On Directed Reverie, Stress, and Protecting Your Writerly Headspace
By Christine Carron
The other day, I came across a phrase that I adore: directed reverie. Officially, it’s a therapy technique to help someone release intense emotions. But those two words together struck me as a perfect description of the headspace that helps us writers create stories—basically daydreaming with a mission.
Here’s the deal: Stress is not a friend to the directed reverie headspace. There’s an inverse relationship between stress and maintaining the dreamy yet purposefully creative mental/emotional state that supports our ability to write stories.
In my rescue project management work, clients brought me in when a project was flying off the rails. Think panic and mayhem. Always, one of my first objectives was to create a buffer of calm around the highly stressed team.
I did that by maintaining my own calm and by conveying in word and action that I had their backs. That helped them dial down their stress, which allowed them to organically recalibrate back to grounded equilibrium.
Which leads me to the second deal: Reduce the stressors and your directed reverie headspace will be accessible to you again.
So, how can you cultivate an environment where you have easy access to your directed reverie headspace?
Here's what I did as a rescue project manager:*
Step 1: Stop
If you are stressed, stop doing what you are doing in the way you are doing it. That’s what got you to stressed in the first place. Stopping allows you to think, assess, make different choices. Even consciously pausing to take one deep breath is a radical act of self-care, recalibrating yourself toward calm, creativity, and grounded action.
Stop. Breathe. Sounds easy, right? Unfortunately, this will feel like a majorly wrong action to your overstressed self, who will try to convince you that if you just do more faster and get just this last bit done, then you will be able to relax. That mentality is bad project management. And it is seriously bad rescue project management.
The only way you will get to a clearer, calmer state is to stop the madness. When I was brought in to turnaround a struggling project, I added lots of meetings in the first two weeks of my tenure as project manager.
Ostensibly, those were for me to assess, get a read on the project, yada-yada-yada, but I had an ulterior motive. Whenever the team (or a specific team member) met with me, I had technically stopped them (in their mind) from doing their work. I had forced them to stop.
Step 2: Smile
I could have called this step Breathe, but I want you to think beyond breathing. If you get to your smile space, whatever that is for you, you will be in the same neighborhood as your directed reverie headspace.
One of my clients once said I was “The Wolf meets Mary Poppins.” The Wolf part came from being able to take the pressure, including taking the blowback that came from a team when I asked for process changes like those early meetings. We don’t have time for this, they would say. So Wolfing is part of Step 1.
Mary Poppinsing is all Step 2. Whenever I landed in a rescue project, no one on the team would be feeling overly giggly. I would purposely start the fun. I would be goofy at the start of meetings or calls. I would check in with folks on how they were going and also encourage copiously.
I also let loose with a Wahoo! at the end of meetings or when anyone had a good idea or got something done. It would startle the team at first, and get some laughs, then it would be embraced. I’m told that teams from Romania to Singapore still close daily meetings with the team shouting Wahoo!
Step 2 of you project managing your headspace is all about protecting your joy and regularly finding your inner Wahoo.**
Step 3: Let it roll
Though I was called a rescue project manager, I never really did any rescuing. I didn’t have the skill to code or test like the talented individuals I worked with. My job was to get the team back to themselves. Once I did that, their own brilliance saved the day.
Which means the final step to creating and maintaining directed reverie is less about action and more about faith. Cultivating a deep inner trust that if you have enough chutzpah to slow down and connect to joy, the right headspace will happen for your writing.
And that is a truth that seriously deserves . . . Wahoo!
* Based on the Stop, Drop, and Roll drill for what to do when you are on fire. For a little retro fun, here is where that drill originated.
** Start with the just breathing if getting to the Smile/Wahoo! seems to be too much of a stretch. Meet yourself where you are.
The Goodjelly Prompt of the Week
On a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being "I'm chill" and 5 being On-Fire-PANIC level stress, what’s your current life stress level?
--> If between 1 and 4: Experiment with the STOP, SMILE, and LET IT ROLL drill to more easily and consciously access your directed reverie headspace.
--> If 5: Just practice stopping and breathing. Seriously, if you are a stress level 5, then this would be one of those put-on-your-oxygen-mask-first moments and not the moment to worry over something like directed reverie headspace. Safety and self-care first here at Goodjelly. Always.