A Simple Way To Cut Down On Stress While You Write

On overcoming writerly overwhelm.

Often when you are writing, several goals are throbbing in your mind simultaneously. You want your book to be clever; you want it to be well-received. It would be nice if it was one of those magical books that shoots up into best-seller status all on its own. You may be thinking about pacing, and plausibility, and character development all at once.

With so many different goals pressing in on you, it can be difficult to write anything at all.

Take a moment. Think of the story you are working on right now. Think of the top three things you want it to be. Now choose one of those things, and make that your only goal while writing.

You can accomplish that one thing.

Focusing on Everything (Bad Writing):

Horva shattered the bottle by slamming it against the window frame; pieces of translucent purple glass flung against her face, and over her clothes. A pinprick of blood appeared at her chin; she took the broken neck of the bottle, and pushed its jagged teeth against the magic mirror.

A blood-curdling shriek shivered up from the glass. Three pearly drops of spirit blood oozed up from the places where the razor edges of the bottle neck pressed against the surface of the mirror.

“Where’s my brother?” Horva asked. The mirror whined, and quivered. “Tell me!” she shouted, and raised the bottle neck high above her head.

The whining ceased; an image rose up on the mirror’s surface. Horva lowered the broken bottle, and leaned closer.

Focusing on One Thing (Good Writing):

Horva glared at the mirror. She studied the flash of sunlight that caught in the silver whorls around the frame.

My brother said he cut the mirror, she thought. How do you cut a mirror?

“I want you to talk to me,” Horva said. Her voice was calm, but her heartbeat thumped in the veins of her neck. The mirror remained as still and ordinary as any inanimate thing. Horva’s eyes went around the room.

I can’t break it, I can’t smash it, or he won’t come back through, she thought. Her eyes came to rest on a dusty desk. A purple bottle, made of thick glass, and a pair of tin scissors caught her eye. Horva picked up the scissors, and strode to the benign surface of the mirror.

“If you don’t tell me where my brother has gone, I will cut you,” Horva said. The mirror said nothing, did nothing. I have the wrong mirror. A cresting sheen of disdain rolled over her breastbone. She thought of Valor’s face, and of the way he had looked when he had ridden away last. His letter had promised he would return. This mirror knew exactly where he was. It’s the wrong mirror, she thought again.

Horva opened the scissors, and stepped closer to the mirror. The mirror shivered, and then began, in a whispery voice, to laugh.

“Can’t hurt me, can’t cut me with tin,” the mirror taunted softly.

Horva’s breath caught in her throat; her heart began to slip into a high, tight beat. She hesitated, the scissors upheld in her hand, and then turned back towards the heavy desk. She dropped the tin scissors on the dusty surface, and snatched up the neck of the heavy purple bottle. The glass was thick and translucent, and the dust was sticky on the purple surface.

The mirror went very silent when she grasped the bottle; Horva thought that the mirror was afraid of her breaking the bottle against its surface. She went to the window, and smashed the bottle against the corner of the sill.

Purple glass sprayed away from the impact; a dot of blood appeared on Horva’s chin. She ignored the prick of pain, and carried the jagged neck of the heavy bottle towards the magic mirror.

“Where’s my brother?” Horva asked. The mirror was still. Horva pressed the razor-sharp edges of the broken glass against the surface of the mirror, and a sharp, keening wail emanated from the magical object. Drops of shimmering, opalescent blood welled up beneath the points of the glass, and dripped thickly down the surface of the mirror. “Tell me,” Horva said.

“Stop cutting me,” the mirror hissed, in a voice like poisonous acid, “and I’ll show you.”

Horva stepped back, the bottle neck dropping to her side, and the bloody surface of the mirror clouded over, and then began to resolve into a shadowy image.

Limiting your focus, your intent, and your purpose while writing will give you more scope, more material, and a more relaxed process.