anxiety (aNGˈzīədē) noun: desire to do something, typically accompanied by unease
synonyms: worry, concern, apprehension, unease, fear, disquiet, agitation, angst, misgiving, nervousness, tension; informal butterflies, the jitters, twitchiness
Is there a writer who can read this list without recognizing at least one symptom of writing anxiety? Probably not. That doesn’t mean anxiety is a necessary part of the process. Recognizing it as a stress response is the first step to help prevent self-induced writing anxiety. Below are a few tricks to try that might ease the roller coaster of emotions that comes with writing. Give them a shot, and let us know what works for you.
A great way to identify patterns in your behavior is to chart them. Try keeping a journal of your best and worst days, what you were feeling and when, and then look back on it when you get stuck in future projects. Understand how your process works and that you get tired or distracted by new ideas at regular intervals. Seeing it from a distance, especially on a book you’ve already finished, can help gain perspective on what feels like an uphill battle while you’re in the midst of creating.
2. Outline the Ups and Downs
Pin a chart on your wall as each novel progresses. Colored dots for different books might be fun. On that chart, note down 10K, 20K, whatever markers you might use to track your progress, and note there when you feel high and low. I wager you’ll see a pattern straightaway. Highs at the start, when the story is new and words flow easy. A bit of a dip when you run out of things to say or have to rework your plot. That feeling of not being good enough at 30K, of it’s never going to end at 40K, and then a rise again when you’re near the end. There are probably dots for being excited about other stories, maybe ones for crying jags. But seeing it on the wall, recognizing that what you’re going through is “normal,” might make all the difference in how you perceive and deal with your own stress.
3. Take care of yourself
Science has proven that anxiety can be improved by healthy habits. Good nutrition and regular sleep not only better your body’s responses, but being well fed and well rested allows you to handle what comes along with greater ease. Think about a cranky exhausted toddler for a minute, how nothing you do to soothe them has any effect. Don’t let that toddler be you. Take care how you treat your body and it will run more efficiently. (An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.)
*Side note: alcohol, sugar, and caffeine are often touted as necessary (or fun) writer tools. It’s worth a moment of consideration to decide whether that’s actually true for your, or if, in the long run, these crutches are slowing you down. Routines are a wonderful tool to get you in that writing mindset, but consider building a healthy, sustainable habit set instead.
Another great way to alleviate anxiety is to exercise. I don’t mean you have to run a marathon or jump on a treadmill, but get some form of movement that you enjoy and that pumps oxygen to your brain. Sitting at a desk all day seems like the fastest way to create more words, but in truth, your body needs activity. Feed it something fun, even if it’s only a walk outside and a few deep breaths.
5. Find your tribe
During my worst writing slumps, I turn to author friends for support. Sometimes we laugh at the silly anxiety and what it’s making us think, but other times getting through is tougher than that. Having someone to talk with can bring you perspective, but it also helps if you have a more serious issue, like a block that you can’t seem to get through. Other writers might see that it’s a plot issue, that you’re just not sure where to go, or that maybe you’re tired and need a break. Working through your issues out loud is an excellent way to see them for what they are.
6. Remember why you’re writing
Some of the worst anxieties stem from whether a book will do well. If it will sell. If it’s going to be loved. If you’ll look like a fool. At such times, it’s a good idea to step back and take a minute to find perspective. Remember why you’re writing. Know that you would do it whether it sold not a single copy at all, because writing is what you love. You’re in it for the process, for the creating, and all the rest is just icing when it goes well. It’s tough to see social media with all the exciting events and milestones other authors are reaching, but remember they’re not posting every single word they typed out, or edited, or the hours of painful revisions. To get there means to work hard, and if you love the work, then that’s what you’re here for.
Check out the Healthy Writing post for more tips.