We’ve all heard the tired old saying, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade!” Many of us have heard the much better version from Portal 2, “When life hands you lemons, burn life’s house down!” The message of the first saying is clear: work with what you’ve got. The message of the second is, like so many things, more fun in theory than in practice.
The truth is that most people reading this blog would probably like to spend more time writing. The trouble is that other things, things which are not writing, keep getting in the way. Work, food preparation, family time, video games, root canals, repelling boarding parties, getting your car worked on, mowing the lawn, fulfilling ancient prophecies and exercise are just some of the potential distractions that keep you from your wordcount potential.
I can’t help with any of those things. What I am trying to help you with are the days where you’ve got the time but not the will. Mostly, I’ve found that lack of willpower points either to lack of energy or too much stress. In today’s increasingly specific blog post, I’ll discuss how to write through the daily stresses that accumulate and hamper you by turning their energy, aikido-like, against them.
There’s a well-known therapeutic benefit to writing out your problems, as though we can only unburden ourselves of something painful when we are certain we can’t ever forget about it. What that says about human psychology I don’t know, and there’s nothing revolutionary or innovative about this idea, but it can be so easy to forget that it bears reminding. Because while lots of people write out journals or diaries to put their stresses down on paper and get them out of their head, if you happen to write fiction there’s a way to have your cake and eat it too.
The answer is something I’m sure you’ve all heard before: map your real-world problems onto the pages of your stories. Now, it’s a little more complicated than that. Obviously I can’t put the bureaucratic stress I feel every time I have to order IT supplies at my day job into my second world YA fantasy. But if you strip away the specifics and dig down to the root cause of the stress, in my example the primal reaction to the sense of helplessness I feel whenever a powerful entity or person imposes arbitrary rules that make my life harder, there’s plenty of stuff to work with there.
You can come at this any number of ways. Maybe you’re trying to quit smoking and having trouble, so you project the same struggles onto your protagonist. The mere act of transferring the burden to another person’s shoulders, even a pretend person, can be therapeutic and make you feel as though you are less alone in your struggle.
The bottom line is that stress doesn’t have to be a block on the path to finishing your story. If you’re willing to dig into it a bit, you can even leverage quality character beats from your own real-world problems. Best of all, you know they’ll come across as authentic, because you are living them!
We all know what life is like. Some days it feels like the lemons just won’t stop. And writing your problems into your stories will not, sadly, make them go away. But sharing your real burden with your imaginary friends can help a surprising amount. Maybe they’ll overcome these obstacles and give you the courage to do the same. Or maybe they won’t and will give you the courage to accept that not every battle needs to be won.
Rocket scientist by day, fantasy and science fiction author by night, Gregory D. Little began his writing career in high school when he and his friend wrote Star Wars fanfic before it was cool, passing a notebook around between (sometimes during) classes. His first novel, Unwilling Souls, is available now from ebook retailers and trade paperback through Amazon.com. His short fiction can be found in The Colored Lens and A Game of Horns: A Red Unicorn Anthology. He lives in Virginia with his wife and their yellow lab.