This blog was featured on 03/19/2020
Tips for Writing in Anxious Times
Written by
Aine Greaney
March 2020
Written by
Aine Greaney
March 2020

There’s a 2020 season that I now think of as “our normal times.” This season was only two or three weeks ago, but even back then and there, in NormalLand, there were certain days when I let my job or my deadlines or my mood deflect me from writing.

Now we have a global Coronavirus pandemic. Now, thinking or speaking about anything else except COVID-19 seems frivolous or selfish. I mean, why should any of us bother to create anything good when our inner and outer worlds have gone so bad?

Mind Tricks That Prevent Wellness

Under the guise of being “a realist,” or a “pragmatist,” many of us suspend our writing or knitting or painting or jogging or meditating. We take a grim, utilitarian pride in this — all the while knowing that we are willfully abandoning the very thing that, during past crises, has helped us and, in turn, helped us to help others.

Here’s what I know: Since I was 14 years old, writing and reading have calmed and sustained me.

Here’s what I also know: When faced with our own denial or despair, we need to document the hard evidence, the proof that we have survived past challenges and that we have what it takes to survive others.

So during these past few weeks, when my neurons snapped and sizzled with fury or fear (and no, it wasn’t all COVID-19), I made myself recall and write about times when I faced down adversity. Then, I read what I had just written and said, See? There I was walking through those doors, even while my heart was racing. There's me putting one foot past the other to keep on keeping on.  

Re-Defining the Writing Process

In times of past crises or loss, I had to abandon the notion of the “clever” or “successful” or “productive” writer to do my own thing. I had to exploit writing for all its sweet beauty, for its ability to give me some sense of peace or control.

So in these troubled times, let yourself write what makes sense for you. Let yourself write what will bring you comfort. Let yourself write or do or create whatever it is that will make you feel better—and be a better person to those who need you.

7 Tips for Writing During Anxious Times

1. Use a Miniature Notebook

Fifteen years ago, following some bereavements, I put a tiny, 3" x 2" spiral notebook by my computer monitor. I filled one of those tiny pages every day. The writing was terse and strange, and I wouldn’t even attempt to classify it by genre. I didn’t need to. All I needed to know was that each tiny page would bring a few moments of joy and a sense of control over the losses and events that had happened. Job done.

2. List 8 Things

A poet friend gave me this tip: Open up a clean page or a blank screen and list the numbers one through eight (1–8) along the left-hand side. Then, write eight random things. It doesn’t matter what you write. You just have to get to eight things. Not five and not 10. Eight.

3. Switch Up the Medium

If you usually hand-write your first drafts, remember that there are many online journals out there. I recommend Penzu. Other medium-switching ideas: Write short, small pieces on your phone. Or get yourself a pen and some post-it notes or white cocktail napkins.

4. Edit

Now might be the time to find and edit those old drafts sitting in your computer. Or go through your online photo albums to pick out some accompanying photos for those pieces. Writing? Who said anything about writing? You’re just sprucing things up, dotting a few i’s and crossing a few t’s.

5. Don’t Write, Walk.

There are few things that a walk outside cannot make better. Wordsworth did it. So did Thoreau. And Mary Oliver. I love this interview with Oliver where she speaks about being out in nature and “listening to the world.”

6. Journaling for Wellness and Resilience

Journaling is a research-proven route to physical and mental wellness. Your daily journal entry doesn’t have to be a neat narrative. It can just be some lists. Or doodles. Or curse words. These days, there’s plenty to curse about. So get cursing. And writing.

7. Resurrect and Read Your “Blankie” Poems (or Stories or Essays or Songs)

In this published essay from 2016, I list a few of the poems that, for years and years, have been my emotional “blankies.” Find yours. Read them again. Learn them by heart. Oh, and don’t be like those fear-based toilet paper hoarders in the supermarket. Share your comfort literature with the rest of us. Sharing is about courage, not fear.

Speaking of fear, sometimes, the most courageous thing we can do is to force ourselves to look away from the crisis-not binge watch it on TV replay. So skip one of this week’s televised government briefings. Use that time for a few minutes of comfort, joy and writing.


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  • Rose CG Writing

    This morning my mind had wandered into one of those places where all the doors appeared locked. Thank you for helping find a window to open for a breath of fresh air. Yes, it is time to revisit our cherished places of happy memories and move on to more positive writing for the future. By no means, I am making the current issues of the state of the world unimportant, but if we are to survive, we need to think positively.
    Stay safe, Rose

  • SJ Lee Brainstorming

    Thank you for this poignant reminder. There are many reasons, I'm sure, for my lack of using the invaluable coping tools available to me (after all writing was one of my very early "puppy loves"). I've been on a very healing and necessary recovery journey. I've received this same advice before during my own personal crises. It is highly time I gain the wisdom to apply the advice given. Thank you, again.