How to keep writing when you have anxiety

You want to be a successful novelist, but it's hard to focus when you're so stressed out. How do you keep writing when you have anxiety?
🌙 You want to be a successful novelist, but it's hard to focus when you're so stressed out. How do you keep writing when you have anxiety?

How do you keep writing when you have anxiety? When you feel like you’re just barely making it through your life? Like the whole thing is one big blur of “If I could just finish this one thing, then…”?

For 8 years, my life felt exactly like this—but yours doesn’t have to. 

I existed in a constant state of mid-grade anxiety. I was in survival mode—carrying out day-to-day necessities without really being ‘present’ in my life.

I just needed to stay afloat, to keep it together, and keep that black-tunnel-vision of an anxiety attack away as long as possible. I didn’t have time or energy to even think about writing.

By experimenting and learning from others, I found 5 things that really helped me to overcome my anxiety so that I had enough headspace left to do something I wanted to do: write.

1. Give yourself weekends off

Tell me if this sounds familiar: You’re constantly working on your novel, thinking about your novel, or doing other things so you can write your novel…but you never seem to make any progress. 

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday… Every day of the week, you’re trying to make progress.

You’re exhausted. And you’re not getting anywhere.

Most of us don’t have the luxury to focus only on writing, so we have to squeeze it in where we can. Lunch breaks, nights, weekends, on the train to work—wherever there’s a free minute.

But that’s the problem. When you fill up all of your free minutes with writing, you start to associate writing with rushing + overwhelm. 

You know how they say you should “eat mindfully” and savor every bite of food you take? Your writing should be the same. It deserves a dedicated time; it deserves to be savored. When you snack on writing time, it doesn’t satisfy you. It’s just junk food. You spend a lot of time working, but you can’t make any progress because it’s not good writing time.

When you write, only write, and give yourself a break from it so your mind can recharge. Choose to write only on Monday/Wednesday nights. Or only on Sunday mornings. You can choose the schedule that works for your lifestyle, but make sure you don’t let the hours overlap too much or your writing will start feeling like ‘junk food’ again.

2. Don’t let sneaky “multitasking” invade your writing hours

If there’s one thing that will screw you up hardcore and keep you from getting anything done, it’s multitasking.

You need to stop right now. Multitasking isn’t a bragging point. It’s not something you should put on your rĂ©sumĂ©. It has been proven to make you less productive AND raise your stress levels. The last thing you need when you’ve got anxiety!

It. Is. Not. Good.

You might be surprised at some of the things that count as multitasking:

  • Taking a “quick break” while writing to check social media 
  • Leaving your inbox open in the browser and noticing when a new email pops up
  • Allowing notification banners on your desktop to pop while you’re writing
  • Listening to your writing playlist and then jamming out to it because it’s so good
  • Popping back and forth among a dozen browser tabs looking for the one that had that picture you wanted to use as your protagonist’s inspiration
  • Googling “research” for your novel while you’re also in Scrivener trying to draft the scene
  • Moving your cat’s tail from the keyboard… again

Focus is so important for writers.

When you focus, you are more creative. You are more engaged. That shows in your writing.

Write Your Novel Faster with Fewer Revisions | FictionAlchemy.com

Stop fumbling the dreaded “What’s your book about?” question!

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3. Remind your brain how to focus

When you’ve got anxiety (or you’re someone who’s grown up/lived around the Internet for a while), focus can be really hard. Fortunately, your brain CAN be trained.

You have to make a conscious effort to make the change. This means: 

  1. Setting yourself up for success — eliminating any potential distractions when you work, like your cell phone next to you; your inbox open; being logged into your social media accounts; etc.
  2. Developing awareness for distractions — we all get distracted all the time, but when you’re training your brain to focus, you’ll need to be extra vigilant; when you notice that you’ve become distracted, you should acknowledge it and tell yourself you are choosing to go back to writing.
  3. Start by trying to focus on just one big task per day — you’ll get better at this and be able to do 2-3 different tasks in a day eventually, but for now, work on it by focusing REALLY WELL on just one a day. I recommend you choose writing one scene.
  4. Repeating this until it’s natural — all habits take time to build; give yourself a month to 6 weeks to feel like “a natural” at focusing on your writing.

Further Reading: Train Your Brain to Focus via Harvard Business Review

4. Remember what made you passionate in the beginning

How do you write something when you can’t remember what made that idea so exciting to you? 🤔 This happens to writers a lot. We get a great new novel idea, we start writing, and then we lose all interest in it and you feel like you can’t even call yourself a writer anymore. 

Is that spark gone forever? There’s a good chance that you can rekindle the excitement you originally had for your writing if you try.

Be confident in your passion for writing because if you aren’t—if you do it something just to do it, or if you jump in head first without clarifying your real desires, wants, and needs—you’ll never really succeed. It will always be a little bit of a chore. Until it becomes a lot a huge chore.

The key to avoiding anxiety is to make sure it stays a passion and doesn’t become a chore.

5. Commit to a daily daydream

Here’s an exercise that will help you focus your mind on writing, keep your creativity flowing, and reduce your anxiety all at once:

Every day, for just 3 minutes, meditate on your current WIP. Do it until you can call up every aspect of your plot and characters immediately, even when you’re doing other things. Then keep doing it.

It’s an amazing exercise for brainstorming and working through tough problems. When I was planning my first novel, this process—just thinking about different scenarios for the novel for a few minutes each day—helped me outline all the scenes in one week. After that, all I had to do was write it.

It also helped a lot when I was working through tough plot points that popped up when characters decided to detour from the original outline I wrote, or when I realized that I’d missed something, or that a new subplot really needed to be included.

It’s amazing the 180 you can do when you think about something for just 180 seconds.

I still use this process every day, and my best ideas come from it. 

Which one of these changes would most help you keep writing when you have anxiety?

I’d love to know. And if you’ve got another tip on how to keep writing when you have anxiety, please share them in the comments.

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