Have you ever felt overwhelmed with an article and procrastinated on writing it or dumped it altogether? You’re not alone.
Feeling overwhelmed is a regular experience for both beginner writers and experts. And it can make you struggle with writing and wreck your career before it takes off.
For freelance writers, learning strategies for reducing writing overwhelm is the key to creating content without burning out. In this article, you’ll learn nine actionable tips to make writing less overwhelming.
Identify causes of overwhelm
To eliminate the problem of writing overwhelm, you need to find the root causes. Emotions rarely appear out of thin air, which means certain factors must have triggered your negative feelings about writing.
You may feel overwhelmed with writing because of these reasons:
a. Perceived lack of skill: You may feel overwhelmed by a writing project if you consider it beyond your expertise. b. Inexperience: Even if you have excellent writing skills, a task that involves writing on an unfamiliar topic or industry may leave you feeling overwhelmed and unable to progress.
c. Big-picture thinking: Visualising the final product — an article, eBook, or blog post — without having a plan to create it will make starting difficult.
d. Lack of knowledge: You may find parts of the writing process, such as editing or publishing, difficult if your knowledge in those areas is limited.
This list is not exhaustive, and you may have different reasons for feeling overwhelmed when writing. Being honest with yourself matters: if you can pinpoint what’s overwhelming you about writing, it becomes easier to address it.
Here’s a fact about writing: starting is the hardest part.
You may have Pulitzer-worthy ideas in your head, but putting them into writing often requires superhuman strength. This inability to write encourages writers to procrastinate, which increases the likelihood of getting overwhelmed.
The solution here is to “start small”. Tackling writing one step at a time can make it less scary and reduce the strain on your mental health.
Imagine you have one week to write a 4,000-word article. Trying to complete the article once will leave you frustrated with the task and limit your progress.
A better strategy is to start by writing for just five minutes. You may take a break afterward before writing for another five-minute period — consistency is the goal here, not speed.
You could try the Pomodoro technique for writing if writing for short periods sounds appealing. With a pomodoro timer, you can write for 25-minute intervals and rest for five minutes. These “writing sprints” help reduce your workload slowly and remove the difficulty in finishing large writing projects.
Break down tasks
The problem writers have is that we fail to break down tasks and organize our workflow. When you cannot visualise the small steps necessary to complete a task, it’s easy to fall into the black hole of writing overwhelm.
Delineating work into chunks makes starting easier and gives direction to your writing. This means you’re unlikely to waste precious time thinking about executing writing responsibilities.
For example, if you have a 1500-word article to write, you can divide the writing into these stages:
After dividing work into sub-tasks, identify significant milestones and give yourself deadlines to achieve each. This gives you a clearer picture of what needs to be done and when, so you can plan for each stage.
Say you have one week to submit your 1500-word article; you may set the following milestones:
a. First draft (Monday)
b. Second draft (Wednesday)
c. Third draft (Friday)
d. Formatting and SEO optimisation (Saturday)
e. Submission (Sunday)
Your sub-tasks and milestones will look different if you have a larger writing project, like an eBook or novel. The important thing is to break down your writing project to make writing easier.
Use project planning software
Project planning software helps professionals and freelancers manage multiple projects and stay on top of work. For writers, project planning tools like Asana, Trello, Notion, and Airtable make it easier to track and organise different writing tasks.
The biggest upside to using project planning software is it allows you to monitor writing projects easily. For example, a Kanban-style Notion page organises my writing tasks in one central location.
I can group by their status (“Not Started”, “In Progress”, “Editing”, and “Submitted”), client, or due date. The last one is useful for knowing what to prioritise so I don’t get overwhelmed while working. As a dedicated user of both Notion and Trello, I can confirm that these applications help reduce writing overwhelm and allow me to stay on top of my work.
Here is a screenshot of my workflow page in Notion:
Other popular project planning software for writers include:
Write that first draft
If writers had a gold coin for every time they heard “write your first draft, even if it’s ugly,” most would be rich. But what’s surprising about this cliched advice is that it’s effective.
In writing, starting is the most crucial action you can take.
If you keep mulling over ideas for an article in your head, you’d only stall your progress. Putting your thoughts on paper, even if they look horrible, builds momentum and gives you enough motivation to complete the job.
Here’s a small confession: I pitched and received approval for this article over a month ago but kept researching and collecting ideas writing nothing. At some point, the thought of writing the article scared me, and I considered ditching it.
Then I remembered Ernest Hemingway’s advice to “write drunk, edit sober.” I started working on this article, finishing the first draft in a day. It had multiple errors and half-baked ideas, but at least, I had made progress.
You, too, can apply this approach to creating content.
Don’t create the perfect article at your first try; draft something and improve on it. You’ll write faster this way and reduce the mental effort required to produce creative content.
Ditch the rules and get crazy
If you’re a content writer, your writing process likely starts with researching and outlining. Then you write the introduction and body of the article before writing the conclusion.
Having a process for writing is crucial for productive work — and this is a fact supported by many accomplished writers. But processes can limit productivity if implemented rigidly.
For example, writers creating content in a new niche may find writing a detailed introduction difficult. This happens because their knowledge of the topic is insufficient.
In this scenario, focus on the body of the article and write the intro and conclusion last. You’d have built a deeper understanding of the article, making it easier to craft the proper introduction.
Ask for help
Sometimes, the simplest way to solve writing overwhelm is to ask for help. If you’re anything like me, asking for help is more complicated than walking on needles. But I’ve learned that banging my head on a challenging piece when I can ask for help never ends well.
Occasionally, I ask for clarifications from clients if I have difficulty interpreting a brief. Often, I realise that my dread around writing an article reduces when I understand what the task requires.
Also, asking for help from experienced writers is another way to get started on your writing project. If they cover similar topics, they can provide sources of information and give you helpful tips to get started.
Stop dividing your focus
We’ve all been in that position — a dozen different tasks are due for submission, and we don’t know where to start; overwhelm sets in, and starting becomes impossible.
The problem is simple: your focus is divided. Because your head is in different places, writing is nearly impossible.
The antidote: focus on one task or stage of the writing process at a time. You’ll improve your productivity and get your writing done.
Reframe your mindset
Like any task, writing requires a specific mindset. Before starting, it would be best if you reframed your beliefs and expectations about writing. By doing that, you can prevent writing overwhelm from ever happening.
Understand that writing is difficult and come to terms with obstacles you face. Repeatedly writing on the same subject makes your work easier, but some tasks will require effort.
Another mindset hack for writers is to manage your expectations. Avoid thinking you’ll create 100% perfect articles in the early stages of your writing practice. Your writing will suck for months, but you’ll get better with consistent practice.
Writing should be fun and interesting, not scary and distressing. With these actionable tips you just read, tackling writing overwhelm should get easier — so you can create content with less stress.
Do you have any insights for dealing with writing overwhelm? Share them in the comments section!