Writing Under Pressure

Sometimes, you have to write to impress.

Writing is a stressful job. Even a stressful hobby. Everyone you offer to write for wants something different. Sometimes they don’t even know what they want upfront. Deadlines often catch people off guard – they think they have more time than they actually do, and their work suffers because of it.

Deadlines aren’t the only situations you will, or should, feel pressured to write well. It’s too easy to get too comfortable – you get lazy, and you don’t even realize it until it completely knocks you over. So when it comes time to actually perform to the best of your ability, it seems all that much harder – and becomes a thousand times more stressful – to exceed your own expectations.

Sometimes, you have to write to impress – and I mean REALLY impress. I still have nightmares about obsessively revising college scholarship essays my senior year of high school (shudder) because, at that point, writing well because my future loan-paying self depended on it was completely new and terrifying.

This has happened again and again – writing for good grades; writing to win over an editor; eventually, writing so someone would pay me to write on a semi-regular basis. Deadlines don’t even faze me anymore – it’s the pressure to be better than I’ve ever been that often trips me up.

Why don’t we do this all the time – write our absolute best work, so it becomes less of a headache every time we sit down to complete an assignment? Because it’s exhausting. Because comfort and constant positive feedback and often a lack of new challenges make it too easy to relax … we figure, well, I’ve proven I can do great. Now I don’t have to try as hard.

Nope – that’s how you get stuck in a rut. We’ve ALL been there, and it’s not a fun place to be.

This is so, so dangerous, and so damaging to our “reputations.” Online, people aren’t always going to stumble upon our best work if anything other than our best work gets put out there. They’ll find that one blog post you wrote a year ago that was an absolute train wreck. It doesn’t look good. This stops many writers from trying … because this scares them. They don’t know what their “best” even looks like.

What I’ve found works for me is to always go over the top – always do more than you think is necessary, especially when you know someone is watching. Do extra research. Ask more questions than you usually do, even if it’s just for clarification. Do that thing where you read through your drafts backwards, sentence by sentence. Put all your effort into one thing, and then another, and then another.

It doesn’t seem worth it – e.g., if you’re just writing a blog post you know only like two and a half people are going to read. What’s the point in trying to write the best thing ever if no one’s going to see it?

The rule when writing online is, you never know. Sometimes I write things, publish them, forget I’ve done that, and when someone I don’t know mentions it on Twitter, I’m just like, “Right, OK, that happened. Someone saw that. Cool.”

The more you write under pressure, the less scary it seems. This is why you always need a just-for-you side writing project – so you’re not constantly writing under stress, which can really hurt your brain and your ability to stay creatively energized. It’s also a great way to practice going all in – taking those risks you’re afraid to take where you know everyone can see them. Some of the best stories I’ve written, no one has ever seen – because I challenged myself to “go there,” and it worked out better than I expected.

Challenges. Overcoming obstacles. Putting more energy into something than you think you have. This is how writers grow. This is how you “make it.” Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But eventually. Eventually, hard work pays off. Good things start happening. Stress is awful in the moment, but once you see how much it’s worth, you won’t mind quite so much.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a freelance writer and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner with work published in Teen Ink, Success Story, Lifehack and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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