The Stress of the Blank Page

In writing circles these days, the running theme is stress, and most of it is not from our writing, but from NOT writing.

Life: The Writing Killer

Life, whether it’s the day job, family, school, or a global pandemic, has a nasty habit of getting in the way of our writing…

Plan to write two thousand words today? Well you can’t because you need butter from the store, there’s cleaning to do, and Uncle Pete wants to Zoom. And big surprise, you’re his tech support.

We writers tend to be a self-critical bunch at the best of times, but mess with our plans, and things can get ugly.

Life means stress, and when stress rises, it leads not just to poor writing, but poor health.

Sleep deprivation, late-night eating, mood swings, and lack of exercise aren’t exactly good for your creative flow.

No matter the season of the year or in life, there’s an event, task, or time stealer.

Check your writing progress and you can see how much time you’ve already lost.

Look ahead, and you’ll see the potential for more on the horizon.

Close up your laptop. The stress has won.

Not writing leads to stress, and stress means less writing

Every season or month has built-in barriers to a writer’s schedule. Winter has the holidays. In spring people want to be outside. Summers are filled with vacations, or worse, your kids’ vacations. In fall, there’s Thanksgiving. Yet somehow, books do get written.

The biggest barrier to writing is lost momentum caused by… life.

Sudden interruptions, changing plans, family commitments, and a general lack of high-energy time, but the reality is that it’s lost because we fail to plan for the time we do have.

In a perfect world, I, Roland, want two hours of uninterrupted writing time.

When I don’t get that, I give up. Or at least I used to.

One day my wife (and writing partner) suggested that I rethink the types of writing I can do with the time I do have available.

I nodded in agreement, ignored her advice, and didn’t write one word.

After a few too many grumpy days not writing, I went back and asked her to explain.

Together, we looked at how I spent the two hours of writing time when I did have it.

Usually, there was a lot of true writing, but there was also plenty of outlining, research, and when I got stuck in a plot hole, brainstorming.

Turns out I rarely did any writing task for more than an hour without jumping to something else, so even when I had two hours, I didn’t always write the whole time.

Common writing tasks

Let’s take a look at how authors tend to spend their writing time.

  • Writing
  • Rewriting
  • Brainstorming
  • Outlining
  • Editing
  • Proofreading
  • Research
  • Character sketches
  • Worldbuilding

As you can see by the list, most shouldn’t take long blocks of time.

Some things do work best once you get into a ‘flow state,’ but tasks like proofreading and character sketches take spare moments, not spare hours.

Writing or outlining your current story tends to take uninterrupted time, but once a story is written, editing or rewriting can often be done in short spurts.

Speaking of research, it is many a writer’s Achilles’ heel.

If you’re not careful, you’re sucked in.

One click turns to ten, and before long anti-gravity research has you laughing at the Big Bang Theory.

Saving research for when you only have a few minutes is a blessing in disguise.

Many authors are working on multiple projects at once, so using spare time to plan or research your current work or your next book means never wasting an opportunity.

Planning your writing time means less stress about writing

Daily reminders on dry erase boardOne of my favorite stress-reducing writing tools is my small dry erase board. You can grab your own at this affiliate link.

I know it’s small, but it’s not for big plans, but for immediate time management. If you don’t want one, you can use a journal, index cards, or even a Starbucks napkin, but a more permanent item that you can leave in a prominent place is best.

I divide my writing time into thirty-minute chunks, because I often use the Pomodoro technique to keep myself productive.

Here’s an example…

Morning Writing / 1.5 hours

  • 30min – Space Opera
  • 30min – Space Opera
  • 30min – Write Monday’s email newsletter

Today I had an hour and a half to write, but two different things needed to be done. I break up time by what needs to be done, and today I was able to write some of my book and tomorrow’s email newsletter.

Writers write, but it’s not all writing

It takes writing and all sorts of other tasks to ‘write’ a book, so stop focusing just on daily word count, which adds stress you don’t need at any time of year!

Over the past year I’ve started to look at each free moment as an opportunity to get a writing task done.

I’m moving my story along, keeping my stress levels low, staying healthy, and above all, enjoying the process. Mostly.

How often do you feel the stress of not writing?

What overlooked writing tasks can you find for the time slots you do have available?

 

Talk soon,

Roland

Share with your author friends