I Want to be a Writer But Can’t Finish Anything

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Reader’s Question

I can’t finish anything.

I am a writer and a university student. I have dozens of pieces and essays that are not finished. I will get three quarters of the way through and suddenly I will freeze. It almost feels like I am physically restrained from finishing. It’s crippling.

I am a single mother, currently living with my mother who has borderline personality disorder. I lost my job, my home, everything material that I owned. I also lost my brother in a car accident just over a year ago. So I can understand that anxiety probably plays a role, but it is something I have been dealing with to a slightly lesser degree my whole life.

I currently have a strong drive to succeed in my chosen career path, but I need to address this problem or I will end up going nowhere.

Psychologist’s Reply

You have a lot on your plate: a child, a challenging relationship with your mother, and the loss of your brother and your home. Add to that being a student and a writer, and it makes sense that you are feeling overwhelmed. It sounds like perfectionism and anxiety have been struggles for you your whole life. Sometimes the strong desire to succeed actually raises our anxiety levels because the stakes feel so high — it can be safer to walk away from a task when the anxiety gets too high.

Two things come to mind, both related to lowering your stress levels.

First, lowering your overall stress level will give you more reserves when faced with the stress of completing your writing tasks. Making shifts in lifestyle factors — such as getting enough sleep, exercise, meditation/yoga — may help lower your stress level overall. Most universities have student counseling centers on campus that offer free or very low-cost services to students. It may be useful to learn more about individual or group therapy services, and to see if they have any seminars or workshops related to conquering procrastination or writer’s block. (There are many great books out there on these subjects as well!)

It may also be helpful to work on your anxiety specifically during your writing sessions. Scheduling your writing sessions during your most optimal time of day and in the most favorable location can be helpful. Take the pressure off yourself, and rather than setting a goal of “completing this piece” (which can feel very overwhelming!), set one based on time. Set a timer for a short block of time — 5 minutes to start — and commit to writing (really writing) during that time. Do the five minutes, and you can give yourself permission to be done for the day. Five minutes may not sound like a lot, but you will likely accomplish more in that five minutes than during an hour of procrastination. After doing this several times, you will likely find that you can tolerate much more than five minutes, and writing will start to feel less overwhelming. I know from experience — this method is what got me through completing my doctoral dissertation and many writing projects since!

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