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How to Write When Writing is Difficult

I’ve been writing for 21 years and recently had an experience that I’ve never had before: my own writing triggered me. I’ve been working on the final installment of a science fiction novella series and was surprised when I found myself nervous and uncomfortable as I worked with my reviewer to prepare it for publication. It took time to realize why: I wrote the rough draft of this series in the summer of 2020 when my Dad was sick and passed away from complications with cancer. Certain scenes reflected that internal struggle and brought back memories of that difficult time that distracted and discouraged me.

Writers write, but sometimes it can be difficult. It could be internal: maybe you’re sick or experiencing hardship in life that has you distracted. More often, it’s external: you’re struggling to get the research or information you need to complete a difficult writing project, you’re writing on a topic that you feel is important, or you don’t like the topic or theme.

You don’t have to have an anxiety disorder to experience symptoms of anxiety. It’s a normal stress reaction. Fortunately, we can “get out of our own way” by applying some simple strategies to get your mind and your attitude right, relaxed, and back on track.

Turn down the volume. We think we learn how to “tune out” background noise, but your subconscious mind knows it’s there and your body reacts with signs of tension. Have you ever had a sudden headache make you realize you’ve been clenching your jaw, or neck pain make you realize that your shoulders are hunched? Discomfort is a sign that something you’re trying to ignore is working on you. Heed it by controlling the noise in your life. Find the volume you can control and turn it down, or off. Do you really need the TV on while you’re cooking dinner, or to run a loud fan in a room that nobody is in? Does the entire office want or need to hear your radio? Probably not, so turn it down or turn it off. Better yet, you can save some energy, too.

Try restorative yoga. I often extol the benefits of exercise, and sometimes it’s good to take the intensity down to stretch out and relax. That’s what restorative yoga is: gentle moves to help you stretch, relax, and downregulate to a slower rhythm. Check out your apps, and online videos, check out a DVD from the library, or look for a class if you’re the gym type. It helps you relax, relieves stress and pain, and helps you sleep better.

Meditate. Meditation is a way to restore your focus on what matters while attending to one of the most important functions of the human body: breathing. Like noise, we don’t realize that we resort to shallow breathing that clenches up the entire body. Meditation is like hitting the “reset” button on your body to return your physical systems back to normal. Meditations don’t have to be long or fancy: mine are as short as four minutes. Again, check out online resources for any of the free apps and programs available.

Do something personal that gives you comfort every day. We all have things that bring us comfort and joy that don’t fall on typical “relaxation” lists. You’ll have to find something else if writing is failing in this endeavor. Perhaps it’s watching a certain television show at night after dinner, or reading books by favorite authors. Maybe you like to listen to certain music, podcasts, or radio shows on your drive home from work, or during time with family, friends, or pets. Perhaps you go out to lunch once a week or engage in a volunteer activity. Maybe it’s taking ten minutes of personal time drinking that first cup of coffee in the morning, or reading an article or a chapter of a book before you go to bed. It could even be the tips I’ve already offered here with yoga and meditation. Find time to do something that brings you joy, even if you have to squeeze it into a lunch hour. This isn’t optional if you want to be at your best. Schedule it with the respect of an appointment that you wouldn’t dare miss.

Enlist help. Ask your reviewers, beta readers, and proofreaders for help in crafting it into the best work it can be. We need outside help and perspective on all of our work, and pieces that are triggering can be particularly difficult to develop into reader-friendly, workable prose. You don’t have to treat them as your personal therapist by telling them why the project is difficult. Identify the difficult areas and ask for suggestions to ensure that the work is reader-friendly. I can personally attest to the power of a little help from my friends as I’ve been completing the novella series that I wrote when my father passed away. Putting a light on blind spots was difficult, but working through it was satisfying and the writing is stronger for it.

Sometimes we have to be professionals and persevere through tough writing projects. It might not be pleasant, but it’s important to press on toward the goal of a completed project so we can move on to better things with wisdom, courage, insight, and inspiration for our writing in the future.

Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Sherri Fulmer Moorer