My blogging partners on Gem State Writers inspire me. Janis started a loop in my head last week (thank you soooo very much) with the serenity/rage blog. Peggy honed my thoughts with her overview on managing stress. Johanna wrapped the sequence of blogs by anchoring my internal dialogue. Yeah, I know; danger lies in mental rants and conversations. But, as Meredith noted from Ms. Meyers’ workshop a few weeks ago, where would we be without the voices in our head?
So, I took the collective wisdom of the bloggers and those who offered comments. The crux of this blog site and our shared interests is writing. Challenges, from both personal experiences, and what we form in the plots of our work, create the impetus for fiction. However, too much conflict overwhelms readers and erodes a writer’s motivation.
In keeping with my ongoing geekdom, I turned to organization theory and scholarship. Wouldn’t you know it – a gem or two of insight popped up.
In the sixties (quick, show of hands, who was alive then?), scholars sorted our response to conflict of interest, need or action into five categories.
Competition is the default for conflict management in the United States. One person wins at the expense of another’s unwilling loss. This win/lose, victory-at-all-costs mindset is integral to American culture. Most people don’t enjoy losing and the residual frustration can lead to bigger disputes.
Accommodation is a type of ‘willed loss’ when we accede to the demands of another. Reasons vary, of course. Is it worth the trouble to fight? Are the stakes great enough? Am I willing to risk failure?
Avoidance occurs when one or both parties ignore the conflict. There’s really not a ‘loss’ if one person refuses to play, nor a true ‘win’.
Compromise suggests partial satisfaction (and dissatisfaction) of negotiated needs. This captures much of the political process – and probably many marriages. Compromise seems to rate collective disdain in American culture. One scholar argued we view compromise as vanilla bland in a sea of dark chocolate.
Collaboration is the ‘win-win’ approach. In theory, if two people can come to terms without sacrificing important values or personal interests, then the outcome doesn’t frustrate participants. Collaboration, though sometimes a pain in the keister, is a healthy long-term approach.
We tend to use ‘stress’ as a dirty word, but it’s merely a disruption in a static system (obtuse, yet palatable . . . gotta love academia). My friends in psychology reference three general stress scenarios:
Eustress incorporates a disruption or unusual event in our mundane existence, but these can be pleasant. A vacation induces eustress. A RWA National conference (kinda). Weddings, birthdays, and even new jobs populate the desired/voluntary events with positive energy. Just as too many desserts can give you a stomachache (I’m told this is the case, I’ve yet to experience the downside of dessert), too many positive events can overwhelm even the most competent, balanced writer.
Distress comes from unpleasant, unplanned events outside our influence. Distress can evolve from extended eustress or any long-term pattern of events (perhaps this captures the paradox of family reunions and holidays).
Finally, stress deprivation is harmful. Absent disruption, your life is static. Intelligent people need a degree of stress; boredom damages the creative mind.
Danger in the Comfort Zone
I don’t want to distress anyone further, but I need to talk about math and graphing (gotcha, didn’t I?). Judith Bardwick depicted how worker productivity increases or decreases depending upon personal anxiety. This was a central point for me from Johanna’s blog on the job of writing.
Unmanaged conflict creates anxiety. Unchecked anxiety impedes our productivity as people and writers. Unending peace and stability can lead to the entitlement mode. A lull in anxiety is often reflected in a productivity decline. The adage ‘if you need to get something done, ask a busy person’ rings true. Absolute complacency destroys productivity as quickly as abject fear.
My loop (and blog) begins and ends with Janis’ juxtaposition of the serenity poem with Dylan Thomas’ caution against giving up.
Do we acquiesce – to the demands of others or to personal demons – OR do we fight for our work, relationships, and values?
Does too much peace, too much ease, too much comfort inhibit our growth as writers? As people?
Can a comfort zone damage our creativity as much as fear?
What do you think?