Creativity, stress and made-up pressure

Stack of paper and folders

I’ve just realised I’ve been doing something totally ridiculous.  

In the corner of my bedroom sits a pile of notes for the novel I am writing/not writing (depending on which month you ask me).

Every time I look at this pile (see photo above), I feel stressed.

The pile itself cannot be the problem. I’m pretty sure if you walked into my bedroom, you wouldn’t see my notes and immediately sink to your knees in despair…unless you had a phobia about paper or something (I’ve just looked this up; it’s called ‘Papyrophobia’ if you’re interested).

Anyway, the point is, paper itself does not cause stress. It sits there and does bugger all.

So, it’s my thinking about the paper that’s the issue. Specifically, what I have decided the pile of paper means

I should have finished my novel by now.
Surely it shouldn’t take this long?
I’m 50 FFS!
There must be something wrong with me.
There’s definitely something wrong with me.
Oh God, maybe I’m not a writer, after all.

Here’s the hilarious thing:

There is no law which states, ‘Thou shalt write a novel within X number of days, otherwise thou shalt be banished from writing FOREVER!’

There is no deadline. I have made it up!

What I am doing is the mental equivalent of writing myself an abusive letter, then reading it and feeling upset. It’s nuts!

And yet we do this sort of thing to ourselves all the time.


I stumbled across a clue to this in a podcast I was listening to a few days ago: Why It Makes Sense To Be Unhappy

In the podcast, transformative coach Michael Neill explained that most of us use unhappiness as a spectacularly crap way to motivate ourselves to do something.

We think we’re too ‘fat’, ‘poor’, ‘lazy’, ‘rubbish at writing novels’ [insert whatever your issue is]. Then we make ourselves unhappy about that situation in order to motivate ourselves to change it.

“Human beings are the only creatures who shit in their own nests to get themselves to move out”
– Bruce DiMarsico

Sometimes this works as an impetus to change, but it’s not sustainable long-term. When we beat ourselves up, we’re not in the best state to do anything other than soothe our discomfort by procrastinating; turning to cake, chocolate or alcohol; or binging on Facebook or TV, which is the exact opposite of what we intended our unhappiness to do!

Similarly, feeling crap about how long it takes to write my novel does NOT motivate me to write my novel. It just makes me feel crap and demotivated.

At least, it did until I saw this post on Facebook yesterday, which blew my writing theories out of the water and then, of course, I felt better (see how sneaky our thoughts are?):

Age of different authors at debut novel

J. K. Rowling herself took 7 years to write Harry Potter:

“Part of the reason there were 7 years between having the idea for Philosopher’s Stone and getting it published, was that I kept putting the manuscript away for months at a time, convinced it was rubbish.”

(This could well be the single greatest sentence a human being has ever uttered.)

I not only make up make-believe deadlines, I also make up other things and treat them as irrefutable law:

I MUST write every day (otherwise I’m not a real writer).
I MUST write for hours and hours (ditto).
I MUST write and enjoy every nanosecond (ditto).

No wonder writing my novel is such an on-off affair. I’ve been beating myself up for not meeting a deadline and set of idealised expectations that I’ve completely made up. What kind of idiot does that?!

I’m sharing this in case you do this sort of thing too. (At least we can be idiots together.)

Here, in summary, is my patented 5-step plan for living a stressful life:

STEP 1: Make up a truck load of pressures and expectations
STEP 2: Make up that you MUST meet these pressures and expectations OR ELSE
STEP 3: Do not meet these pressures and expectations (no human being can)
STEP 4: Beat yourself up for not meeting these pressures and expectations
STEP 5: Ramp up the pressure and expectations (you know it makes sense)

Never, ever proceed to step 6:

STEP 6: Realise that you are the one making up the flipping pressures and expectations in the first place. Relax, put your feet up, and order a chilled G&T.

Katherine Bassford is the author of Say No to Sugar: Simple Tips to Help You Cut Sugar Out of Your Life. She also illustrates and sells quirky cards, prints and t-shirts. To learn more about Katherine visit katherinebassford.com

8 thoughts on “Creativity, stress and made-up pressure”

  1. Another really good post Katherine. The blog could have been about me. I’ve been the same, beating myself up over imaginary deadlines etc. All this negativity is fed to you by what I now call the shitty committee. A group of horrible beings that want you to be unhappy. Now I just tell them to shut up, because I’m not listening. My books will emerge when they’re happy to do so, but they will emerge. That pile of paper in your bedroom. Well that looks like great progress to me. X


    1. I love your comment Phil! The Shitty Committee is alive and well and having a party in my brain. But you’re right; we don’t have to invite them to hang around or listen to their very vocal opinions. “My books will emerge when they’re happy to do so”… that’s such a lovely, gentle but powerful thing to say. Looking forward to reading them xx


  2. Brilliantly written, Katherine. Thank you, in particular, for sharing your patented 5-step plan for living a stressful life – I don’t have one of those, so I’m sure this will come in handy! ;-)


  3. “There is no deadline. I have made it up!

    What I am doing is the mental equivalent of writing myself an abusive letter, then reading it and feeling upset. It’s nuts!”

    Absolutely spot-on. Thank you for this. I can really identify with it all too well.


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