The Stress of the Blank Page

Stress: A Writing Killer

In writing groups this month, the running theme for the holiday season is not holiday joy, but stress, and most of it from NOT writing.

For many people, the holidays are a time of joy. They look forward to family, presents, and holiday foods, but for many writers, this is the time of year when writing takes a backseat to family, shopping, and long holiday meals. Plan to write two thousand words today? Well you can’t because you need butter from the store, there’s wrapping to do, and Uncle Pete is coming over (big surprise, he’s early).

We writers tend to be a self-critical bunch at the best of times, but mess with our plans, and things can get ugly. Stress rises, which means poor health – sleep deprivation, late-night eating, mood swings, and lack of exercise aren’t exactly good for your creative flow.

Bah humbug. This is a wonderful season, but for every holiday wonder, 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 holidays are getting closer.

Close up your laptop, December is done.

Not writing leads to stress, and stress means not 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 get written.

The biggest barrier to writing is lost momentum. Around the holidays momentum is lost because of sudden interruptions, changing plans, family commitments, and a general lack of 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 want two hours of uninterrupted writing time. When I don’t get that I give up, or 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 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 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

One of my favorite stress-reducing writing tools is a small white board. It’s not for big plans, but for immediate time management. Don’t wait to get one, in the meantime, you can use a journal, index cards, or even a Starbucks napkin.

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

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, especially at this time of the year.

The holidays might not give me all the writing marathons I asked Santa for, but by looking 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 holiday season.

Do you feel the stress of not writing during the holiday season? What overlooked writing tasks can you find for the writing times you do have available?


This was originally posted on OCWriters

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