Writer Wednesday: Working with Writing Anxiety
Hello fellow authors and readers. Welcome to another Writer Wednesday. Today we are going to be talking about a topic that hits very close to home for some, including myself. Even during the best of times, writing anxiety is something many of us deal with, and these are not the best of times. Our normal everyday stressors that might trigger anxiety have been exacerbated by the current climate, and with no clear end in sight, we are all struggling to adjust and adapt in varying degrees. For creatives, we face some particularly hellish hurdles in nearly every aspect of publishing. There is no shame to feel that gnawing sense of anxiety creeping in when the pall of uncertainty is so very hard to shake.
So how do you work through it? Can you work through it? Must you work through it or can you give yourself time? These are questions you must ask yourself when writing is your chosen career. And it's also important to recognize anxiety is not the same as being blocked.
Writing Anxiety vs Writer's Block
To clarify, Writer's Block is not the same as writing anxiety. Being creatively blocked is when you find difficulty forming new ideas or pulling together new projects. Having anxiety doesn't mean I stop having new ideas. If anything the influx of new ideas adds to the anxiety, as I find myself overwhelmed and unable to focus. Anxiety comes with a flood of doubt, self loathing, and fear that bogs down even the best of ideas until you sit there frozen at your keyboard, unable to get the words out.
Recognition, Control, & Flexibility
The first step in working with your anxiety is recognizing that you have writing anxiety in the first place and to identify some of your main stressors. Sometimes we come from a place of not wanting to admit we have a personal weakness like writing anxiety, though that can have a snow balling effect when it comes to the balance of mental health, deadlines, and other responsibilities. Simply admitting to ourselves that we aren't blocked, but full of dread when it comes to our writing can help shift perspective. Rather than blaming ourselves and seeing the failure, we see a problem we must work through, and a challenge that can be overcome.
When it comes to stressors, identifying what our stressors are does not mean they can always be removed. But it may be about digging deeper through apparent stressors to see underlying causes. Are you worried about wasting time that could be given to your child or significant other? Or are you overwhelmed by the day and need to take a beat? Can you give yourself a break and come back to a project? Or is it better to carve out a time to write before the inevitable collapse on the couch for the evening? Are you more worried about the wasted time, or is the voice of self doubt talking you out of it?
A big part of anxiety is feeling the loss of control. Whether that is control over your life or control over things well out of your range, that sense of helplessness can dig its claws in deep and sit there like a hovering shade. Gaining back a sense of control looks like different things depending on what aspect of control you are personally seeking.
If you find yourself jittery and unable to focus when you try to write, maybe you need the clarity of exercise, be a walk around the block, a run on the treadmill, or a dozen sit ups. Expelling physical energy can help bring mental focus.
Maybe you have too many ideas clogging your bring and don't know where to begin. Sitting down and creating outlines and focus points to work from can help declutter your thoughts. Maybe you need hyper focus, mapping out an exact scene how you want it. Allow yourself to indulge in that control. You are still creating words and a sense of direction for your story.
Perhaps getting words on the page is where you struggle the hardest. Set super short word goals. Write 50 words and stop. Write pure junk. Write whatever fluff comes into your mind for ten minutes even if it has absolutely nothing to do with your current project. The creation of words is an exercise and sometimes it's the release of that control. Not worrying if the word choice is perfect, or the mood hits right. You may surprise yourself by letting go.
It might feel like I am beating this idea into your brains, but a lot of issues with writing can be solved with a little kindness to ourselves and a huge heap of flexibility. Setting goals is great, but sometimes we need to shift and wiggle those goals to fit around the general chaos of our lives. And compiling goals and deadlines with writing anxiety can be a painful mix.
Beyond recognition and control we need to recognize that even knowing ourselves, we are still human. We still mess up. We still experience anxiety, and even if we manage to work through it this time, that doesn't mean we are fixed or cured. Writing anxiety doesn't vanish overnight just because you managed to push through it for a particular assignment or deadline. It is something you continuously work through until you find a way to manage it in a way that best suits you. And part of that is being flexible with ourselves and our goals. Whether it's telling ourselves that 50 words is okay for the day or shifting a deadline while we try to rebalance our lives, remember to be kind to yourselves. You have not failed in your task; you are managing to work towards eventual success.