Every writer I know experiences moments of anxiety about their writing. They’re sure it’s terrible. They’re horrified at the idea of anyone else seeing it. They know they’re a failure and no agent/publisher/reader will ever want to read this story. Sometimes people call this the Imposter Syndrome. We conclude we’re faking our roles as writers and someone is soon going to find out. If the anxiety becomes strong enough, it turns into writer’s block, and the person can’t write at all.
Like everyone else, I’ve been there, and it’s a truly unpleasant experience. I finally concluded that because every writer experiences it at some point, part of continuing to be a working writer is learning to manage writer anxiety.
Here are some things that have helped me do that.
Make Writing Routine
I make writing as routine as I can. I write at the same time in the same place on the same days. For me, it’s the café at Barnes and Noble, every weekday, at 1:00. I’m out of my house, so I can find fewer excuses to do something else, and when I walk in the door, I’m like Pavlov’s dogs. My writer brain knows what we’re there for and settles down to do it.
That’s despite my often being resistant before heading out to write. I’m mildly anxious and don’t want to go. But once I’m there, my anxiety vanishes. It’s like I’ve fenced it off for another time and place. Writing has become a habit, not a silly choice I’m fool enough to make.
Write Something Different
For me, anxiety is strongest when I’m working on a novel. A novel is such a long haul that there’s plenty of time to get anxious. And of course, a first draft is always terrible. There are so many things that have to go right, that I can’t control all of them on my first run through.
So sometimes I find it useful to take a break and write something else, a short story maybe or even a fanfic. The change seems to loosen me and show me I can write after all. Then I go back to the novel, feeling better for the break.
Keep Track of How I Feel
I’ve talked elsewhere about keeping a notebook for every writing project and starting each session by recording my goals for that session and how I’m feeling about the project. Then when I’m down, I can look back and see I always feel that way even when I wind up happy about how the book turns out.
Learn to Value Some Anxiety
Over the years, I’ve gradually come to see that while strong anxiety can be crippling, doubt about what I’ve written can be useful. I’ve learned to pay attention to my doubts. If a scene feels weak, it probably is weak. That kind of doubt results from knowledge of my craft speaking to my unconscious. It’s unpleasant, but helpful. If I thought everything was peachy, I could never make it better.
Repeat My Comfort Phrase
If all else fails, I tell myself, “No one will ever see this unless I let them.” That helps me concentrate on the writing, rather than on other people’s judgment of it, which in the long run, is the most likely source of writer anxiety.
How About You?
What are the things that have helped you manage your writer anxiety? If you share in the comments, you may be able to help others.