How to Write Under Stressful Conditions

 Carrying a heavy burden these days? Writing can help.

As stressful events in my life collide a little in these weeks, I’ve been thinking about how one is supposed to keep their creative writing going in the face of obstacles. It’s difficult enough to imagine and plan writing time when everything in life is going well and you feel emotionally happy and ready to tackle work. If a stressful or upsetting event enters your life, on the other hand, it can seem virtually impossible to put a pen to the page when other things are happening. Here are a few common stress pitfalls, and ways to resolve or handle them.

Fight the guilt.

So something distressing has happened in your life or to a loved one. Dramatic events have a way of making normal things seem trivial or even frivolous. You may feel a little selfish for trying to get your own artistic work done while things are so chaotic.

To combat this feeling, remind yourself that your heart is in the right place. As long as you’re not neglecting who or what needs attention, then there’s nothing wrong with getting a little pleasure out of what you love to do. In fact, the first step toward regaining a sense of normalcy in your life is to start doing those things that make you feel like you the most. So no matter how busy things get in the wake of a disaster, set aside time for your writing.

Leave yourself time for thought.

This new event is probably dominating your thoughts during the day and might even be keeping you up nights. That’s especially why it feels difficult to write — you haven’t thought about your story at all, so it won’t come to you! Setting aside time for thinking is just as important as writing. So during your downtime, instead of shutting your brain off to watch tv, surf the web, or take a break in another way, take a thoughtful break. Get a drink, sit in a comfortable chair, and think. What do you want to write? What have you learned about the world lately that you want to capture in your fiction?

After the jump: more pitfalls and strategies for coping.

Remember why you write.

This might be the most important thing to remember when fighting stress. You may think, “I’ve got enough on my plate already — why do I have to pile worrying about my writing on top?” In reality, though, if writing really is in your blood, you’ll remember that writing doesn’t add to your stress — it takes it away. Writing is for writers what herding sheep is for sheepdogs; it’s a relief to be expressing a very natural impulse. Let yourself do a few writing exercises or a freewrite; you’ll find your stress starting to ease. That monkey on your back might start to feel a little lighter if you get back to doing what you do best.


  1. Eva says:

    Good advice! I don’t know what stressful things might be occurring in your life, but right now I’ve got a pair of cabinet installers who just knicked a hole in my new kitchen pipes. It’s a long story…

    Needless to say, it’s a tad stressful…and not quite conducive to getting my creative thoughts together. I’m guessing I need to write a story about this.

  2. I can really relate to this post — and you have some excellent ideas here.

    One thing that helps me in stressful times is just to journal about anything at all, even about how I’m having so much trouble writing, can’t think of anything to write about, feel guilty, etc. Just the mere act of picking up my pen and writing seems to help unstop the dam.

  3. Donita says:

    What you said about not feeling guilty is vital. Guilt gums up your brain and raises your stress level. Guilt can create a solid block that’s hard to crash through.

    My own life is a series of crises, big and small. I’ve had to learn to write no matter how horrible things were. So, what I do is write every day, no matter what. I set a minimum of 300 words (not a lot)). It doesn’t have to be good; it can be drivel. It just has to be words, and it has to be in the project I’m working on. I can always delete it on another day.

    Today marks 400 days in a row of writing through crisis and calm. It works for me.

    • Peter says:

      I also try to set a small goal like two pages a day, notes, quotes, anything.
      I even re-type material just to get my fingers and mind into the mode of writing.
      It gets to the point I feel guilty not doing it. But, hey, the world is not perfect.

  4. JannyC says:

    This just happened to me the other day. I was thinking to myself how am I going to write now? I had to write too for I was getting paid to write this piece for a client.I just wondered how can I continue and Im going to lose this client if I cant write. I put on some music and that helped a bit as I also took a break and just wrote out what was swimming in my mind over what had happen to distraught me. I felt a lot better once I got all that out of my mind and I was able to get back to writing.

  5. Dorigen says:

    I have just made one of the hardest decisions in my life – and one, which no doubt is familiar to many people on this site. I have given up the well-paid job I hate to see if I can make my living as a writer.

    As a self-inflicted, stress inducing strategy, I don’t think it gets much worse. Every morning I wake with a jolt and think about the financial insecurity I’ve brought upon myself. The stress is only alleviated by writing itself, putting all my feelings down on paper and seeing where they take me. I even started to make a list of the practical things I should do and turned it into a poem.

    For me, my creative life has always been an escape from stress, a living in the “now” where nothing else mattered. At times when I haven’t been able to write or do some creative activity, I have a bath, garden, go for a walk, anything to distance myself from the task in hand. All my best ideas come when I am not sitting in front of a blank screen and I try also to follow my rhythms, which usually find me writing late at night.

    I know everyone is different, but for me at least, the most stressful times of my life have been the most creatively productive times. My only thought would be to take the stress with you and incorporate it into your writing, for jeopardy, tension, sadness and drama are all valuable elements in storytellling, and we all need to attune ourselves to them if we are to produce any writing that comes from the heart

  6. Summer says:

    I also try to set a small goal like two pages a day, notes, quotes, anything.
    I even re-type material just to get my fingers and mind into the mode of writing.
    It gets to the point I feel guilty not doing it. But, hey, the world is not perfect.

  7. JoAnn says:

    I’m unemployed these days, a victim of economic conditions. Funny, I used to wish for 6 months off to finish my novel. Now, thanks to a family that believes in my ability I have several months of a stress free environment before things really start getting tight. Even though that may seem ideal I do have other chores that I have relieved my working spouse of. Still, it is far less stress then trying to write while locked into the 9-5 routine. I look at it as a God-send and an fresh opportunity. One door closes another one opens, right? I’m still looking for work of course. That’s when my stress levels spike. However, I find comfort in writing. My efforts and creativity are in my control and that is very empowering. I write every day, whether a short story or a scene in my novel, and look at it every piece as a job well done. Corporate never gave me that feeling.

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