1. Set a very small goal. Smaller and seemingly “easier” than you would normally shoot for. Allowing yourself the chance to earn a sense of accomplishment can make an otherwise rough day feel worthwhile.
2. Before you write: Sit in silence. Not for long. Just long enough to give yourself time and space to think about what you’re going to do once you start working, maybe even what you’re going to do after you’ve hit your goal for the day.
3. Take a lot of breaks. At least twice the amount of breaks you normally take. If you’re running low on energy, you might need to stop to recharge more often than you’re used to. That’s OK. You can still write, just in smaller segments.
4. If your normal “medium” for writing isn’t working, switch it up. Sometimes I’m too distracted by social media when anxious, so I switch to writing on my laptop, which isn’t connected to Wi-Fi (no internet).
5. Write about what’s on your mind. There’s a time and a place for avoiding the root of your anxiety so you can function, but writing through your thought spirals — such as writing in a journal — can create a completely different sense of calm.
6. Before you write: Do something small that makes you feel good, even if you don’t “feel” like it. Listen to your favorite song. Take your dog for a walk. Text a friend. Clean something.
7. As you write: Take as much time as you need. Slow going is better than not going at all. If you find yourself getting distracted easily, stop and do some silence-sitting again to refocus your energy.
8. Don’t worry about the items that are left unchecked on your to-do list at the end of the day. And try to add fewer things to that list while you’re recovering — it will help.
9. Be honest. Ask for help or extra time if you need it, and communicate. The longer we refrain from using “rough mental health days” the way we use traditional sick days, the longer the stigma will stand. If you’re down, you’re down. You don’t have to ‘power through’ it.
10. Don’t beat yourself up or “punish” yourself for not being able to write as much as you want to. You can’t expect to perform your best when you’re not mentally or physically at your best. It’s OK.
11. After you write: Reward yourself with something that relaxes you. Even if you’re just rewarding yourself for trying. Your mind and body need rest even if you don’t think you “deserve” it.
12. Celebrate even your smallest accomplishments, writing and otherwise. It’s important to feel present and to adjust your expectations for yourself. You’re doing OK. And that’s enough.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.