Writing well requires an enormous amount of concentration and energy, plus a decent dose of self-confidence and courage. It’s not like making widgets on an assembly line, where your mind can wander while your hands stay busy producing.
For that reason, even “normal” amounts of stress can freeze your writing fingers. (“Normal” meaning those stresses that come to us all at times: sick children, rocky marriages, financial problems, etc.)
To write during “normal” stressful times, try these things to get going:
First, inventory your life experiences to create a list of topics to write about. When burned out, or you feel stumped for something to write about, ask yourself questions like, “What has bugged me that I’ve been able to handle effectively?” or “What have I learned from this experience?” From this come articles that make a difference in people’s lives–whether it’s teaching them the healing power of laughter or just helping them to decorate on a shoestring.
Then make an inventory of your life experiences. (My Writer’s First Aid book has a section called “Getting to Know You” which gives you such an inventory to use.) What have you learned in the school of hard knocks? As writer Marshall Cook said, “You have a great pool of living to dip into for your writing. You’ve met scores of different people. You’ve been scores of different people.” Use that!
Second, switch from output goals to time goals. At least for a while, switch from a set number of pages a day to hours spent writing. (“I will write for one hour;” not “I will produce five pages.”) Skip the daily quota pressure until life settles down. (Or skip it altogether, as I ended up doing.)
Third, schedule your writing time, but be flexible. Sounds contradictory, but it’s not. Do schedule writing time, as usual. Strive to keep that appointment, no matter what else is going on in your life.
But be flexible: if your time is taken by a bedridden father or an emergency call from your daughter’s school, attend to the urgent event, but carve out the writing time later in the day, even if it’s in three or four smaller pieces. Overcome the tendency to think, “My writing time is shot today–I’ll try again tomorrow.”
Fourth, develop a specialty. In stressful times, you often become an expert on your situation. Over the years, I’ve collected extensive libraries on personal recovery, remarriage, writing, quilting, the Civil War, England, and devotional books. You probably have your own collections.
Capitalize on the information you’ve absorbed. Do more research, and slant ideas many ways: for fiction and nonfiction, for children and adults. (Example: if you provide care for a bedridden father, you might write an inspirational piece for Guideposts on having the strength and patience to do it; or a how-to piece for a family magazine on finding the best home health care for an invalid; or a children’s article on how to make visits to elderly grandparents a joy to both child and grandparent; or a middle-grade fiction book on living with a bedridden grandparent.)
Fifth, be yourself. Use your life experiences to express your unique vision of the world and insights into life. Those insights become your style, that special something that is yours alone-voice.
Keep On Keeping On
Be aware that all writers–both the famous and the not-so-famous–deal with stress. They find ways to do this and keep writing–often incorporating those very experiences into their work. Writers write–and not just when the days are easy. We’re like postal workers–pushing on through rain, and snow, and sleet, and dark of night…
You’re not alone in finding it difficult to write some days. But when the dark days pass, you’ll be very glad you continued to work even when it was hard. When the sun comes out again, you’ll be thankful that you spent that time growing as a writer. Then it will be full-steam ahead!