How Not to Choke Under Pressure?

26 Apr

We hope, that you choke, that you choke.

What do you do when you gotta have some words, you gotta have them fast, gotta have them now?

What do you do when you need to be able to visualize the greatest love scene of all time, but the ticking clock and the days  crossed off on the calendar are the only thing you see when you close your eyes?

You feel fingers of panic tightening around your throat. Your breath gets shallow, your heart beats triple time.

The pressure is on and you’re doing what comes naturally under pressure–choking.

I’m there this week, deadline looming, clock ticking down while my brain is locked on fantasies of how spectacularly I am going to fail, rather than serving up the scenes I need to finish the story.

What to do?

1. Get Chocolate

This is my standard go-to for every major crisis. Trust me. It works.

Forget your diet. Forget healthy eating. The ravages of extreme emotional stress on your body are probably far worse than a little indulgence to get you through. I know some people reach for the wine bottle, but that is dangerous. Stick with chocolate. The darker the better.

2. Trick Your Brain Waves

Take out a piece of paper and a pencil. Scribble really fast across the page–sharp jagged lines without lifting your pencil.

That’s probably a good representation of what’s happening to your brainwaves. You need to calm down so the most important tool in a crisis–your brain–can do its job.

You can try yoga. Or go for a hard run to take the edge off your worry.

My favorite method of calming my mind is something called binaural beats. These are little programs you can download to run on your computers, smart phones, or tablet devices. They play tones–usually concealed under music or natural sounds like ocean wave recordings–that trick your brainwaves into syncing with them at a slower pace. It takes a couple of minutes for the effect to kick in, but they really work.

3. Lower the Lights

There’s a reason the guys turn down the lights when they want to seduce you and put you in the mood for love. Soft lighting calms you.

Computer screens, television, tablets, phones, all stimulate the brain to higher activity. This is why doctors say you need to turn off the electronic devices an hour or more before bed to avoid technology induced insomnia. So keep your screen brightness low. Avoid flourescent bulbs. I find writing fresh copy longhand away from the screen helps. So does editing on pages printed out.

4. Lower Expectations

This is the one I have the hardest time with. It sounds counterintuitive. After all, you want to do your best, right? You do, but perfectionism gums up the works.

The first time I learned that no expectations often produce my best work was when I competed in a horse show when I was 12.  I’d only been on a horse six times in my life. I had zero chance of getting a ribbon. I was there for the fun of riding and nothing more. I did the best I knew how to do. I imitated the kids who looked like the best riders, but I knew I wasn’t going to be able to compete with other kids who had been riding and training for the show all year.

I took home the blue ribbon in the very first class–horsemanship. I placed in two others. It’s an experience I’ve repeated in other areas over the years. In my first writing contest, I’d finished and polished the first thirty pages of The Tiger’s Tale. I was in a contest that allowed published authors to compete. I was submitting for the feedback with no expectation of being able to compete with authors who had far more skill. Guess who won?

I don’t think I won either competition because of something terribly special about me. I was in a situation where I didn’t have anything to lose. I didn’t have a reason to choke.

So now I’m going to dig out my emergency chocolate stash, turn on the binaural beats, then turn down the lights and my expectations. I’ve got a book to finish edits on  by May 7th. I have the tools to get it done.

Grab a copy of Blind Heat from Ellora’s Cave when it releases and tell me if you think my method worked.

Just what I needed, more pressure to perform well 😉

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9 Responses to “How Not to Choke Under Pressure?”

  1. siobhanmuir April 26, 2012 at 11:44 am #

    Good luck and great writing, Nara! See you May 7th. 🙂

  2. shannonemmel April 26, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    I’ll overnite a canister of chocolate scented oxygen…that way u can just breathe it in!!

    Best of luck!


  3. Lauren Fraser April 26, 2012 at 12:13 pm #

    Good luck with the edits, I have no doubt the book will turn out great.

    I’ve never heard of binaural beats. I might have to check it out for those times when exercise fails to do the trick.

  4. Kaily Hart April 26, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

    You can do it! How thought provoking about lowering your expectations, but it makes so much sense. I often get frozen by perfectonist paranoia. You really do have to trick your mind into thinking it doesn’t really matter. Not easy, but the results are usually worth it. I think the more successful you become as a writer, the more (NOT LESS), you have to apply this. May the chocolate be with you!

  5. Marilyn Campbell April 26, 2012 at 12:30 pm #

    As Nike made famous…Just Do It! And I know you can Nara! I also know I’m going to love the finished poduct! But I’m also sending lots of light & will eat some chocolate right now in honor of all of us

  6. naramalone April 26, 2012 at 12:38 pm #

    Reblogged this on Therianverse: and commented:

    Blogging over at Passionate Reads today on how deadlines stifle creativity…

  7. Savannah Chase (@SavannahChase) April 27, 2012 at 6:23 am #

    Good luck. I know how you feel. I’ve been dealing with that myself the last week.

  8. madelineiva May 3, 2012 at 9:15 am #

    I feel calmer already! Yes to chocolate, yes to cave lighting, yes to daring to be just average. I look forward to more of these trouble busting blogs from you — they’re like getting a warm hug!


  1. Hump Day Is My Bitch | madeline iva - May 3, 2012

    […] buddy Nara Malone says it’s chocolate and low lighting.  Check out her other strategies here.  I swear you’ll feel as right as rain after reading it. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike […]

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