Writing

The Writer’s Guide to Staying Sane in a Dystopian Future

Like a lot of other writers out there, I’ve been having a hard time focusing on my work since November 9th. And once January 20th rolled around, anxiety brought my creativity to a screeching halt. Our Twitter feeds are full of panic and despair, rumors that seem convincingly true, and truths that seem too crazy to believe. In short, we’re living in a dystopian future that had previously been relegated to the pages of 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale.

So as we spend the majority of our days staring glassy-eyed at our computer screens, scrolling through the news while making endless calls to our government officials, our writing has suddenly taken a backseat to our activism and anxiety. We know we have to pay attention, to be vigilant and aware and involved. As my 17 Scribes colleague, Mary Ann Marlowe tweeted the other day, “Feels like such a huge point in US history. Hard to turn away.”

Writing Through Anxiety

Don't Press the Panic ButtonBut it’s also important for us to turn away from time to time and focus on our writing. Now, more than ever, the world needs our stories. As writers, we educate and inform; we encourage critical thinking; we tap into readers’ emotions, promoting empathy and understanding; and, perhaps most importantly, we provide a much-needed distraction. Think about it: if we never took periodic breaks from the endless cycle of devastating news, we’d probably all lose our minds.

The question remains: how can I turn away? How can I focus on my writing for long enough to lose myself in my stories the way I used to? I don’t have a perfect solution, and I certainly can’t tell you how to feel better about everything that’s happening right now, but I can tell you what’s been working for me lately. Here’s how I’ve been able to temporarily banish my fear and anxiety.

Meditation

Meditation isn’t some flaky, fringe movement. It’s firmly planted in the mainstream, and with the help of some innovative apps, more people seem to meditating than ever before. And with good reason: recent studies have shown that meditation actually changes the way your brain functions, by reducing anxiety and increasing the ability to concentrate.

As a single-person sample size, I can attest to this fact: meditating on a daily basis, just for 10 minutes, has helped me get my anxiety under control. I sleep deeper, I focus harder, and I’m much better at keeping distractions at bay. My favorite method of meditating is by using the Daily Calm feature on the Calm app.

Exercise

Look, I hate working out as much as the next writer. My preferred physical activities are sitting, slouching, and scribbling. But I’ve found that regular exercise helps to alleviate my anxiety. Meditation works to calm my brain, and exercise works to calm my body. And when both my mind and body are calm, I find I’m less likely to ruminate on the latest terrifying breaking news alert.

All those endorphins are probably helping me fight off stress, but it’s also nice to have a physical outlet for all my anger and fear. Lately, I’ve been doing kung fu at a local martial arts school, and I can’t tell you how good it feels to throw punches and kicks for a half-hour.

I can hear the protestations from across the world wide web: I don’t have time. I don’t have a gym membership. I hate to work out! But even 20 minutes a day is better than nothing. When I’m home, I always turn to YouTube for free, short half-hour workouts that I can do from the comfort of my office. Bodyfit by Amy is my favorite instructor out there.

Reading for Pleasure

There’s no better way to get inspired than to read work from other writers you admire. Their writing challenges you to be better, ignites the sparks of story ideas, and reminds you precisely how powerful the written word can be. Not to mention, they provide a great momentary escape.

While 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale are eternal classics and important to read (probably now more than ever), sometimes you might want to read something a little… lighter. And it’s okay to want to take your mind off of serious stuff for a little while. In fact, it’s good for you. What I’m reading now for a fun escape? Two books from my fellow 17 Scribes, Some Kind of Magic, and I Liked My Life.

So there you have it. My unofficial guide to staying sane, healthy, and productive while we’re living in this dystopian novel.

What about you? Are there any tips and tricks you can share with other writers? How do you stay focused on your stories when it seems like the world around you is falling apart?

2 thoughts on “The Writer’s Guide to Staying Sane in a Dystopian Future

  1. These are three great suggestions–thanks. I also find if I limit the scroll-and-comment run through my feed to the middle of my day, I’m less likely to lose the whole day to worry. I don’t peek until I’ve done something that establishes the normal, functional, competent me (like 1800 new words, just for example), and I avoid the news feed for the couple hours before bed, or even for the whole rest of the day after the mid-day news cruise.

    I take whole days off from social, which gets easier the more you do it. That it’s difficult at all is an indication that it’s necessary.

    I also journal. I get it all out, the profanity, the worries, the how it feels to be me at this time, and I finish every journal entry with…

    Five sincere gratitudes, however small. Some days, I’m grateful for toilet paper (that’s sincere), other days I can do a little better. It all helps.

    1. Yes — taking time off of social media is so important! It’s so easy to get sucked into the comments section and lose hours to arguments that go nowhere. Thanks so much for your comment, Grace!

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