My writing habits tend to follow a feast or famine pattern. Trapped behind an invisible dam, my words dry up for days. When a gush of creativity bursts forth, I’m graced with thousands of words pouring from my fingertips with ease. I crank out several pitches and surf high on a wave of productivity and optimism. All is right with the world – until all of the query responses come back at once needing copy by the week’s end. Suddenly, I’m an anxiety cucumber trapped in a hell of her own making. Welcome to the write life.
If you are anything like me, innumerable clever literary bits spring from every direction…until the collar of a deadline tightens. Although I’m far from perfect, I’ve discovered a few helpful practices to help slay the anxiety deadline beast.
1) Focus on the content
A blank page can be paralyzing – you don’t always need to start there. Since starting can be the worst part, I try to ease into it. Instead of using a word document for my brainstorming sessions, I record information via voice note and begin with dictation. The very act of typing up my ideas breaks the ice, and allows for my ideas to flow without the crippling pressure of having nothing written. Other writers doodle, draw mind maps, conduct interviews, or bounce ideas off a friend in order to shake the muse loose. Try out other mediums of expression or gather research. Once you have a collection of ideas, writing will be much easier.
Another way of easing pressure is to write first and query later. There are many ways to modify pitches of already written works to fit the audience or publisher. If you receive interest, then all you need to do is tailor your already completed articles.
2) Be aware of your productivity levels
Take a couple of weeks to try writing at different times of day and in different locations. Track your word counts and how you feel after each session. Use that information to create a sustainable and productive writing practice. If you only wrote 500 words on your most productive day, don’t set a deadline that forces you to meet that limit consistently. Start slow and set generous deadlines to avoid unnecessary pressure. Allot time for staring into space, panic attacks, and Google searches. Your sanity will thank you.
3) Balance your workload
Although I advocate experimenting with different genres, mediums, and styles to develop your craft; everyone has a niche. If you pen mostly bodice ripping romances, world-building a science fiction novel might be a burden. And if you make your living as a travel blogger, writing a historical biography might stretch you thin.
Rank different writing tasks in order of enjoyment and difficulty. Arrange your task list accordingly. There are many different types of writing professionals. Don’t force your work into a genre because it is trendy or something you ‘should do’.
Pad your work basket with ‘stretch’ assignments, those that make you anxious and uncomfortable, but improve your craft. Sprinkle in the fun projects for periodic breaths of ease. If your workload is well-balanced it is much more difficult to get overwhelmed.
4) Find your passion
Examine your life for hidden fuel. If you spend many happy hours collecting evidence of alien invasions, write about it! Does your job as a taxidermist bring you joy? Write about it! Enrich your writing with your passion and unique experiences. This will not only make it special, but it will make it easier to put words on the page.
5) Build confidence
Understand that it’s not the deadline that’s causing the anxiety, but what you’re telling yourself about the deadline. In reality, anxiety can come from a lack of confidence in your abilities. Put a pen to paper as much as you can. Even just journaling affirmations can make a big difference in how you view yourself as a writer. Submit guest posts or start a blog of your own. Social media offers nearly instant feedback and can help you establish a writing community. Stretch your comfort zone to shove anxiety to the sidelines.
As writers we are cursed with care. We want our writing to mean something. It is easy to get swept up in the future of your words, but for your mind’s sake write for yourself first. Revisions and edits are for others, but own that first draft. Let go of perfection and focus on completion. Immerse yourself in the experience of writing and let the future unfold on its own, word by word.