‘Stress-Busting for the Creative Soul’ by Monica Baker ’15

The day the “T” popped off of my keyboard I crumbled.

I sat, hunched over the alphabet minus one, ready to cry … and I mean cry. I had two client editing projects to finish plus my own work, requested by an editor. I did not have time for a jumping “T” or even for the Apple Genius bar.

I should say that I am a relatively calm and cool person under crisis; the one-quarter German in me dominating my emotional register. I come from a huge family and can take all sorts of hits, to include disease, death, high-pressured jobs, kids, and life as an entrepreneur’s wife. And when the COVID 19 lockdown occurred in 2020 I welcomed it, seeing the lockdown as an opportunity to get things done. In spite of the burdens lockdown imposed, I made good with it, tightening my social lasso around my immediate family. And I went to town on work and my creative output, finishing one novel and then writing the first draft of another in 2020. I thought I was good.

But when that “T” jumped up and off of my keyboard my heart clenched and my skin bubbled in sweat. I slipped the plastic cap back over the naked spot and tried to continue with my editing, the “T” jumping and slipping over ttto, and tThe, and -hat, and too, and Twenty tttTwenty-one, and tttears … in my eyelids. The year sucked!

The popping “T” was an evil spirit careening me out of control. Sweaty hands? I don’t get sweaty hands! My client’s work became totally unwieldy. The words made no sense. How would I ever turn them into coherent sentences? My WIP? Maybe I shouldn’t even be bothering. My thoughts raced around a track, becoming more and more unfocused.

I pushed back from my desk, tied my shoes, and bolted out the mudroom door. I went for a walk.

It wasn’t until I was deep into the woods that I admitted it. The pandemic and its escalating negatives were chipping away at me and I was stressed. Because stress is a creativity killer—it doesn’t take a shrink to figure that out—I had been struggling to hold on to my creative energy. The printed words were still coming, but more slowly, requiring extra revision. But I hadn’t noticed this as a sign of stress. As I trudged through mud and roots that afternoon, what I did notice was that some of the trees in the woods were succumbing to the Emerald Ash Borer. Those signs I knew.

Like people, trees suffer stress; sometimes chronic, lasting for a long time and sometimes acute, whacking them overnight. And like with people, signs of stress are inevitable but maybe not always identified or acknowledged. Stresses from infestations and soil damage aren’t always immediately visible but become obvious over time. Trees suffer canopy dieback. Sudden leaning occurs, a symptom that the root system has become unsupported. Early leaf drop or early fall colors are signs that the tree is undernourished.

Well, popping keyboard “Ts” can expose stress damage hiding under the surface, chewing at creatives like writers, pushing them into leaf-dropping funks.

The day my “T” popped was the day that I realized I was indeed stressed and had been ignoring my own signals. I was becoming easily distracted, unfocused, lacking in confidence when it came to my editing and writing, and foggy-brained. In my writing life my creativity seemed to be moving slower, “sludgier,” and not free. My heart arrythmia had been acting up, and I was finding people in general to be taxing.

The best thing I did that day was to identify that I was stressed. The second best thing I did was to leave my desk and go for a two-hour walk, where I could think. While in the woods I committed to an eight-point Stress-Busting Creativity Plan that I’m sharing with you here. Feel free to create your own stress management system; one that works for your creative self.

  1. Be kind to yourself. Allow yourself the grace to know that perfectionism is overrated. Embrace your flaws.

  2. Identify it, acknowledge it, and talk about it. Tell someone you’re stressed.

  3. Commit to weekly creativity goals. Choose an overall goal, like completing your novel, and chunk it up into manageable, weekly tasks. Revise a chapter, write 4,000 words, wander new places, read a craft essay. Find a creative partner you can share your goals with! At the end of the week assess what you’ve accomplished and don’t beat yourself up if you didn’t make all of your goals.

  4. Make a daily list of ANYTHING that you need or want to do. When I’m really in a fog I include things like, “breathe.” It’s quite liberating when you can strike out an item on your to-do list!

  5. Honor your creative time by “booking it.” I log my writing time on my calendar from when I wake up until 10AM. Anything over that is super sauce.

  6. Set boundaries and keep people out of your writing time whether via in person or via social media or phone.

  7. Be positive with your communications, especially social media. Reading and writing negative posts sucks your soul. As does reading them.

  8. Get physical! Pick an activity that pumps oxygen into your brain and do it. EVERY DAY. I usually write just before I tie my walking or biking shoes. I focus on what needs work, and I take off. I do my best “writing” while moving!

Because Apple, which I eventually called on, still can’t help with my popping “T,” it’s now taped onto my keyboard. I’ve written, “Call Apple. Again.” on my to-do list and “write about my ‘T’” is on my week’s Creativity Plan.

And the rest? Deadlines, novels, current WIP?

The rest will patiently follow.