For a writer, writing is the dream. The writer wants to make it in the world and let their words hold their place in it. However, getting to that point can be somewhat overwhelming. So much so, that writer overwhelm can stop some writers from even starting. The goal then is just to reach the finish line of their novel or story, to be able to write “The End.”
But what about when you reach the finish line? What then?
We all know that the rough draft is not the final draft. And no matter how beautiful you think that first draft is, it is not the final draft. Editing and revision is a huge part of the writing journey, and it can seem like a daunting task, but it is a necessary one. This can create overwhelm in itself!
Then you have to consider what you want to do with your book when you’ve completely polished it. Do you want to just keep it for yourself? Make a small batch to give out to friends and family? Publish? Do you want to self-publish, or do you want to traditionally publish? Do you use indie publishers or one of the big 5?
There’s a lot to think about!
The good news is that there are ways to deal with this kind of stress. Let me walk you through the six ways to deal with overwhelm.
Combat Writer Overwhelm
Let me first start by saying that this is in no particular order. There are steps which might benefit you to take part in before others, or some steps which might not even be applicable to you. I encourage you to try everything to prevent your writer overwhelm, but I’ll leave the order in which you test them up to your own creative expertise.
Make a To-Do List
to Prevent & Overcome
When I was in college, I would get overwhelmed by everything on my plate. It didn’t help that I was working three jobs at the time, including my tutoring gig for the college, and not including the private tutoring I was doing on the side, or even working as a class assistant for the ESLA students.
When I had the massive tsunami of to-do’s crashing through my mind, I stressed myself out, to put it mildly. I would sit and stare at the homework I was supposed to be doing and be completely paralyzed and unable to focus on getting anything done.
Finally, I wrote a list and organized it.
It went something like this:
- Create a list of everything that needs doing by the end of the week/month
- Organize it by what needs doing first
- Break down the steps for each item on the list (research, editing, writing, gathering surveys, how long a shift takes, etc.)
- Estimate how long each task will take to complete.
- Write out how much time I need for daily living (eating, sleeping, transport, exercise, etc.)
- Create a schedule for each day to complete each task
I found that when I did this, I realized two things:
- I didn’t have as much on my plate as I thought I did
- None of my tasks would take as long as I thought they would
Once I had a visual in front of me of what needed doing, by what time, and how long it would take to get each thing done, I was able to make a plan and stick to it.
Breaking the Day Up
I would take this a step further and break my day up by my breaks. So, for example, lunch break, coffee break in the afternoon, and dinner. As a student, you can imagine that I didn’t stop once dinner time hit. I would usually keep working into the evening, only to get up at 3 in the morning (yeah, you read that right). I’m not suggesting you get up at 3 in the morning to start your day, by the way.
When I broke the day up with my breaks, I could section my day into “bite-sized” chunks. I knew that before breakfast I wanted to go back over my math homework. I knew that between breakfast and lunch I had a class, a tutoring shift, and an hour to work on my English paper, during which time I would pull out the quotes I wanted to use, and so on.
The trick was to only look at the section of the day that was coming up next. This meant I could compartmentalize the day, which made my tasks more manageable.
Crossing Items Off
When you have a massive to-do list, it can feel like you’re trying to dig a hole on the beach in the surf. You keep shoveling sand and water out of the hole, but it just keeps filling up.
When you list out your tasks for a day, including the mini tasks to build up to the whole task, you feel a sense of accomplishment. You can see that you’re getting things done, and that you’re not just digging a hole that won’t be dug. This is essential to keeping you going through a daunting mountain of work supporting that writer overwhelm.
When we can visually see what we’ve already done and that we’re making progress, we’re more likely to keep moving forward.
Get Clear on Your Goals
to Prevent Writer Overwhelm
What do you want to do with your story/book/writing career? Do you want to be the next Stephen King or J. K. Rowling? Do you want to be a travel writer? Do you want to make a passive income? Expand your business with your knowledge? Become a self-help guru?
Do you want to just get your story out there, and then whatever happens, happens? Do you want to be a part of the 20Booksto50k rush to make your living with rapid release self-publishing? Or are you wanting to create something for your loved ones to enjoy?
Knowing your goals can help you decide the path you need to take. Furthermore, when you know what you need to take, then you can prevent unnecessary actions, and thus prevent writer overwhelm.
I want to be very clear with this: your goals must represent what you want, not what you think you should want.Tweet
This might take some time and a lot of self-reflection to know what it is that you truly want from your writing life. There are a couple steps you can take to discovering this.
Your journal is your trusty companion that you should be utilizing throughout your writing journey. It is your conversation with yourself so you can understand what’s going on in your head, what you’re feeling, and so on.
In this instance, you can work through these questions in your journal to understand your goals better. Go through each question one at a time and really spend some time writing on it. Set a timer on your phone or your watch and give yourself at least seven minutes to write on each one, trying not to stop writing even when you’ve run out of things to say. If you do run out of things to say, write “I don’t know what to write” on repeat until something else comes up or your timer runs out.
Get into the “why” of each answer you give. Keep asking yourself until you feel you’ve reached the core of your answer.
- What does success look like to you?
- Where have you been successful in the past, in any area of life, and by whose standards of success? How did it feel?
- What does writing success look like to you? How is it measured? In money? Books printed? Books sold? Books written?
- What does a writing career look like to you?
- What does success look like on a daily basis? As in, what does your writing routine look like, how you fit it in with the rest of your life, etc.? Does this include a possible wordcount goal, chapter goal, hourly goal? Get specific.
- What is your writing routine now?
- How do you feel after completing your wordcount or hourly writing goal? Are you relieved? Drained? Exhausted? Pleased?
- What is your timeline of success?
These questions are meant to help you get real with yourself, to know yourself. Often times, we’re stuck in the story of what we’re told is successful or accomplished.
When I graduated high school and was asked what I wanted to do with my life, I said I wanted to be a starving writer. I had in part being glib, but I was also being real. My version of success at that time was simply to write. I didn’t care if I published (I did care, but that wasn’t the end goal), or if I made money. All that mattered to me was that I was always writing.
Map out what your life would look like if you succeeded in your goal. Get as detailed as you can. What does the overall picture look like? What does your living situation look like? Really dig in and look at each area of your life:
- Lifestyle and livelihood – your housing, your income, how you live your life
- Body and wellness – how does this affect your physical and mental self?
- Creativity – you’re a writer, so it feels like you should always be creative, but if you sell your book and become the next J. K. Rowling, how will it affect your creativity? Just ponder this idea.
- Relationships – how does this affect your romantic life? Your social life? Your family life?
- Society – how does this affect your role in society? Will you do more in your community? Less?
- You – how does your success affect who you are?
Go through and examine how you define success for your writing and imagine yourself in that place. Think about how that affects each of these areas in your life. Be as real as possible. If you want to make your living using a rapid-release method of writing, how does that affect your body? Does it mean that you need to move more because you’re sitting for longer periods of time? Does it mean you would need to ask more of your partner while you work to reach this goal?
Once you’ve taken an honest look at each area of your life, ask yourself if you like what you see, if it’s something that you can embrace. If so—excellent. You’re doing this for you.
If not, that’s okay. Ask yourself what you want each area of your life to look like and then see what version of success fits. You can play around with this as much as you want.
This is for you, for your goals, for your life. No one can live your life but you, so make sure that your writing goals are tailored for your idea of writing success.Tweet
Meditation for Writer Overwhelm
Meditation is an extremely useful tool in just about every area of life, but especially when it comes to preventing as well as overcome writer overwhelm. It can calm us, bring us into a state of presence, and put us in touch with our creative sense. When we feel swamped, it can help to bring clarity of mind, which in turn can help us to organize our thoughts and quell our anxiety.
Meditation can also help us delve into ourselves. When we quiet our minds long enough to listen to the voices of our subconscious, or intuition, we can learn what we truly want. This is extremely helpful when considering your goals as a writer, as well as your goals in your daily life.
There are many ways to use meditation, but here are a few that I recommend.
Making meditation a habit can help clear your mind in general. When you create time and space to make meditation a part of your daily routine, your mind is overall calmer. You can read about this more here.
Daily meditation can be as simple as paying attention to your breathing.
There are many guided meditations on YouTube that can help you anchor and center yourself. These meditations can also help you delve into yourself specifically to find answers. One might take you on a journey to talk to your future self, another might take you to a path to get in touch with your intuition. Look through what’s available on YouTube and give a couple a try.
For more meditations for writing, you can find Meditations to Overcome Writer’s Block on Audible, which is a compilation of guided meditations from a variety of writers.
Again, on YouTube, you can find meditations which play throughout the night. These are sometimes called subliminal messaging as well, depending on the you choose. If you can hear the words being spoken, they will often guide you into a meditation, or, if you’re like me, into sleep. The words will either play audibly or under the guise of the accompanying music, throughout the night.
I personally have used these for a variety of things including my fear of flying, waking up motivated, overcoming anxiety during this pandemic, and so on.
Spend a week experimenting with these to see how they help you.
Delegate Your Tasks
to Overcome Writer Overwhelm
What? Delegate? Delegate what to who?
I used to work in video production. By that I mean that I helped my partner at the time build up his video production business by helping him market himself, learning to film, learning about cameras and audio, and learning to edit.
In return, he wanted to help me with my own writing overwhelm.
I laughed and told him that my writing was a solo project. How on earth could he help me?
At that time, I wasn’t in any position to be helped with my writing projects. I had one book that I had completed and tried to self-publish (which I have since buried and covered the grave with cement), and was barely writing anything else.
Once I began to take my writing more seriously, I could have asked him for help—and lots of it. There was a lot that I wanted to accomplish, and doing the research for detracted from my writing time and added stress.
Here are some tasks you can delegate:
- Research for your book
- Research writing competitions
- Research agents/magazines/journals/anthologies/publishers accepting submissions
- Writing your cover letter for your submission or query letter.
- Book cover design/finding quality and affordable designers
- Finding Beta readers
- First round of edits
- Final edits
- Setting up your author website/social media
- Social media management
These are just to list a few.
There are a few areas where it is essential to hire a professional. Editing and book cover design are two of those areas. You might be able to design your book cover yourself, if you’d like, but unless you specifically have a background in design, you might be better off handing the task over to someone who does design for a living.
With editors, while you might be an editor yourself or have a keen eye for mistakes, you are too close to your project. That is a fact. Your brain will fix mistakes, and no matter how many times you comb over your MS, there will be some tenacious mistakes that get through.
Fun fact: Gone with the Wind has two typos in it. Those suckers get through no matter how big the book.
There are plenty of ways you can get your piece as polished as possible, but you should still hire someone to proofread, to copyedit, and potentially provide a developmental edit.
You don’t necessarily need to go to a big company to get some of these tasks completed. Have a look on freelance websites for people offering their services. Some great websites are:
This is just to name a few.
However, when you hire a freelancer through these websites, be sure that you stick to the website, especially when it comes to sending documents or completing any transactions. It keeps both you and the freelancer safe and above board.
Likewise, be sure that you get a sample of their work before you hire them. There are many wonderful writers, artists, and website designers out there, but they can also be buried by people offering subpar work for a low price. It is better to spend the extra money to get something you will be happy with.
Adjusting Your Timeline
to Prevent Writer Overwhelm
When you set yourself a goal, you need to be sure that you set a realistic timeline. A failure to do so can result in writer overwhelm.
Deadlines are wonderful things. They can keep us focused on a task or a project and get us to the finish line. However, sometimes we set unrealistic timelines, which causes stress, which then leads to overwhelm.
Your Personal Timelines
When you’re writing for yourself, you need to check in with yourself and be sure that you’re not the one contributing to your stress. If the timeline you set yourself is too strict, but you don’t see a way to move it, take some time to examine why you are stuck on this deadline.
When I first decided I needed to make money with my writing, it wasn’t for the love of writing, but because I had student debt to pay off. I wanted to half my debt-paying time. This put a lot of strain on me. It meant that I was going to need to come up with £500 every single month.
When I became overwhelmed with this, I adjusted my timeline. I didn’t need to do it right away. I just needed to eventually work my way up to it, reminding myself that I would some day pay off my debt with my writing, but I couldn’t force those writing jobs instantly.
If, for example, your goal is to use the rapid-release publishing model to quit your job in a year and be a full-time writer, ask yourself why you need to do this within a year? Can you aim to be part time at both within that timeline?
Returning to the journal prompts, spend some time in contemplation with these questions and explore possible solutions.
Writing for Others
I am a ghostwriter along side being a writing coach. I have one client with whom I’m working on three different series. I am capable of completing a book a week for my client, and I did so for a while. But just because I can do it, doesn’t mean I should.
After four weeks of doing this, I burnt myself out and became completely overwhelmed with anything else that was going on in my life. I talked to my client, and we adjusted my timeline to 10 days per book. As a result, I take three days off from writing and still have a full seven days to complete the book, which is more than enough time for me.
If you are in overwhelm, look at what can be adjusted. Be sure to keep your deadlines, but if you can move them around so that they work better for you, then do so.
If you are writing for someone else, be communicative. I assure you that your editor/publisher would rather get a quality piece of work from you as a result of extra time than a subpar piece of work on time.
Take Time Off
to Prevent Writer Overwhelm
When we have a pile of things to do, it’s easy to keep working until we can’t. We have things that need to get done, and they need to get done now.
But that doesn’t help anyone. It will burn you out and it might stop your progress completely. Burnout is really just another word for writer overwhelm.
When you’re making a list of things to do and scheduling your day out, remember to schedule time for relaxing for you.
More importantly, remember to schedule days off. That’s plural, by the way.
I mentioned that when I readjusted my timeline with my client for her books, that I took three days off from writing. While it’s actually three days off from writing her books, not writing in general, I make sure the very first day off is a day off from everything.
I don’t at my phone, I don’t touch my computer, and the only time I’m allowed to look at my kindle is if I’m listening to a podcast or reading a fiction book. The only work-related things I’m allowed to do are coaching calls, and that’s because I enjoy them so much.
Make sure that you are taking the time off that you need and deserve. No one can work all the time. We all need days off, even from things that we love.
If you can’t take a full day off, just be sure to schedule breaks for yourself. Mealtimes don’t count. During this time, do something completely different that you enjoy: read a chapter of a book, go for a walk, take a nap, watch an episode of something, meditate, journal, fantasize about completing your goal.
Try to avoid scrolling on social media during this time. It might feel relaxing, but sometimes it can trigger some anxiety, sadness, depression, or make you feel like you’re slacking. Sure those uplifting posts are designed to be motivational, but if you’re making yourself take a break when you’re already stressed, motivational posts might trigger some guilt.
Do not feel guilty for needing to take time off. It’s called Self Care, and self care is essential.
This is essentially a post about self-care. Self-care is how you keep your candle lit and ever burning. You can’t do that if you’re burning it on both ends.
Your homework has four parts:
- Find a guided meditation that works for you on YouTube. There are plenty out there. Find one that works for you, and spend at least 20 minutes meditating. The purpose of this is to help you be centered and clear minded for the following parts.
- Go through the Journal Questions above and answer them all. Even if you’ve done something similar in the past, do it again. We are always changing, and sometimes our desires shift. This keeps us in communication with ourselves so that we can adjust our goals accordingly.
- Ask yourself what tasks, if any you can delegate. Are there any friends or family who would be willing to help with any of these things?
- Create a self-care plan for when you start to feel like overwhelm might be creeping up. This might be to make a list ahead of time, to schedule time for yourself to relax before you get too anxious, or it could be to take a day or a week off before it gets to be too much. Figure out what works for you and prepare yourself.
Good luck, and happy writing!
What self-care works for you? Share in the comments below to help others discover ways they can look after themselves when things get stressful.
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