#114: Writing and Stress

Lots of writers and other creative folks set deadlines for themselves to get things done. Without the pressure of a deadline, they find it difficult to focus on what needs to get done. They’re flailing and going in circles.

Some writers go to social media to share their commitment with their followers. ‘I will finish this book by the end of the year.’

Others take it a step further and commit to paying a sum of money to a friend or an organisation they don’t support. Nir Eyal, the author of Hooked and Indistractable, pledged to pay $10,000 to a friend in case he failed to deliver his manuscript on time.

Certainly, commitments like that can keep you accountable. But just how much stress you really need? And what if you take it too far?

I’ve seen people advocate ideas like, ‘having a plan B means that you’re not serious about writing. Quit your job. Go big or go home.’

It can be tempting as well. On a bad day at work, when you’re tired, and your boss is annoying you, you can’t help but think about taking the leap. Writing on the side is exhausting. You could make so much more progress if you could write full time, right?

While stress can propel us to take action, too much of it will do the opposite. When you commit to an impossible deadline that you can’t meet; when you compare yourself to journeys of other successful writers; when you start running out of money and don’t know how you will make the rent at the end of the month. Your brain shuts down, and your creativity goes with it. The lower you slide down the pyramid of needs, the less creative you will be. That’s the way humans have evolved. Food takes priority over writing books. The worrying won’t let you think about anything else.

Will a bit of pressure help you get things done? Probably yes. But really, it’s a balancing act. If you have a good track record of working under pressure, then moderate amounts of stress might give you the kick you need. It also depends on what’s the worst-case scenario if you won’t be able to deliver.

When you publicly announce that you will finish by a specific date and you don’t, would the embarrassment be annoying-but-manageable, or would it be debilitating for your mental health? If you quit your job to write full time, and six months later find yourself back on the job market, will you be able to get your career back on track?

There are lots of war stories floating around of people who put everything on the line and broke out. What’s nobody telling you are the stories of people who did the same and never recovered.

In Nir Eyal’s case, $10,000 sounds like a lot of money. However, he is an entrepreneur, well-established best-selling author and very successful tech investor (one of his investments was $10M). I don’t want to say that $10,000 is an insignificant amount of money to him. Still, I would speculate that it’s more an annoying rather than a life-changing sum.

Successful writers take risks, but never life-changing risks so that they can stay in the game for long enough until they succeed.

Stress can be a powerful motivator. Too much of it is an even more powerful detractor. Whatever you do, make sure you avoid life-changing risks.

What I Am Reading

I finished Hooked by Nir Eyal this week. It gave some interesting insights on why every single app wants you to turn push notifications, award you badges and send you swathes of automated email. However, I feel that the golden era of addictive software is slowly but surely coming to an end. People are becoming more aware of how the brain works and how not to get caught out by these things.

This was the 40th book that I read so far, which means I have 10 more to go. Right now, I’m reading Indistractable.

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