By Eliza David
You can’t punch a keystroke these days without running into a blog post about stress and how to rid yourself of it. Unsolicited advice inundates your social media timelines. It’s plastered within the glossy pages of magazines in your doctor’s office. And, be honest: we all have that one friend who swears by the rigors of CrossFit for calm.
Almost all of these advancements in stress relief have one thing in common: a financial investment. You end up shelling out $69.95 a month for a yoga studio membership, grasping the few precious moments of om that you can fit into your over-packed schedule. Monthly rubdowns by a talkative masseuse who insists on telling you why Game of Thrones is required viewing can be pricey as well. If these options do the trick for you, by all means…but I have a suggestion.
A free suggestion. (I have your attention now, don’t I?)
When you feel the world closing in on you, this is what I want you to do:
Grab your car keys (if you don’t have a car, borrow the keys of the person closest to you. You won’t get arrested, I promise.)
Quietly walk out to your vehicle.
Ease yourself into the plush driver’s seat (if you have kids, sweep away the gummy snack wrappers and Goldfish crumbs.)
That’s it. My magic remedy, tried and true for over a decade, is yelling at your windshield. It’s a novelty cure, something I only do when absolutely necessary.
The last time I screamed in the car was a couple of months ago. I was editing the first draft of my latest romance novel – a story of a musician who finds himself falling in love while he battles a sex addiction. While the main love story between the couple was purely fiction, there were elements of a real-life business relationship gone sour within my subplot. To say that I was peeved about how it all panned out is an understatement. I was pissed, even after a significant amount of time had passed. Resurfaced anger consumed me as I wrote the first draft. I banged the keys while I crafted the fictional interpretation of those moments, a scowl on my usually smirking face. While it was no laughing matter at the time, it makes me chuckle to imagine what I looked like to my family. (“I think Mom’s head is going to explode,” I recall my oldest spawn saying in the background.)
I can laugh now, but then? Not so much.
When the time came to edit, I was all locked and loaded to ‘kill the darlings’, as Stephen King advises. I had my red pen in hand, ready to dive in during my lunch hour at my day job. All was well until I got to the chapter where my subplot started. I could feel a mix of frustration and rage rise in me as I went through, crossing Ts and dotting Is in an effort to avoid killing my darlings. I wanted my darlings to live. My urge to abstain from the basic principles of writing to give into my pettiness were increasing, line by line.
In short, I was being selfish and bitter about the past – and I knew this. Despite what you are reading now, I consider myself a person of average emotional intelligence. I respond to most situations with as much rationale as an overworked, slightly pre-menopausal mother of two can muster on a sober Wednesday afternoon. But having to cut my words – my feelings – out of my novel began to cause me to have a level of stress I only reserve for when I run out of wine.
I swallowed, placing my red pen on top of the page and held my pulsing head in my hands. I grabbed my keys out of my backpack and walked out to the parking lot, the jingle of the keys the only recognizance of what I was about to do. I stepped into my red car with the dime-sized ding in the door, gripped the steering wheel, and screamed my head off. The whole episode lasted a total of roughly eight seconds but Father Prince, it was awesome! I opened my eyes post-scream and came back down to Earth. Regardless of whatever feelings I felt about my past, I had a novel to edit in the present. After the scream, I realized that I needed to buck up, face my words, and craft them into the story I deserved to tell. I walked back to my desk renewed and, today, I have a book that charted in the top ten of African-American romance on Amazon.
A ranking I held onto for only two days – I’m no Terry McMillan (yet!) – but every time I look at the reviews and love I receive for the novel, I know I owe part of that to The Scream in the Car. Letting go of toxicity is essential for art – and for life. It’s one of two big lessons I learned about myself that day.
The second big lesson? I really hope I never piss off a writer!
Eliza is part of the Contributing Writer Network at Thirty On Tap. To apply to become a Contributing Writer, click HERE.