Behind “The Process”: Writer’s Anxiety (Pros & Cons)

Photo: Andrew Neel (Unsplash)

Hello persons of quality!

There are many joys and agonies associated with the writing process. When an idea hits and words flow out of you, there’s few things one can do (by themselves, anyway) that feels better. When you actually finish a story…WOOOOO!!!!!

Photo: Andrea Piacquadio (Pexels.com)

On the flip side, sometimes you aren’t feeling what you’re writing. Maybe you reread something and decide you have to cut a big chunk. (Been there. It sucks.) Sometimes you write and, thinking a few moves ahead, you can’t figure out where the story is going. I finished Switchers awhile ago–still working on trying to get published–an now I’m on a new project. I’m still early enough in it that I have absolutely NO IDEA where it’s going to go. After spending many hours working on a project and finally completing it, starting from the beginning again is…kinda scary.

Writing isn't always easy. Writer's anxiety is real, but it doesn't have to be a burden.
Photo: Andrea Piacquadio (Pexels.com)

I mean, I got used to working with a mostly done project after so long that now, I feel like I’m learning how to write a book all over again. The only difference is, having written enough stories, and now a novel, I’m not worried about whether or not I’ll be able to simply finish this, but whether or not it’ll be any good.

Is Writer’s Anxiety Bad?

Writer’s anxiety, like any anxiety, is bad when it gets left unchecked and builds up. Anxiety, according to the Mayo Clinic, can present itself through these symptoms:

  • Feeling nervous, restless or tense
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
  • Having an increased heart rate
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
  • Sweating
  • Trembling
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
  • Having difficulty controlling worry
  • Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety

For me, “the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety” is my go to. Always has been. I love to write, but the anxiety actually makes me want to not write. However, not writing doesn’t stop the anxiety! The urge for creative outlet persists, like a the need to eat.

So not writing–not an option.

At this point, writer’s anxiety sounds like a pain in the ass. At best! Most would probably say, Writer’s anxiety is bad then, right?

Not necessarily.

How Could Anxiety Be Good for A Writer?

Photo: Ayo Ogunseinde (Unsplash)

Yeah, yeah. You’re not sure how anxiety can be good, right?

“When left untreated, both stress and anxiety can lead to persistent misery,” according to an article from The American Institute of Stress. “However, when properly managed…it could help us become more productive.” Balance is key. Anxiety can be a tool.

Writers always talk about their danged toolboxes

One tool is your vocabulary, another is your command of grammar, another is your knowledge of plot devices, another is knowing how to vary your sentence structures, and proper use of dialogue tags, and so on, and so forth. Properly managed anxiety–emphasis on properly managed–is a tool that keeps you focused and draws your attention to things you might’ve missed on the surface. If you listen to your anxiety, it can help you.

This story doesn’t feel right. Go back to the interrogation scene and have the MC get trapped, then rescued, instead of a clean get away.

But that was 10 pages ago…

I had a similar situation where my gut was telling me something wasn’t right. I kept thinking about a scene that tilted the story in a way I didn’t like. I thought I could write my way out of it. Long story short, instead of cutting 10 pages, I wrote another 80, then cut about 90.

Devastating. But I didn’t listen to my anxiety/intuition/whatever. It’s rare that I question myself on something I wrote days ago, so when my mind won’t leave it alone, it’s probably for a reason.

In terms of where I’m at currently, the sentence from that American Institute of Stress article that really grabbed me as a writer was this one: “…stress usually occurs when we push ourselves or we are forced into situations that stretch our abilities beyond the familiar limit.”

I’m working on a new book right now. I’ve had the idea for awhile, but I was working on something else. But, ya know, lately when I sit down to write, I’ve get these semi-constipated bursts of 500 words or so. I might get a couple pages, but it feels hard. I know it’s because I’m early in the story and don’t know, ultimately, what’s going to happen. I’ve embraced (and promote) a write-by-the-seat-of-your-pants model, which means embracing the anxiety that comes with it. But it’s still a test sometimes, because you always want to try something different–to grow. And as we push ourselves to stretch our abilities and raise the bar, we encounter anxiety:

What if it isn’t good enough? What if it’s a piece of sh*t and I end up wasting a year (or more!) on this stupid thing? Why am I putting myself through this?!?!

When your mind starts going, I can either keep writing when it feels hard, or…give up writing and ditch that anxiety. Which will you choose? Hmm…

Keep Writing!

Listen, if you feel an urge to write, not writing will cause you anxiety too. If you’re wondering how to battle through it, I suggest writing by hand, journal style (see Why Everyone Should Write by Hand), whenever your fiction–for whatever reason–drives you to a panic. Seriously–read the other post if you don’t believe me.

There are ways to write through your anxiety. Sometimes you just have to get a few paragraphs on your WIP, and before you know it, you’re in the driver’s seat and the machine it humming along. If that doesn’t do it, maybe try organizing your thoughts in a journal. Writing your problems out has a way of diffusing some of the stress that accompanies the thoughts. You might try mindfulness exercises, yoga, meditation, or some other kind of physical exercise before you sit down to start in on your story.

Do NOT let your anxiety go unchecked. It can lead to any number of conditions and outcomes, including, according to The Mayo Clinic, these:

  • Depression (which often occurs with an anxiety disorder) or other mental health disorders
  • Substance misuse
  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Digestive or bowel problems
  • Headaches and chronic pain
  • Social isolation
  • Problems functioning at school or work
  • Poor quality of life
  • Suicide

So if your anxiety goes beyond your writing and you can’t get a handle on it, pleeeeeease talk to a health professional. My friends at Threads Podcast: Life Unfiltered have a great blog, written by an incredibly talented guy, with posts on things like mindfulness and suffering silently with mental illness. They’re sponsored by BetterHelp, a teletherapy company. If you want to try talk and text therapy on your phone, use Threads’ promo code to get 10% off the first month. (NOTE: They aren’t my sponsor; I get nothing if you click on it. Just trying to help!)

Alright, I gotta go play with my kids now or they’re gonna break something…

-CT

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Christopher Tallon writes, podcasts, and…wait a second. Are you actually reading this? High five!

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