I don’t know about you, but I’m worn out from opening my inbox to the masses of COVID-19 emails. Most are updates regarding businesses and what they’re plans are, some remind us to wash and practice social distancing to “stay safe.” It’s all important and necessary stuff, but maybe it’s the mix of contradictory information from the media and underlying stress that’s exhausting. Maybe it’s the crummy weather we’ve had here that’s contributing to cabin fever.

Either way, I think we all feel stuck.

When things get difficult, I like to play a little pretend. I’ve never confessed this to anyone, but I imagine I’m the character in someone’s book. Not my book or one that’s been written. I don’t even daydream about writing this particular story. Instead, I try to figure out what requirement of the story I’m in. Is this the inciting incident or the climax?

Story structure nerdy, I know.

Right now, it feels as if we’re all in varying stages but not yet to the middle build. Personally, my character has realized something needs to change but she’s not sure what or how to do it. So, just past the inciting incident, not yet fully answering the call. Others have figured it out and are working on a new normal, which will undoubtedly include rising conflict along the way.

Breaking things down helps me make sense of the world around me. Usually, it’s during a stressful time, but not always. For the most part, it helps me stay patient with the situation and keep anxiety at bay. By understanding what story requirement I’m in, I can figure out how much of the “book” I have left.

Another thing that helps is journaling.

There are tons of articles out there on the importance of journaling. And there are just as many opinions on how to do it right, whether it’s for stress relief, mediation, aligning with the universe, or just to write. Sometimes as writers, especially when we don’t have a project going, just the act of writing or typing can be enough to fill our emotional buckets.

I have a specific way of journaling that not only helps me relieve stress but gets me thinking deeper about myself and my surroundings. It also helps me be a better storyteller.

And who doesn’t want that?

These sessions aren’t at all like an eighth-grade rehash of who sat with whom at lunch, and yours shouldn’t be either.

Here’s how to do it:

Pick an event that gave you a strong emotional response. This sounds dramatic, but it’s primarily internal. Maybe you were the first to volunteer for something after you told yourself you already had too much on your plate. The primary goal is to understand what you did, why if possible, how you feel about it now, what to do about it, and how to change your behavior for the future.

Then, recount the event. Okay, so this is a little bit like junior high, but it’ll help you keep things in sequence, step back, and remember things how they truly were instead of what your emotions tell you. This can sometimes take up pages if your emotions are still raw. Other times a summary just a few paragraphs long works.

Next, dive deep by exploring the one subject and the emotions it evokes with laser focus. Keeping with one topic will get you looking at it from all angles. Free write, pull it apart and try to get to the core of it.

Don’t beat yourself up, though. This is not a pity party or a way to justify negative self-talk. This is a way to put words to your emotions. Giving them words and labels helps to sort them out and gives you power over those feelings. It will give you a clearer understanding of yourself and how to respond differently to situations.

Rarely do I go back and read what I’ve written. Feelings have been vented, explored, and healed, there’s no sense in pouring salt on a wound. If it was an emotionally jarring or extremely stressful event, it may take a few writing sessions to fully understand what I experienced.

If reviewing your entry helps, go for it. Do what works best for you.

Take what you learn and figure out how to apply that to a character. Usually, it’s a flaw that needs addressing and can help bring a character to life. Sometimes it’s a little quirk. Other times, entire character arcs can be built around it. 

Journaling is three-fold: venting, learning, applying, which is what makes it such a great tool.

These are just a few ideas to help you if you’re stressed out or confused. It can apply to everyday mishaps or our current crisis. As writers and daydreamers, you have full permission to live in your own little world and pretend you’re the character of a book.

What story requirement do you think you’re in right now? Is there anything your character needs to learn?

Let me know how writing, journaling, or pretending has helped you in stressful times. Right now, we could all use a few more tools.

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