When I first started getting serious about my writing two years ago, I was coming out of a period of intense stress. I was just learning new ways to manage the stress which seemed to pour into every area of my life. This stress and the accompanying anxiety interfered with my work, friendships, and relationships.
As I decided to focus heavily on writing, I realized for the first time how the stress in other parts of my life interfered with my ability to write. Stress from my job left me too tired to write in the evening hours at home. I felt stressed about putting enough time into my friendships and romantic relationships, and in an effort to please everyone, I frequently pushed my writing to the side.
It was only after several months of self-reflection did I really begin to understand how these stressful behaviors were preventing me from doing the quality and quantity of writing that I knew I was capable of producing. When I would finally be relaxed enough to write, I was consumed by feelings of self-doubt and worry about my writing. I had spent many years blaming a lack of productivity on writers block and simply not having enough time to write.
I discovered, however, that I did in fact have ideas to write about. I did have enough time to write when I wasn’t wasting it on stressing over situations which I had no control over.
I learned that in order to be the writer I wanted to be, I needed to take steps to prevent myself from falling into the same stress patterns I had experienced. Some of the things I learned were:
Learn to Be Okay with Putting Writing as a Priority
Writing is important to me. So are the people that I love. Setting aside designated time to write does not mean that you are being selfish or lazy or inconsiderate. It often means that you are taking care of a need that you have. I find that I am better able enjoy the time I do have with the people around me when I have been able to have that “me” time that writing symbolizes.
Learn to be okay with telling your partner/roommates/friends that you are not able to hang out for an hour or so because you are writing. I have learned that after a while, they understand. And honestly, I imagine that they are happier with me doing so instead of listening to me lamenting that I should have done more writing that day.
Take a Walk
I have always enjoyed taking a walk outside in nature. Even when I was a child, one of my favorite times of the day was walking down my great-grandmother’s long driveway in the country to fetch the mail for her. I loved observing the trees and the rock around me. As a child of five, that was one of the few quiet times I had growing up, and I learned to cherish the moments of alone time.
As an adult, I (like most of us) need quiet moments in the day to clear my head and refocus on my goals and priorities. Taking a walk in the morning or evening is a great way for me to experience this personal time. I walk my dog to both spend time with him and to get that quiet time in nature that I crave. After these walks, I often feel calm and relaxed enough from the day to start working on my writing for that evening.
I have mentioned in other posts (such as this one) how yoga has helped me to learn to spend time with my mind and body, and to listen to the needs of each. I did not try yoga until my late twenties, and I wish I would have picked it up sooner as the practice is one that I have begun to enjoy immensely.
When you are feeling overwhelmed from work or personal obligations, spending even fifteen minutes doing a few yoga stretches can help you to recenter your thoughts. I have a problem with encountering racing thoughts every now and then which makes writing on one subject difficult. At times like these, I have found that concentrating on a short series of yoga positions can put me back into the right mindset to keep going.
Breaking Writing Tasks into Smaller “Chunks”
One trick that works well for me is to divide larger writing tasks into more manageable pieces of work. For example, if I plan to submit a piece of writing to an online magazine, I may break it up into different steps such as: brainstorm ideas, outline the short story, write a rough draft, edit the story, ask a friend to proofread it, etc.
When I look at my planner and see something like “write a short story to submit” I immediately feel overwhelmed. Instead, when I read a task like “outline the five pages of my story,” the work seems much easier. During the work week, it is rare that I have multiple hours to spend on writing. Instead, I’ve had to cater my tasks to shorter half hour or hour periods of time.
Learn to Not Feel Guilty When You Aren’t Writing
It is impossible to spend every free moment writing. Even when you are not working a full-time job, there are social and family obligations, vacuuming to be done, pets to be taken care of, grocery shopping to be done – not to mention the basic needs like eating and sleeping.
I spent far too long feeling guilty for sleeping a full eight hours or spending time cooking a well-balanced meal. I thought, I should be writing now. I am being lazy. I need to get to work.
If you have ever had these thoughts as a writer, you know that they can be very discouraging. While using my time efficiently is something that I am actively working on, I have learned that I need to drop the habit of feeling guilty when I’m not writing.
It is impossible to (consistently) do great writing while you are sleep deprived or while your stomach is growling. Yes, you may pull an all-nighter during a day of inspiration, but if you consistently sleep a couple of hours each night, your body will wear down and you will not be able to sustain that momentum.
Instead, I have learned to balance sleep and eating with my writing. If I absolutely need to sleep, that is the priority at the time. If I need to sleep at 9:00 PM I will do it, and wake up early to write, just as I am doing this very morning. I found myself very exhausted after a long day at work and fell asleep around 9:30 PM, which is fairly early for me. This morning I awoke feeling refreshed and ready to start the day.
Seek Professional Help when Necessary
If you are feeling truly stressed and are having difficulty finding a way to manage it, I strongly suggest seeking professional help. Counseling and/or medication can help to mitigate the effects of unhealthy amounts of stress and anxiety. A licensed professional will be able to help you determine whether these are appropriate options for you.
Both have been effective tools for helping me to manage the pressures of everyday life and for staying healthy both mentally and physically. These days, I am able to accomplish so much more after dealing with the stress that I simply accepted as a way of life for so long. My writing has benefited, not to mention the other areas of my life as well.
I hope that you find some of the strategies above useful. Feel free to leave a comment about this post or for sharing your own tips on managing stress as a writer.