This is a tough topic to talk about, but one that so many writers struggle with. It’s important to address it. Our headspaces affect every part of our lives, not just our writing, but by focusing on just one small piece (how it affects our writing) we may have enough spoons to make a change.
Your headspace and your writing
What goes on in your head goes with you everywhere. Unlike your house or your writing workspace, you can’t leave the room when your head’s a hot mess, although many of us wish we could!
There are so many reasons writers struggle with low spoon counts, but 3 of the most common are:
These 3 states can feed off one another, multiplying their effects and stealing even more spoons from you. Let’s touch on each of them and see if we can help you shift some things around so you can keep writing even when you’re low on spoons.
This is in no way medical advice. I am not a doctor and I don’t write doctors in my novels. This is based on personal experimentation and anecdotes from other spoonies.
Anxiety can be caused by a medical condition or by environmental factors. Left untreated, anxiety caused by environmental factors can lead to medical conditions.
Again: I am not a doctor and I cannot give you medical advice.
If you have chronic anxiety, please speak to your doctor and come up with a plan to tackle your anxiety. The tips here can also help folks with generalized anxiety disorder, but you still need a medical professional’s opinion.
Pin this for reference ⤵
So if you’re feeling anxious because of stress at work, with money, with family or friends, with current events, or the like, you can use controlled breathing to help tone it down.
You take a slow, deep breath all the way into your belly, hold it for 5 seconds, and then slowly exhale over 5 seconds. Repeat it 4 times and you’ll have successfully calmed your nervous system down.
What does that mean? That your heart rate has slowed, that your digestion has normalized, that you’ll stop releasing extra cortisol.
You’ve probably heard a hundred people tell you to try deep breathing before. But knowing the reason why it works sometimes makes it easier to implement (and keep doing) for writers who are low on spoons.
Overwhelm comes when your brain has too many things to process at one time and it doesn’t know what to do with them.
Which of those things…
- Is the most important?
- Can wait?
- Are extras that aren’t important at all?
Your brain has no idea, so you get that immensely uncomfortable, defeated feeling of, “I am so overwhelmed right now, I don’t even know where to begin.”
It’s like your brain is in a little hamster wheel, running as fast as it can, but getting absolutely nowhere. How do you jump out of the wheel without catching your foot in the gap?
And then what happens when you start feeling that overwhelm? Probably one of two things:
- You freak out and try to get EVERYTHING that’s overwhelming you done so you won’t have 36 things hanging over your head, or…
- You decide that you’re so overwhelmed you can’t do ANYTHING so you cancel all your weekend goal-plans and start watching The West Wing from the beginning on Netflix.
Overwhelm is insidious and vaguely neutral-evil like that.
It’s also self-defeating and self-replicating, like a nasty virus.
And it’s also something you can change by focusing on the cause instead of the symptoms.
Those feelings of “Oh god, so busy” or “Help me, what do I do first?” are the symptoms of overwhelm, but something caused them. Instead of playing Dr. Western Med and just Rx-ing yourself some Xanax, you need to play Dr. Holistic and find the real cause.
Finding the root cause of your overwhelm so you can get back to writing
What does Dr. Holistic think could be causing your overwhelm? Only you can know for sure, but the following list has a bunch of common causes:
- One “busy” day at work raising your adrenaline levels and making you associate work with “busy”
- Missing a deadline, through no fault of your own
- Missing a deadline because you screwed around
- Hearing others say they are busy and then internalizing that
- Being late for work, an appointment, or a meeting
- Failing to prepare for something and feeling caught on the wrong foot for the rest of the week
- Setting unSMART goals and holding yourself to the impossible standards that result from those
- Not being realistic about what it would take to complete a project
- Trying to sound important by saying you’re busy, and then getting annoyed when your brain believes you
- Low self-esteem and/or confidence
- Sometimes we really are busy—but not recognizing when that period is over, and letting the overwhelmed feeling continue
- I love this post from Jess Creatives: Why You Should Stop Doing #AllOfTheThings
- WhyWeSuffer had a really great + scientific explanation of overwhelm if you’d like to dig a little deeper: The Origins of Feeling Overwhelmed