Anxiety makes us undisciplined writers. Learn some anxiety management tools, perhaps a deep breathing technique or a relaxation technique to help you stay put. Anxiety is part of the process—learn how to manage it!
What ways have you discovered to manage your writer’s anxiety? What form does your anxiety take? Perhaps you are unaware that you even have writing anxiety because it can often masquerade as something else entirely. Fears and doubts related to writing anxiety take many forms. While each may have their own remedy or mediation method, simply recognizing the source can lessen the frequency and severity of these anxious moments.
What are the different forms of writing anxiety?
Procrastination, writer’s block, obsessing over perfection, becoming nervous at the thought of sitting down to write, the infernal “I am not good enough, smart enough, talented enough,” etc. The list goes on. Every one of these things comes from the paralyzing anxiety around putting words on the page. Your mind is at war with itself. On the one hand, you want to write. On the other, you are filled with fears about writing.
What is the basis for these fears and apprehensions?
Most often, they are rooted in the expectations we set for ourselves. Generally, we want ourselves to be amazing writers the moment we set out to write. When we introduce a huge helping of reality into that and know that a couple—or a dozen, or more—drafts are in our future, then the anxiety of the editing process sets in. Sometimes, the pressure of having already written a successful manuscript weighs on us—and now the second project must be even better.
The way to counteract the fears is to find tools that will help you see past your own self-consciousness.
My anxiety tool is relatively straightforward. All I do is count. If I find my mind racing with the fear of incompetence or not completing my task, I force myself to stop thinking about my anxiety and focus on the numbers. Usually, one through ten go fairly quickly. Then my breathing slows. The numbers become pictures in my mind as if I was drawing them on a piece of paper. Sometimes if my anxiety is severe, I can count into the hundreds. The point is to clear your mind of the words that are nagging you, telling you, you are not good enough.
Interestingly, I learned this trick in an Anatomy and Physiology class in high school. We were learning about how hiccups are merely twitches in the diaphragm and go away if your mind focuses on something else, almost as if you forget that you are hiccupping. So every time I hiccupped, I found that if I concentrated hard enough on counting the hiccups would go away.
As my anxiety grew worse the closer I came to graduation, I somehow managed to see my anxiety as a hiccup. When I would feel my chest tighten as I sat to write a paper, prepare a presentation, or apply for graduate school, I started to count. My body would relax. My mind would clear, allowing the positive thoughts to burst through the negative ones.
I understand that not everyone will be able to use this technique. It just won’t feel right or have the same effect on some of you. But it is important to find the method or methods that pull you out of your own mind. Maybe it is meditating, stepping away for a few moments, taking a walk, breathing some fresh air, or anything else that brings you mental peace.
Taking a specific action on your project can also be a good way to reduce anxiety. If the project requires it, do some research. Become better acquainted with the topic at hand so that when you begin to write, you will know that you have the information to be successful. Once you have a starting point, make an outline (if you are a planner) or start on that first draft (if you are a pantser). If you are working on a novel, create a character sketch or a timeline for your story. Sketch out the neighborhood or other setting where your story occurs.
Just take action, whatever it is.
Most importantly, recognize that anxiety is a natural and inevitable part of the writing process. You are not alone in this feeling or experience. It will pass. Every stage in the writing process has its own unique set of anxieties, but when you are mentally prepared to face them and you take an action to overcome them, they are nothing more than hiccups.
With permission from Dr. Eric Maisel, The 97 Best Creativity Tips Ever!(2011) was the inspiration for this post.
Bonnie Snow served as our intern at Around the Writer’s Table during her senior year at Florida State University, as a Literature major. She was working toward a graduate certificate in publishing and editing and applying for the FSU graduate program in communications.
Gina Hogan Edwards is an Editor and Creativity Coach, and is the founder of Around the Writer’s Table. She supports aspiring and experienced authors who want a writing life on their own terms, whether their words are put on the page for self-fulfillment or to share with readers.