The lives of writers have always interested me. Long before I even thought about writing stories for publication, I gobbled up biographies of my literary heroes and discovered many lived lives much like everyone else’s. Great highs. Miserable lows.
When I started to write, I began to connect with others, so instead of reading about the lives of writers, I was actually sharing in them. Daily humdrum to catastrophic. Of course, those catastrophic times remain clear in my memory.
The hurricanes that devastated the southern states, wreaked havoc that will have long-lasting effects on everyone who suffered the loss of people and property. Some of my writer friends have vanished from the online scene. They’re taking care of family and working to put their personal lives together.
During last year fires in California totally upended some writers lives. I know some had to evacuate. Two are still without homes, and they may never return to where they lived before the fires. I still don't know if they lost their work, and I dread asking.
Illness. Death. Financial loss. All can enter a writer’s life, derail a book, derail a career, derail a writer so that they can’t get the words to come. So how can writers write through catastrophes? How can they recover from their experiences and even turn them into something of value to themselves and others?
When I’ve had run-ins with catastrophe, I asked myself those two questions. Searching for help, I found sports psychologist Lew Hardy’s Catastrophe Model, and suggestions for athletes coping with those times they plunge over the emotional cliff and can’t function--in a writer’s case, that translates to “can’t write.”
His model is complicated, but his suggestions are simple: “Once over the edge, the key to recovery is 1) relaxation, 2) restructuring cognitively and 3) reactivation.”
Focusing on breathing is a simple and easy way to reduce tension and anxiety. When you’re in control of your most basic life function, you can’t be tense. You can’t be anxious. Your level of “emotional arousal” drops. Some use prayer with the same calming, centering effect.
And then there's the idea of having control over at least something. Here's a quote from one of the abstracts (Perceived Control of Anxiety and its Relationship to Self-Confidence and Performance
Sheldon Hanton & Declan Connaughton) "Symptoms perceived to be under control were interpreted to have facilitative consequences for performance; however, symptoms not under control were viewed as debilitative." As I interpret this, when the bottom of your world drops way, get control of something, anything. That may be enough to help you gain control over something else. One step at a time.
Have you ever come up with these thoughts? This is horrible…I’ll never finish…My career’s over. There’s no use in going on. I have, several times. Hardy’s model suggests this is the time when restructuring the way we think is so crucial. We can use the tried and true mantra, “Dwelling on the negative will only hinder my performance, it does not help.” Or we can find something specific to our writing. “I’ve written good stories before; I can do it again.” Instead of the general and vague, make it very personal. We've just entered a new year. This is a great time to do a recap of what you accomplished in 2017.
Reactivating is the last step in this process for getting back to optimum performance. It’s a gradual process, not a jump-back-into-the-fray one. Hardy says, “Focus on regaining a rhythm and comfort to your effort. As you settle into a sense of flow, you can increase your intensity and soon be back at that peak level.” Tell yourself, “Just stay calm and write a sentence you love. That’s enough. Tomorrow, do more.”
We all have times when we fall over an emotional cliff and can't perform the way we trained to do. I'm using these steps. They're getting me through one of those falls. What do you do when catastrophes strike?