I waited until this morning to get it done. Now, I should go back and clean it up, but I think I'll wait until this afternoon. The Fred Charlie Cajun Show is on, and I'd rather listen to some good Cajun music.
The blog can wait.

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