In late 2014, I was overcome with a host of strange symptoms that I couldn’t pin on a particular illness. My face blazed with a blush that wouldn’t stop. My heartbeat was quick and irregular. And – wow – that vertigo. It took my legs out from under me and made me feel like I was losing my grip on the world. Altogether, those symptoms made me feel like I was losing my grip on my sanity.
Of course, I later realized that I had been having panic attacks without knowing it. The symptoms were not the same as they had been a decade before, the last time I was overcome by them, so I didn’t immediately link them to a problem I thought I had shed along with a bad relationship and a series of unfortunate decisions.
What happened this time?
I was terrified, but this time it had nothing to do with a bad marriage or a house that felt like it was closing in on me. This time it was all about the choices I had been making in my life and how they conflicted in such an excruciating way with my values.
When I made myself sit down and think about it, I came up with this list. And, more than that, I made myself start following the strategies. Since then, things have started to fall into place easier than they ever have in my life.
Follow this list to the letter or modify it to suit the situation to get you back on track with writing, relationships, diet, or life in general.
1. Make space for your thoughts.
Look at everything around you. What are you holding onto that doesn’t serve you? Get rid of it, and organize what’s left.
If a character doesn’t belong in that story you’ve been stuck on, take them out and see if the story starts to flow.
Diet off-track? Get rid of your main late-night or television snacking weakness.
2. Get acquainted with ‘no’.
Stop taking on responsibilities that don’t align with your goals and values.
A new idea beating on your brain? Don’t start writing it until you’re finished with your work-in-progress. Jot it down, sure, but don’t let it derail your current project.
Instead of signing up at every open house and PTA meeting, sit back and let others do the baking for once. You might be surprised at how few people notice.
3. Seek out knowledge.
No matter how many books you’ve read or courses you’ve finished, you can’t ever know everything… and that’s a good thing. Become a lifelong learner.
The character you’re writing seems a little flat or boring? Research hobbies until you find an interesting one that will liven her up. Maybe give her a wacky side job that puts her in the sights of a new love – or a killer, depending on your genre.
Relationship getting stale? Seek out new experiences that you can share with your significant other, then plan an evening, weekend, or vacation in which you both go beyond what you know into something mysterious or beautiful.
4. Let it go!
If you’re like a lot of people, you’re carrying more than your fair share of stress, responsibility, or guilt. It’s time to shed that weight and carve out a better situation for yourself.
Does finishing that NaNoWriMo manuscript from last year feel like you’re beating a dead horse? Put it in a file to finish next month, next year, or never. Or use it for spare parts instead. Sometimes, despite our best efforts, stories just don’t work out. Don’t become stagnant waiting for inspiration.
Feeling guilty about the cookies you ate last night while you were binge-watching Scandal? You can’t change the past, so don’t try. Figure out why you made the mistake, and plan out – and put into action – steps to help you avoid the situation in the future. Guilt does nothing but keep us feeling bad; let it go, and your health will thank you.
Everyone has problems. Some of us can vent them in a healthy fashion, but most of us let them out in all the wrong ways. Don’t go to bed with the past 24 hours weighing on you. Talk to a friend, write in your journal, or let your main character scream obscenities into the cold night air. The morning will see you feeling lighter than you have in a long while.
Make it so.
These tips are easier said than done, but that’s true for most things in life. We all have the best laid plans. But it’s what we do with those plans that makes or breaks us. Don’t let this year be another in which you make goals or resolutions, then let them flounder by mid-February.
Even if you’ve already slipped, there is still time to make a change. Choose the easiest tip to implement from this list, and write it in a place you will see it every day, preferably more than once. Every time you see it, repeat it in your mind, and implement it in a way that seems productive but manageable.
Build momentum. Celebrate your successes, and don’t beat yourself up for slips. Just keep going. Only you can decide what is important to you – and act on it.
Do you have any tips for revamping a life and making the best it can be? Have you turned a sad submission strategy into an ass-kicking, name-taking publishing machine? Share your tips and stories in the comments.