*While this post is tailored toward trauma writing, relief projects and objects are necessary to any type of writing, especially when writing is your livelihood.
It’s very easy to get overwhelmed or burn out when you are heavily focused on one project such as a novel or personal essay. When I work, I generally have between three and five pieces I am writing at the same time. This allows me to switch gears without sacrificing productivity.
Because the topics I choose to engage in writing most frequently focus on abuse and survival, I need regular breaks from writing altogether. I might crochet, dive into a paranormal romance series that takes me far away from my own world, or lift weights. These are all ongoing activities for me. Dipping into one means I am engaging a relief project. You might swim, run or hike. You might be a painter or a gamer. Often what we choose to for release takes us way from our work physically or emotionally. We often categorize it as procrastination, but that does not mean it isn’t a part of our writing process. Maybe we are not putting words on the page, but we are still producing. This is a critical aspect of self-care, especially for whose baseline tends toward anxious or depressed.
As you write through trauma, you should expect that more painful memories will arise. You want to get those on the page. Even slapdash. Even just a list. But you don’t want to become untethered while you do. This is where a relief object comes into play. A relief object is any item that grounds you when you find yourself flying away. But what does flying away look like? This is when you feel unsettled, triggered, like you need to leave, or like you are no longer engaged with reality. You might tremble or grow queasy. You might feel numb, dizzy, suddenly fatigued, angry or violent. You need to land.
My favorite relief objects are beautiful stones. I have an amethyst and quartz polished stone that fits nicely in my palm. It is a physical reconnection with the here and now that helps me remember that I AM NOT MY WORK. I repeat that frequently in classes and as I write. I am not my work. However, I don’t tend to carry stones with me when I write outside of my (now nonexistent) office space. Instead, I carry a hot drink. I would estimate that I rewarm the same cup of coffee without drinking it five times a day. The point is not for me to drink the coffee. The point is for me to have a warm cup to hold on to because warm feels safe to me.
Other relief objects could include: stress balls, your hair, flavored chapstick, gum, jewelry (such as a meaningful necklace), stuffed animals, pets (although they can’t be counted on to always be accessible), pillows, blankets, and so on. The point is to engage the object consciously.
When you find yourself seeking distraction, you can choose a relief project or object while making the intention to return to your work. You might choose to take a walk and return to a different piece of writing. One of my relief projects is actually my web serial. It is a story with no set ending (although I know where I want it to go). I can allow myself to fall into it and just enjoy words. If it ends up carrying some of the messages I am struggling with, that’s fine. A lot of times, my fictional characters end up clarifying my thoughts for me. Their most important job is offering me relief while keeping me engaged.
Other relief projects might include: a series of terrible poems, sorting/cleaning a small area for a set amount of time, making a grocery list, and so on.
Engage in relief projects knowing that you are performing self-care SO YOU CAN CONTINUE WRITING. If you find yourself seeking relief more often than writing, consider the underlying cause(s). Likely, you will need some help unpacking what is preventing you from engaging the page. You may have forgotten that you are not your work. You may have begun writing for an audience instead of yourself. You may be afraid to confront a memory that is resurfacing. If the latter is the case, make an appointment with a therapist who will guide you back to safety.