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Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Managing (gracefully) under pressure

When I was a weekly newspaper reporter, I had to share a computer with one of the more colorful characters (literally and figuratively) in the newsroom. He was a sports reporter and was known for showing up on Monday and Tuesday and vanishing for the rest of the week. Covering sporting events, no doubt. He would churn out stories—features and news—in two days (and often it showed in his writing). I remember him apologizing to the assistant editor for "power-slamming" captions or sidebars, riddled with words running together and mispellings.

I've never been been someone who can crank out the material in short order. Although I "write" fast, I spend hours and days agonizing through the editing stage. The biggest challenge to independent writers is finding the balance between doing the work well and not spending more time than the project is worth. That's a very subjective thing. One could argue that all assignments are worth spending the time, regardless of pay.

When I was working at Custom Publishing Group , I would often feel the rush to get the story done. After all, the client is waiting to review and the designers are waiting to design. I suffered a goodly amount of stress in that job, but I realize now that much of it was my own doing. Although my husband had repeatedly urged me to "just put your time in," I found myself unable to do so.

For one thing, it's not in my nature to half-ass my way through anything. I take great pride in what I do. My name is attached to everything I send out into the world, so it has a very public face. I can't afford not to send out my best work. It's a self-imposed pressure, but no less taxing.

I've had a number of people, particularly women a generation ahead of me, who have marveled at my ability to juggle so many things at one time. I'm glad it appears easy to outsiders because inside I sometimes feel as if I'm struggling to stay afloat. I'm learning to say no to certain projects that don't cause me to flex my creative muscles or that lie outside my interests or expertise. Rather than flatly refusing work, though, I'm developing a network of fellow creatives to whom I will happily refer projects. And slowly, I'm better managing my time with current projects. It's a continuous struggle for balance. Sometimes my equilibrium is fine and sometimes it's way off.

But here's the beauty of being on my own: When the pressure begins to bubble over as it has for the past couple of weeks, I can walk away from my office, turn on some soothing classical music and lie on the couch with eyes closed and feel the strands of tension release from my body. I can thumb through "Coastal Living" magazine and pretend I'm at the beach, or sit on the rockers on my porch and feel the breeze in my face and rock away the tension. During the summer, I can tell the kids, "Let's hit the pool," and come back to the project later that night feeling a bit more relaxed. And when it's really bad, I can strap on my running shoes and head for a run or take my dog for a walk.

Sadly, those were things I felt I couldn't enjoy while working in a downtown office, the things I needed to rejuvenate my mind, soothe my soul and replenish my creative spirit. So even with the stress of multiple projects and deadlines looming, I feel better able to manage the pressure. Plus I have this wonderful new outlet known as Creative Ink.

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