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11 Great Ways to 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 book, or thinking about your novel, or doing other things so you can write your book… 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.

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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 “Multitasking” Steal Your Writing Time

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 résumé. It has been proven to make you less productive AND raise your stress levels. The last thing you need when you’re trying to keep writing when you have 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 nonfiction book while you’re also in Ulysses trying to draft the chapter
  • 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.

Mockup of The Writing Ritual Creator from Holly Ostrout

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3. Remind Your Brain How to Focus

Writing when you have anxiety (or you’re someone who’s grown up/lived around the Internet for a while), can make focusing 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

Check Out: 7 Triggers of Writing Imposter Syndrome: Reclaim Your Confidence

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.

  • What would it feel like to wake up every morning thrilled to start writing again?
  • Where does your mind go in boring meetings? (stop multitasking, though!)
  • If you had to write every single day for the rest of your life, how could you make that feel like a reward?
  • What’s your Magnum Opus going to be?

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.

Writing when you have anxiety is doable as long as you remember that anxiety is something that we work with, not against. Allow the anxiety to just be and remember what made you passionate about your book in the first place.

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. 

6. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness can be practiced in many different ways, but the basic idea is to focus your attention on the present moment without judgment. To apply mindfulness to writing, you can take a few deep breaths before you begin writing to help calm your mind and focus your attention. Then, as you write, try to stay present with your breath and your surroundings. This can help reduce anxiety and increase focus and productivity.

An excellent way to incorporate a mindfulness practice into your writing is to create a writing ritual.

Rituals aren’t habits! They give “must do” tasks a sense of purpose, which I’ve found is extremely helpful for shaving off some of the sharper edges to your anxiety.

I’ve got a free Writing Ritual Creator that you can grab that will help you start creating an anti-anxiety writing ritual that works for you today. It’s very cute, too. It’ll let you keep writing when you have anxiety, and maybe even feel a little less anxious, too!

7. Try Free-Writing

Freewriting is a great way to get your thoughts and ideas down on paper without worrying about grammar, structure, or even making sense. Simply set a timer for 10-15 minutes, and write as much as you can during that time without stopping or censoring yourself. This can help reduce anxiety and self-criticism, and can also be a great way to generate new ideas and break through writer’s block.

8. Write in Short Bursts

Writing in short bursts can be a great way to keep writing when you have anxiety and increase your writing productivity. Set a timer for 10-15 minutes, and write as much as you can during that time. Then take a short break, and repeat. This can help you stay focused and motivated, and can also help you avoid burnout.

9. Experiment with Different Writing Environments

Changing your environment can help reduce anxiety and increase creativity. Try writing in a different room, at a different time of day, or with different lighting or background noise. This can help stimulate your senses and create a more relaxed, focused atmosphere for writing.

Writing spaces are integral to creating good mental vibes when you’re ready to write.

Read more about that on these posts:

10. Reward Yourself

Rewarding yourself for achieving writing goals can be a great way to stay motivated and keep writing when you have anxiety. Set small goals for yourself, such as writing for 30 minutes without getting distracted, and then treat yourself to a favorite snack or take a short walk outside. This can help create positive associations with writing and make it feel more enjoyable and rewarding.

11. Find a Writing Buddy

Having a writing buddy can be a great source of support and accountability. You can share your writing goals and progress with each other, offer encouragement and feedback, and even collaborate on writing projects. This can help you keep writing when you have anxiety and get rid of all that self-doubt, and can also help you stay motivated and focused on your writing goals.

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.

Let’s change some lives,

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PS — 🩵 When it feels right, here are 3 ways I can help you turn the page:

  1. The Book Map. Imagine having a GPS for your book-writing journey, guiding you from “I think I have an idea!” all the way to “OMG, I did it! I wrote a book!” That’s what the Book Map can do for you. It’s a supercharged roadmap for your writing journey. It’s not just about outlining chapters; it’s about diving deep into what you want to say and the best way to say it, ensuring every word pulls its weight. You’re not just writing a book; you’re crafting a masterpiece that feels as if it almost writes itself. Ready to make your book dream a reality? Let’s Book Map it!
  2. One-to-One Book Coaching. I have a vision of changing the world one book at a time, by teaching world-changers to create a book in a gentler, more effective way. A way that takes both you and your reader on a profound journey. I see a future where we build trust in our words, worlds, and work with our books, and where the world becomes a better place because of the books we write. My commitment is to bring to life books—fiction and nonfiction—founded on integrity. I’ll bring the map, and you’ll take us on the journey. If you’re ready to change the world with your book, your quest awaits. Apply for a free discovery call here. It takes 3 minutes.
  3. Listen to the Podcast. The Book Coach Chronicles: A podcast for writers of books, people who want to be writers of books, and y’all in the back who’ve been thinking about it but don’t yet consider yourself a writer. Listen on AppleSpotify, or Everywhere Else.

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Holly Ostrout is a book coach with a vision of changing the world one book at a time, by teaching big-idea entrepreneurs, coaches, speakers, and authors to create a book in a gentler, more effective way. A way that takes both you and your reader on a profound journey.
Holly Ostrout

Hi I’m Holly. If you’re going to change the world with your book, fiction or nonfiction, I can help you do it.

I'm a book coach for high-achieving, creative coaches, consultants, service providers, speakers, and authors who want to build a sustainable business around their book—whether that’s fiction or nonfiction.

I help you share your wisdom, ideas, and gifts by writing & publishing a life-changing book that helps you streamline your business, bring in more money, and change more lives.

I believe books are the most important human invention. And yours can change the world.

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Joyful, Easy Writing Can Be Yours​

Find that magical zone when the words flow like honey + everything you want to say comes across in perfect harmony. Write your book joyfully + easily with this Writing Ritual Tracker & keep the flow with my helpful newsletter.

Mockup of The Writing Ritual Creator from Holly Ostrout

Joyful, Easy Writing Can Be Yours

Writing Ritual Tracker from Books & Alchemy

Find that magical zone when the words flow like honey + everything you want to say comes across in perfect harmony. Write your book joyfully + easily with this Writing Ritual Tracker & keep the flow with my helpful newsletter.

Mockup of The Writing Ritual Creator from Holly Ostrout
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If You Want to Change the World with Your Book, You've Got to Write It.

Find that magical zone when the words flow like honey + everything you want to say comes across in perfect harmony. Write your book joyfully + easily with this Writing Ritual Creator & keep the flow with my helpful newsletter.