Stress Happens–Surviving and Thriving Despite Life's Setbacks

This week has been really rough. One problem after another. No Internet. Printers wouldn’t work. It has been one setback after another. On and on. I have felt like I have been trapped in Hell’s Whack-A-Mole. Just about whack one problem on the head and two more pop up in the peripheral vision.

It is very easy to get discouraged. In fact, I set aside time for my own pity-party this morning. You would have liked it. It was catered and everything.

The thing is, we all have bad weeks. Setbacks and getting discouraged or overwhelmed are all a part of life. We live in a realm of contrasts. One of my favorite movie lines of all times was from Vanilla Skies. “Just remember, the sweet is never as sweet without the sour, and I know the sour.”

Writing is a highly competitive business. Now that everyone can be published, there is more competition than ever. If we stopped long enough to think about our career choice, we would probably have a stroke. We face rejection letters from agents, bad reviews of our books, complaining e-mails, and all kinds of other emotional assaults where we exercise very little control.

Thus, the people who are going to succeed in life (particularly a writing life) need to have effective ways to deal with stress, setbacks and disappointments.

I have a very weird personality. I am, by nature, quite lazy and love to procrastinate. Over the years I’ve become self-disciplined enough to make lists and tackle a plan. But my new problem is that I get target-fixation. Any deviation off my plan throws me into a total tailspin.

For instance, I couldn’t get Internet, so I couldn’t download the assignments from Warrior Writer Boot Camp so I could edit and give feedback. Okay, no problem. Move to next on the list. I would print off my new book and do the line-edits. WTH? I have no printers installed? Every time I tried to install a printer, my computers made this clunking sound and a red window appeared.

Okay…red windows are never good.

Know the feeling?

After two hours of fighting with my computers, I sounded like I had Tourette’s Syndrome, and I think I still have a bit of a twitch in my left eye.

I was so pissed off at my computers and lack of Internet, that I couldn’t seem to focus on things I could do without printers or Internet…like, um writing? Reading? I felt like that scene from “Bug’s Life.” A leaf fell in front of my Things To Do List and I panicked.

Me: I’m loooooost! What do I do??? I’m gonna be stuck here FOREVER!!!!

Hubby: Do not panic. Go around the leaf!

Me: You don’t understand. I’m loooooooost! *breathes into paper bag*

Hubby: It’s okay. Look into my eyes. We’re going around the leaf.

Me: A-around the leaf? I-I don’t think we can do that.

Hubby: Nonsense. This is nothing compared to the Twig of ’93.

That’s me panicking in the front of the line.

Of course, Hubby came home later that night and in ten minutes all the printers worked. AT&T took pity on me and sent out someone to run new line for my Internet and that was fixed…

…and I felt like a fool.

How could I let such petty disruptions throw me for such a loop? Know the answer? I am human, and every day is a learning experience.

This morning, I sat back and thought about my week and my choices. How could I do things differently next time?

Evil Kristen: Throw computers out the window, obliterate with shotgun then set on fire????

No *sigh*. Although that would be fun, I believe it would cause even more hassle long-term. No, after some careful consideration, this is what I came up with after I traced back to when things began to go wrong:

We need rest.

I normally take Sunday off. I work hell bent for leather all week, but Sunday is a rest day. A big name author responded to my request for a blurb, so instead of resting Sunday, I spent all day at the computer getting this manuscript ready to go.

This means that by Monday, I was on my eighth work day in a row, and I work 10-12 hour days. I was tired. Ok, I was fried. So, when setbacks came my way, my frazzled emotions blew them out of proportion.

We need to rest. Rest is important. We live in a modern society that wears sleep-deprivation like a merit badge. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid. Being overworked, stressed and tired just makes us cranky, stupid, and inefficient.

We need to be flexible.

I still have to work on being able to switch tasks. I tend to get compared to a pit bull a lot :D. Tenacity is a noble trait, but sometimes persistence looks a lot like stupid. Sometimes, we need to just back away and let go.

Maturity teaches us discernment. As writers we are encouraged to be persistent, but sometimes it is better to back away. Been shopping the same novel of 5 years and it is still being rejected? Stop reworking it. Put it down. Move on. We aren’t a failure, we are being mature and knowing when it is time to stop chest compressions.

The manuscript is dead. Flat-lined. Harvest for viable organs to be used in another manuscript that still has a chance at life.

When I realized three doors had been cut off, ramming my head against them didn’t get anything accomplished…it gave me a headache. Next time I hope to be better at recognizing that not only is the door closed, but it is locked and triple-bolted. Time is better spent on open doors. Duh. Not rocket science here.

Be willing to ask others for grace.

Stuff happens. I find it funny that often we are so generous with others, but then are afraid to ask anything from them. I remember years ago, I was so broke I didn’t have money for anything. Wendy’s 99 cent menu was my friend. I recall being so embarrassed to go ask family for help. WHY?

Would I have batted an eye if any of them came to me? I would have enjoyed an opportunity to be generous. It would have felt great to be needed, and that this person would come to me for help. Yet, when it was me needing the help, suddenly things were different? No. No they weren’t.

Last night, I felt so discouraged and depressed that I couldn’t make certain deadlines. It only later occurred to me to e-mail and explain my technical problems and ask for grace. Perfectionism can cause undue stress and tunnel-vision. We are wise to give ourselves permission to not be perfect. We sometimes are better off realizing we cannot control everything. Relax. Breathe. Ask for help.

Mash-Up of Awesomeness will resume next week. I didn’t have Internet long enough to do a good job, so I am taking my own advice and asking for grace :D.

So what do you guys think? What do you do when you hit a wall? What have you learned from your bad weeks? Have any tips to share? Maybe share your battle story of the Leaf of ‘09 or the Twig of 2010?

I want to hear from you!

And, to prove it and show my love, for the month of February, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention WANA in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel.

Happy writing!

Until next time….

In the meantime, if you don’t already own a copy, my best-selling book We Are Not Alone–The Writers Guide to Social Media is recommended by literary agents and endorsed by NY Times best-selling authors. My method is free, fast, simple and leaves time to write more books.

Also, I highly recommend the Write It Forward Workshops. Learn all about plotting, how to write great characters, and even how to self-publish successfully…all from the best in the industry. I will be teaching on social media and building a brand in March. For $20 a workshop, you can change your destiny….all from the comfort of home.


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  1. Kristin,

    Great Post! I plan to use it (with your permission) as the basis of a blog post on my blog,



    1. Sure. No problem. Glad you liked :D.

  2. Having a partner really helps with hitting the wall. Mrs Dim regularly has to download her frustrations with work, since she’s meant to be serene and all-knowing while there. So I get my turn to vent when things writery aren’t going my way. Since she isn’t trying to be a famous, wealthy, international-jet-set-playwright, she can look at things with a calmer eye and point out the obvious (to everyone but me) course of action.

    Regarding your computers, I recently came across a request on a technologu forum from a grad student doing a thesis entitled “Why computers still don’t work properly”. Heh.

    • Callene Rapp on February 18, 2011 at 5:34 pm
    • Reply

    Awesome post, and couldn’t have come at a better time for me, either. Thanks for the reminder.


  3. I think sometimes we get upset about things that in the big picture really aren’t important. On the scale of things many of life’s annoyances are just that: annoyances. You’re stuck in traffic and an hour later go by a horrendous crash site: guess who had the worse day?

    1. I have a more morbid view of that. We’re all gonna die someday, right? So, in the afterlife, our souls would be laughing at this. Actually, we would be laughing at this, so what’s the point of getting hung up over it?

  4. I’m nodding. I’ve had this week one too many times. No Internet brings the crazy out in me. I’ve had so many computer crashes, Internet fails, and other wrenches thrown at me, I’ve made Plan B lists for each of these occurrences. Maybe I’m getting used to them? Scary thought!

    Take care! Next week HAS to be better!

  5. I deeply sympathize. I had a week like that last spring when every single electronic/mechanical thing in my house decided to go on the fritz at once–from a virused computer to two car batteries (had a new one installed but it was defective: yet another tow) to my hot water heater, which proceeded to flood the house.

    About $10,000 later, I decided that the only thing I could do was concentrate on the fact that I own a computer and a car and a house. Stuff happens. And even though it sometimes seems as if the Universe has repealed the law of averages and everything bad is happening at once, it’s still just stuff.

    You’ve done a great job of making lemonade from some very lemony stuff with this post. Thanks for the reminder that our own perfectionism can often be the real enemy.

    1. LMAO….okay, I feel better. Bob is right. Someone always has it worse than we do. We just have to learn to laugh, let loose of control and remembr our blessings. Thanks :D.

    • Cid on February 18, 2011 at 6:07 pm
    • Reply

    Oh my gosh, I had to double check that you weren’t writing about ME for a second!! I could make a mile long list of the things that have gone wrong with all the cruddy weather. Between work and stuff I want to do and things not clicking or working or being avalible – I’m ready to something probably drastic and permanent.

    I get very focused on things, and like you when something doesn’t just work quite right I freak out, but I’m learning that things are never as earth shattering as I think they are. If I take a deep breath, count to ten, and evaluate the situation again, I’m likely to find something I missed, another opportunity to do something or the permission to jump tracks to something I can work on until I can get back to That Thing.

    Anyways, you’re awesome, take a Twix break or something!

  6. My internet connection was on the blink for a couple days this week. At first, I spent too much time trying things I was pretty sure wouldn’t work. And yeah, none of them worked. After a few hours I just quit trying and even though I couldn’t get those “internet-things” done, I did do a lot writing.

  7. I’m glad to see I am not the only one that has weeks like you just had. It really is hard to focus on the big picture when so many little things are going wrong. I find that sometimes just seeing what someone else has to deal with on a daily basis will help me refocus and not sweat the small stuff.

    • Caroline Clemmons on February 18, 2011 at 6:28 pm
    • Reply

    Well, sure, it makes sense when you say it. I am having a week like yours and feeling guilty because things are not going well. My sensible husband says, “If you have too much to do, start crossing off things that don’t matter. Focus on the things you enjoy.” Yeah, I whine, but I have all these obligations. I can’t let all these people down. So, if not getting everything done causes stress, why not eliminate some of those items that plague me. It’s someone else’s turn to do x and y. In theory this is plausible, sensible. I’m not sure I can make it work in reality.

  8. This winter has been a combination of the weather, illness, self-destructive appliances, one of which resulted in a flooded basement, and a soul-sucking day job that all conspired to rob me of every free minute of writing/marketing time. We’ve shoveled, coughed, bailed, repaired and generally mucked our way through the last few months. And now, due to budget cuts…. today I just got laid off!!! Hooray!!! I mean that, seriously. This isn’t so much of a locked door as an open one. I’d seen it coming for weeks and it was one more thing stressing me out… but then I began realize it was the job holding me back. My husband (who has been telling me to quit for the last year) and I have gotten by on one paycheck before, we just tighten our budget, and this is the perfect chance for me to focus on my writing and marketing.

    1. I’m glad you view your layoff as a great opportunity. It’s a great mindset to be in and also good there is still money coming in from your hubby. It makes things easier. I wish you the best of luck with your writing!

    2. Good luck with this new opportunity coming your way! I believe it will get better soon. Hoping for the best.

    3. I know what you mean. Sometimes the universe has to step in and present us with circumstances that force us to do things differently. It’s so alert-minded of you to see that opportunity – grab it!

      When my mother-in-law became grievously ill (vegetative coma), I needed to quit my job. I had little ones at home – with hubby traveling b/c of his mom, and then her being in a rehab center, I couldn’t keep working. I decided then that it was time to start the novel I’d always wanted to write.

      The novel is finished. She didn’t make it, but I know she would be proud of me. I’ve dedicated it to her, which the world will see if it’s ever published.

  9. I know the feeling about malfunctioning computers! I’m been the guinea pig for a little over a year now on a new system at my work. The problem is, I can’t restart it like a normal computer. I need the IT guy to do that. Which, wouldn’t be so bad if we worked the same hours. He starts a half hour after me, so if I can’t login, which was accounting for 9% of my work hours and seems more recent of late, I have to wait a minimum of an hour for him to come to work, settle in and fix it. A few days it has been not working my whole work day. Talk about a boring day and thank God I have my iPhone! It gets annoying when I think about all the time I’m wasting. About a year ago, we got rid of our paper files, so everything I do is on the computer. When I can’t login, I have no work.

    Stress happens all the time. Some days we are better equipped for it than others. Maybe we aren’t feeling up to par, are tired, have multiple things going wrong at the same time, etc. There are times when I can handle stress and just laugh it off. I think it just depends on our frame of mind at the time. If someone already did something to cause irritation, then a small thing could send us over the cliff!

  10. As always, great Post. 🙂
    And just in time, because I find myself standing in front of that leave.

    Got a new computer (the old one is just ancient – Windows Me! Yeah, you all may laugh) and now I think I am about to fall for all the lousy excuses I can find.

    Oh, just need to set up that thing.
    Oh, look what does this thingy here do?
    Oh, no, now we have a week vacation, I can’t sit here for an whole hour just typing…

    Yeah, kick me in the butt. That’s what I deserve.
    I should know better.

    And I should know better than going around the Interwebz for self-publishing sites and author’s sites and getting all frustrated.

    I really, really should finish that manuscript first!
    And work on my blog.

    *eyes Kristen’s paper bag* May I borrow this for a sec? 😉

    1. LOL…right? You can borrow my paper bag any time :D.

  11. Remember that scene in Transformers 2, when all the household appliances came to life and started attacking the family? When I got home from the movie that night, I was looking at all the electronic devices in my house with a wary eye, hoping that at least my laptop would remain loyal.

    Heck, I’d rather have my car break down than my computer. For a writer, it’s almost a symbiotic relationship. Glad to hear that you made it out alive, Kristen! You’ve earned good karma points!

    • Amy on February 18, 2011 at 9:18 pm
    • Reply

    Thank you so much for this post. I am trying to develop discipline as a writer. I’m one of those all over the place creative types that likes to feel in the mood to write. I am learning that I don’t need to be “in the mood,” I can make the mood. To get things done, I’ve started to create my own deadlines for my own projects. I thought it would be easier being my own writing boss, but it’s not. Thank you for this post. I’m glad I’m not the only one who freaks out when she can’t get things down on the “to-do list.”

  12. I arrived here via Twitter and could *so* relate… and then when I reached Anne Allen’s comment I laughed. Two years ago, just one week after the pump in our well had to be replaced, our neighbourhood experienced a major power surge. Despite having surge protectors, $10,000 worth of our computerized equipment was destroyed — all the computers, printers, scanners, etc. in two home offices, plus our fridge, TV, and the water filtration system for the house. It was devastating, and the hydro company denied liability. Eventually our insurance company covered everything, but it was two months of stress.

    I wasn’t very productive during that period and afterwards I realized how many other things I could have accomplished while waiting for orders to come in if only I’d hadn’t wasted so much mental energy stewing about things I had no control over. The best part of many days was when exasperation drove me outside to go for a walk. Walking was a wonderful stress reliever!

    • Ashley on February 18, 2011 at 10:43 pm
    • Reply

    Kristen, as with your other blog postings, this was perfectly in line with my insane week. I appreciate the reminder that even the most successful people also have difficult times and need assistance. I liked this blog post and am glad that it was different from the usual. 🙂

  13. I really needed to read this post today! It has been one of those weeks and I’ve been beating myself up about my lack of writing, blogging etc. I am now taking deep breaths and doing what I can as I cross things off my list. I think we are our toughest critic:) Thanks so much for reminding me that this happens to us all!

  14. After a week of guests, having to use my husband’s computer instead of mine, and other interruptions this post is exactly what I needed. You have helped me set goals and raise my writing expectations for myself, but I also appreciate you keeping it real and letting us know that even our heroes struggle. I hope you get some rest this weekend.

  15. I do so agree on everything you said in this blog! When my grandmother passed two weeks ago (and the few stressful days before that and that while I was having exams at school, too), I had to take a breath and look at the situation. If I was going to continue as I did I would probably have had a mental breakdown. I couldn’t do everything, so I decided to temporarily let go of social networking. It was a relief not to have to worry so much about it, and I prevented myself from tweeting anything too depressing or negative (I think).

    Sometimes you just have to take a step back and try to view the situation from a different point of view. If there’s stuff going on that isn’t the usual, you have to adapt. That counts for temporary situations but also for stuff on the long run.

    Anyway, that said, I’ve already been back on track since a week or so and again enjoying networking and blogging as never before! I’ve increased my blog output x3 so I’m on a roll and having so much fun!

    Thanks for your blog Kristen, it was as informative and funny as usual!

    I’m blogging about you Sunday, but I think you’ll get a trackback when it’s posted!

    1. Hey, Eileen, I’m so sorry about your grandmom. You made the right decision; your twitter family will still be waiting for you when you return!

      Best wishes,

      1. Hey K.B., Thank you! And that’s what I thought, too… So I didn’t feel as guilty 🙂

        1. Very sorry for your loss. Grandmothers are very important to us. I know mine is. She was diagnosed this year with Alzheimer’s so it has been very stressful and sad. I am so blessed to know so many excellent people from my blog and Twitter, and I am always surrounded by love. I had wondered why you suddenly wanted to use auto-tweets. Didn’t seem like you, LOL. Take care of yourself ;). Hugs!

    2. Sorry to hear about your grandmother Manon. I know the feeling; my great grandmother passed away a few months ago when I was heading towards the deadline for my feature film script for my Masters course. It’s all about stepping back or burning out, taking a break and not feeling guilty (so hard!)

      One method I’ve been trying lately is, when I’m starting to get stressed about something I step back, ask myself if it is something that is under my control, something I can do something about. And if not, then I don’t worry about it.

      1. Hi Michelle,

        Sorry to hear about your grandmother too…!

        Did you finish your script okay, eventually? 🙂

        And your method sounds like a good one 🙂

      2. Thanks. Yes I got the script done (though it was a close call!) and then took a long break and a holiday to Helsinki. Feel better now and I’m back writing.

        Glad you like the ‘method’. It’s worked quite well so far.

        PS: Sorry to hear about your grandma too, Kristen.

  16. I thought it was just me, thanks so much for being honest and transparent. Trying to make a pesky widget work on my website wasted one of my mornings this week and still depresses me…three days later. Back on the horse, I will ask for help and not let the tech-gremlins win. (Whining to a few understanding friends also helps.) Write on!

  17. Guess what K Lamb? You even dazzle when you frazzled! When I hit the wall, I need a pick me up. Here’s one that gets me in the right frame of mind in 2 minutes flat. ~ (from some really creative guy).

  18. Thanks for sharing your stressful couple of days with us. To say this week has been stressful would be an understatement. Living in Wisconsin, the state workers rally at the capital and now across the state protesting a bill that will banish all labor unions. It impacts four of my immediate family members drastically. I’ve had a hard time trying to write productively on anything. I managed to write a spoken word on the issue which helped to heal me mentally for awhile, but right now things are scary where I live. It’s a blessing to be here reading about social media again and taking a breather. Thanks!

    My spoken word:

      • Gene Lempp on February 19, 2011 at 1:51 pm
      • Reply

      Wow Jess…I understand, especially since those legislators you mention ran to my hometown and the media chased a man in a leprechaun costume through a convention center parking lot because someone told them he had the full story. Truth is far stranger than fiction and more frightening as well. I really hope this works out for your family and the politicians learn that grandstanding with peoples lives in the balance is never the best idea.

    1. Good luck! This might be a tough time to you guys but I’m hoping for the best. It will be okay no matter what. I’m not saying ideal but whatever happens, it will work itself out.

    • Gene Lempp on February 19, 2011 at 2:02 pm
    • Reply

    Great post Kristen and timely as always despite the giant prehistoric fern leaf that blocked your path. I’ve had a basketful of those as well and unfortunately have many of the same curses as you in personality. What helps the most is to know that when trials comes that we are not the first to come to it or alone. This, I think, is one of the great powers of social media. In the past it could take weeks or more to get in touch with anyone for advice or comfort, assuming one ever heard of it to begin with. Wake up with a family of lions parked in front of your sleeping cave, who you gonna call?
    On computers, I finally secured a netbook and a net-capable cell phone, along with a small army of USB flash drives. Everything I use for writing or to “administrate my personal world” are on the drives and the netbook allows me to access them anywhere. Net down? Take the netbook to Starbucks or Panera or a host of other places. On the move, the cell phone can link into email or pull up this blog to read it while I’m driving…just kidding, when I’m waiting for the eternal stream of red lights.
    Stay strong and never despair for being alone. In this world none of us is truly alone unless we make an effort to be so. Hearts.

  19. I’m well prepared for technical problems, unless I have a looming deadline. Normally a long solitary walk helps with stress, but sometimes it is not really a huge prehistoric fern leaf but a mammoth in the room (that no one wants to mention!)

  20. Nice post, Kristen – It’s so important to remind ourselves of these things from time to time. I vascillate between the bulldog personae and the queen of procrastination. I’m really working hard on this because i know that in order to be successful i need to get my own work habits in order. I don’t have a lot of time and so i need to NOT spend the little bit of time that i have kvetching and moaning … i need to use those little windows of time to be supremely productive. Glad you got all your tech issues fixed this week – hope this coming week is better 😀

    • Dona Watson on February 19, 2011 at 6:23 pm
    • Reply

    Kristen, I just love your attitude–you are such an inspiration to me. I’ve just called the caterers to cancel my own pity party. Thank you!

  21. This is a tough week for me, too. But then again, I just find my happy place (a.k.a. I meditate everyday for twenty minutes). Then, I get back to work since I know everything always works itself out.

    My worst week (this was my dad’s but he’s onto something when he said this since we all experienced it) was during a police pursuit when a 6 yo neighbor of mine died because she got pinned down on our wall. Yes, the police had to come into our backyard because one of the people they’re chasing came down to our yard. It’s worse than when we got evacuated because of the fire.

    After those weeks, I put everything into perspective. I’ve never really had a bad week (a tough one, yes but not a bad one). I figured that it would also come to pass so there’s no point of stressing out too much. It’s hard but I just did my best and asked for help whenever I need it. I improvise and make do of what I have.

  22. Great post! You really put things in perspective. Next time I feel a pity party coming on, I will immeditaely cancel!

  23. I’m just like that when it comes to getting thrown off course. I have this mental timetable worked out and if someone messes it up – which they always do – I start getting really irritated. That’s when I go crazy and kill characters …

  24. Really enjoyed this post!! This morning I lost part of a chapter I was writing when Word closed down abruptly and my new computer wouldn’t work but it is working now. Plus my friend’s new monitor burned up the video card in her computer. It’s always something!!!

  25. Great blog, Kristen. I lost my internet last Friday, and I was a basketcase all day long – why did I not simply focus on my writing tasks? I was too concerned about those 60 e-mails piling up while I was offline. Getting priorities straight, today! 🙂

  26. Good post, I like your perspectives en route to rebooting to get “on track”. I go fishing by myself and contemplate the meaning of “I blog therefore I am”.

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