Sunday, February 1, 2009

A Writer's Guide to Coping in Hard Times

We've all been through tragedies and trauma. And if you haven't (yet), you will. It's part of life, and there's no escaping it. With today's economy, people losing jobs by the thousands, and the stress of trying to get through it intact - one can feel rather challenged. But there are strategies we can use to cope in times of sadness or anxiety. Most of you probably apply these by habit, but I thought it might be worthwhile to jot them down for the future. After all, we all need reminding once in a while.

First of all, and most obvious, there's burying oneself in work. Distraction can be a very good thing. There's nothing as satisfying as drowning in a great read, or writing a scintillating chapter, or even plowing through mountains of data to distract ones heart and soul from grief or stress. In general, I always refer to my writing as "great therapy." There's nothing more satisfying than being able to "take control" of someone's life, even if does mean sort of living through my characters. These parallel universes we create can be comforting and thrilling. Let's face it, there's nothing more exciting than the armchair adventure we experience through reading or writing. (Except, maybe, actually living these scenes!)

There's another tact I've taken lately: eating my way through tough times. I know, I know, it's terrible to allow yourself to go crazy and just eat donuts or cake or big bowls of ice cream. But sometimes I just don't care, and it tastes so good! For the past few weeks as I've been worrying about the impending layoffs at work, I've used this strategy to excess. Once we find out about our collective futures, I'll certainly get back to my usual fruits and veggies. There's time for that. And with spring just around the corner, there will be many wonderful walks in nature that will hopefully counteract my recent gluttony.

Speaking of nature, even in this wintry season, communing with the outdoors is another way to deal with stress. A brisk walk at lunch (especially if you are stuck in corporate America during the daylight hours) is a wonderful way to refresh your spirit, imagine your next chapter, or dig deeply into your characters' lives. It's fun to take one character at a time and define his or her past even more deeply than you've ever done before. Imagine some scenes from their childhood. Think about how it links to their current day behavior in your book(s). And before you know it, you've covered three miles, breathed healthy air, and cleansed your soul a bit. Of course the pure beauty of such outdoor experiences is enough to cleanse your soul no matter what you're thinking. Sometimes it's just nice to "be," and not think of anything!

You know I always talk about "taking pleasure in the little things," right? I've used this coping mechanism throughout most of my life, when I couldn't control anything that was happening in my life and I needed solace. Enjoying a breathtaking scene on the drive to work, or taking pleasure in a shared laugh with a friend, or soaking in the feeling that accompanies the flash of love in a child's eyes... it all helps. I try to savor those moments, and realize they are gifts from God, meant to please and comfort us at the same time.

Of course, venting one's feelings - whether through an article or chatting with a close friend - is a super way to get all that angst out of you. For a little while, anyway.

Snuggling with your dog or cat, or your honey, with a box of popcorn and a good movie can also help. Or being elbow deep in rich soil in your garden. I wish it were spring right now.

And here's my last suggestion to ease pain and anxiety. Perform an unexpected act of kindness for someone. Anyone. Just because. Be their angel for a moment. And taking oneself out of the state of self-absorption really helps to put it all in perspective.

How do you cope with hardship? Do you spend time with your loved ones, playing board games and laughing? Do you take long walks? Make a delicious soup? Do you write for hours? Lose yourself in a great book? Share your thoughts with us below, and imagine that in doing so, you might just have helped one tortured soul get through his or her troubled day.

As always, remember to take pleasure in the little things and write like the wind!

- Aaron

P.S. I wrote this Wednesday. We found out about layoffs Friday, and I was "hit." I'm plunging between euphoria (I'm free! I can try something else!) to despair (oh my God we're gonna starve!) to numbness (maybe I'll just take the summer off and be a bum...). Of course I couldn't take any time off, per se, I need to get cracking to find a good job. Health care benefits run out on Sept. 1! Guess I'd better reread my own article. Breathe. Just breathe.


Help Aaron put food in the cupboards by ordering some of his books at LOL!


s.w. vaughn said...

Aaron, you know I love you.


Your attitude is amazing! I vote for sticking with the 'I'm free!' sentiment. I'll bet you're going to find something wonderful and fantastic to do now.

Sometimes I write to cope. Now and again I have myself a good cry (with a nice cup of coffee) - and I really let go and end up huddled on the floor, breathing hard, dripping snot (yeah, it gets pretty gross), all by myself. It's kind of cleansing, actually.

And I'm totally with you on the wishing it was spring!

Kim Smith said...

I posted over on your Gather post yesterday Aaron -- but you know how I feel. God bless you pal.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Thanks, SW and Kim. You guys are such great friends. I feel bolstered up just knowing you. ;o)

Marta Stephens said...

Aaron, you're one of the most positive individuals I know and respect. God's plan is yet to be revealed, but just watch, good things will come of this.

Kathryn Magendie said...

Oh! So sorry you were "hit" but dang if this post isn't a positive one...

Keith Pyeatt, author of paranormal thrillers said...

Aaron -- Hate to hear of your "hit," but keep the great attitude.

As far as coping, physical exercise does it for me. Exhausting muscles releases something that apparently needs to be released. I feel better -- much better -- and I get most of my "you look pretty durn good for an old fart" comments right after a workout or run. There's no stress in my face.

So jog your way over to those job interviews. Potential employers will pass all the sweating off on interview jitters and be won over by that stressfree smile.

Best luck to you in this time of change. May it result in all positive things for you and yours.


Unknown said...

Sorry you have been hit by the apparent downturn of the economy but I love your attitude. That will attitude alone will give you strenth. I am currently reading one of your books and I love it. I will be posting my review on soon.

Anonymous said...

Aaron, you know I'm here for you. Just keep appreciating the things and people that you love and you'll be just fine.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Thanks, everyone. I'm trying hard to stay positive and imagine a wonderful outcome. I know there's something amazing waiting on the other side of this rather frightening doorway.