Please welcome Barbara Claypole White as our guest today. A Brit living in North Carolina, Barbara Claypole White writes hopeful family drama with a healthy dose of mental illness. Her debut novel, The Unfinished Garden, won the 2013 Golden Quill Contest for Best First Book, and The In-Between Hour was chosen by the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) as a Winter 2014 Okra Pick. Her third novel, The Perfect Son, was a Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee for Best Fiction 2015, and Echoes of Family launches this week!
Writing to contract is extraordinarily stressful, as is sharing your family with mental illness. I juggle both and if I couldn’t write through stress, I couldn’t write. Other writers often ask how I cope, but my family stress and my writing have become symbiotic. I’ve figured out how to accept the chaos and let it fuel my writing. Maybe at this point, I can’t write without stress. I hope not!
Ten Tips for Writing Through Family Stress
I’ve birthed four novels in the midst of family drama. My husband and son battle OCD, an anxiety disorder that generates an 80% divorce rate and a nasty suicide statistic; we have two aging parent situations an ocean apart; and we’ve had our share of medical crises. Often I’m the craziest person in the house, but throughout, I’ve written to contract—with the occasional extension. (Hey, I’m not Wonder Woman.) And along the way, I’ve picked up some kickass coping techniques:
- Laugh like you mean it
I was having a good rant the other day when I overhead my husband ask our son, “Is she talking to us?” The Delinquent replied, “Nah, Dad. She’s just venting.” “How can you tell the difference?” my husband said, at which point I cracked up. Real laughter, the kind that snorts out through your nose, annihilates stress.
- Acknowledge negative emotions
If you had mold in your house, you’d deal with it, right? Much of publishing is about handling rejection with a smile when you’d rather spit venom. Find a private place to release those feelings because denying them is akin to feeding them Miracle-Gro. Let’s face it: writing is personal to you. Here’s a useful trick from the war on OCD: assign yourself time to worry, set a timer, and when it goes off, you’re done.
- Give your stress to a character
Who doesn’t love the Donald Maass third level emotions? After my mother fell and smashed up her elbow, I had to juggle my deadline with a dash across the pond. I was mad, I was resentful, but underneath I had horrible guilt. I bequeathed those feelings to my hero in a win-win situation that gave him authentic emotions and me therapy.
- Think small
To counter my son’s crippling exam anxiety, we used to create a day-by-day study calendar, working backward from his finals. When his anxiety peaked, I would redirect him to his daily goal. He still uses this technique as a college senior, and I use it for deadlines. Next time you’re overwhelmed, shrink your world to daily goals. [Read more…]