Nine ways to conquer your writing stress from thesis to novel to essay and everything in between. Come to think of it, these nine things apply to just about all types of stress…
1. Retrain Your Brain
You obsess about not writing and are riddled with guilt because you should be writing.
Stop it. Silence those unhealthy, intrusive thoughts. If you are obsessing about ‘shoulds,’ you won’t be able to write when you actually sit down to do it. You burn out your brain and body by expending energy worrying instead of actually writing. Focus on Whatever You are Doing Right Now. Breathe. Count to Three. Focus on what you are doing right now. Are you sitting still? What is around you? Walking? What do you hear? Staring at a computer screen? What do the keyboard and mouse feel like beneath your hands? When you are done, do the same for whatever comes next. Stop wasting time on ‘shoulds’. Live in right now. You will write. You will finish the project. It’s more important that you be mindful. If you are having trouble breaking the obsession cycle, reach out to a professional therapist or doctor in your community. Workplaces, universities and schools, health programs and clinics often have free or low-cost resources.
2. Create a Schedule and Stick to It
Writing is a project: Conception – Composition – Completion. You have deadlines. Set milestones and reachable goals. One day you may dedicate six hours to researching and the next two hours to outlining. You may do a lot of prep work. You might not actually write anything for a while, but it’s still writing work. Don’t know where to start? Try AuthorMedia.com. Make your schedule achievable. We all want to finish and move on to what is next. It’s human nature. It’s natural. Don’t fight it, it’s part of the driving force behind your creativity and creation, but DO set it aside.
DON’T allot 10-16 hours to work. You will turn into an exhausted, angry, caffeine fueled ball of chaos with anxiety so tangible you will pixelate before your friends’ very eyes. A human mind can only focus for so long (anywhere from 8 seconds to 20 minutes according to various sources). The body can only be in one position for so long. You will do your best work in shorter, focused bursts when you are rested and healthy.
3. Take Breaks
You know the negative effects of sitting too long. You start to shift after 20 minutes. You perch on the edge of your chair, unaware of or ignoring your need to get up. Move.
You are torturing your body. You are working against yourself. Move. Not only will your body thank you, your mind will to. And, your project will get done faster. Author James Patterson takes breaks during his writing routine. Put these in your schedule and stick to them. Take them when you need, but remember, this is work. Keep your breaks under control. They are not an excuse to procrastinate.
4. This is Work
Treat writing like work. A thesis, a novel, a short story, a poem, a blog, they are all work. They require research, time, and effort. Make and keep a schedule, set goals within reasonable time frames, and reward your successes. Stop making excuses, stop torturing yourself. Stop avoiding and stop overworking. Be present and be focused. Act like this is a professional task. Get the resources and materials you need. Consult experts. Operate with professionalism. Do your job.
5. Have a Sacred Space
“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”
― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
Dedicate a box, a table space, a library or café, or an office to your writing. You don’t have to have an entire room, but a room or space designated solely for writing will make you more productive and help your focus. Appreciate the space you choose, settle in, and blaze ahead. Lock the door to your mind and ignore distractions. Find inspiration from Writing Spaces: Where 9 Famous Creatives Do Their Best Work. The work you are doing is important. Treat it so.
Creativity and focus are yours when you are healthy. Exercise is a need. Stop avoiding it. You want to do it. Your body sends signals of stress through muscle tension, stiffness, feeling cold, nausea, headaches, blurred vision and itchy eyes. Fidgeting? When was the last time you went for a walk, to the gym, or ran through yoga or martial art poses? An exercised body is an exercised mind. Sitting for extended period of time can restrict circulation, causing lapses in memory and cognition. Get up and go.
7. Eat Properly
You want that comfort food. You need that comfort food. You crave it. You might even rage until you get it. Having a complete meal feeds your brain and body – your most important writing tools. Skipping meals or grabbing quick fixes increases your costs and adds empty calories, which drives you to eat more. They also deprive you of the nutrients you need to keep your work flowing. Invest in yourself. You are the only way this project of yours is getting done. That novel won’t write itself. That brain and body won’t write without food.
8. Get a Life
Take care of all of your needs. Your brain is built to do more than one thing. So is your body. Dedicate your time and energy to other areas of your life and watch your creativity spark and stamina grow. Walk away from that computer and socialize. Take a shower or a bubble bath. Take care of those other to-dos. Go on a mini-vacation, or even a real vacation. Get enough sleep. Most importantly, have fun. And lots of it. It can help inform your writing. It’s the best way to overcome that writer’s block. There are a number of models in psychology regarding the dimensions of wellness/well-being. Check out eight of them here: http://campusrec.eku.edu/eight-dimensions-wellness
9. Reward Yourself
You are working hard. Compensate yourself for it. Spend time in your favorite place, go out to your favorite restaurant with friends. Go on a date (with yourself, significant other, a friend). Read a book for pleasure. Do nothing for a bit. Reward that hard work and dedication. You deserve it.