Writing and Mental Hyperventilation

I finished a large writing project recently. This puppy has taken me years to get through. Lots of rewrites. Lots of frustration. Self doubt. Yada yada.  It was done, I felt good about it. I shipped it.

Then I got right back in the saddle and started cleaning up my notes for large writing project #2.

You know what happened? Vertigo. All over again. This idea sucks. My writing is horrible. This sentence looks like it was scrawled in the dirt by a drunk wombat. Mental dizziness. Lack of focus. Fear of failing. All wrapped into one gut-busting, eye-bulging panic attack.

Just breathe normally.  Photo Courtesy of Brenna Richardson © 2013

Just breathe normally.
Photo Courtesy of Brenna Richardson © 2013

Perhaps these feelings of nausea and self-destruction dissipate over time. I have no idea. I’ve been writing professionally for several years now and thought I would have them licked by now. But no.

Maybe skydivers get over their fear of falling. Maybe they don’t, and that’s what makes it fun. Perhaps severe anxiety related to the success of your next writing gig is just part of the deal.

Either way, for me, and lots of other writers, mental hyperventilation exists and we have to find a way of dealing with it.

Here are some strategies I have found effective:


1. Have a Deadline

When I am writing a script for a producer or copy for a marketing client, I don’t worry nearly as much about my writing. That may sound counter-intuitive or like I don’t care about the results, but here’s what I mean: when I’m writing toward a deadline I have to prune away distractions to get my train to the station on time. One of those distractions is self-doubt. Also, knowing that someone will be reading what I write, in a weird way, pre-validates what I’m doing.

This deadline doesn’t have to be for anyone big either. Join a writing group. Set deadlines. Meet them. It’s that simple.


2. A Little R&R

Reading and Remonstration. If I have the space in my writing life, and I’ve legitimately finished something huge, I’ll take a little time off. Catch up on my endless pile of unread books. Get involved in some stuff that’s completely unwriting related. Recharge the batteries a bit.

I make sure to set a kitchen timer to get back to work after a reasonable amount of time has passed. Think of it as the inverse of a deadline. I won’t work on this writing project for the next two weeks, until April 15th, the Mayan Popocornapocalypse, or whatever suits my fancy. But I always come back.


3. Write Something Else

No more big project for a while.  Work on your blog some. Some poetry. A standup routine. Something you have nothing invested in at the moment. Try to have fun writing again.


4. Hopscotch

Pick a different part of the project that’s stuck in your craw. Sometimes massaging out the knots in a different chapter/act/movement can get the blood flowing in the trouble section too.


5. Research Instead

I love to research. It’s one of my favorite parts of writing. Sometimes I’ll take a little break from the project and go learn something. This can inspire you to move forward, and help you remember why you’re working on this thing in the first place.


6. Throw the Cow to the Ground

Ever been to a rodeo? There is this roping event where a cowboy to ropes a calf, gets off of his horse, runs the thing down, slams that sucker to the dirt, and ties him up.

Example.   Better Example

Writing can be like that sometimes. You just have to summon your manliness, wade in, and show that Word document who’s boss. Sometimes the best thing isn’t to daisy skip around the problem, but to deal with it. Aggressively. Why does this passage/project/issue bother you so much? Figure it out and deal with it.


Thoughts? Other strategies? Let me know in the comments. Happy Trails.


Joshua Rigsby is a writer, tea-drinker, and planet 9 enthusiast based in Southern California.


  1. Texas

    Love it!!! Great article. We relate.

  2. Joshua Rigsby (Post author)



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