I am the queen of baseless, senseless anxiety that appears from nowhere. Panic attacks are like a relative’s house that I don’t like to visit but feel compelled to on occasion. And I know that there are only two emotional states in which a writer can’t really be him- or herself, and thus, cannot write: absolute, heart-stopping terror (I’m talking about I-think-someone-just-broke-in-call-the-cops terror) and anxiety. The drippy kind. The sticky kind. The kind that just won’t leave. Your writing voice gets caught in it, like a stray hair in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and just can’t get out.
I say all this to establish a few credentials as someone who is familiar with many of the faces anxiety wears, but even more even-keeled writers, or writers who’ve never had a panic attack in their lives, can find themselves paralyzed from time to time by a nameless concern, an upended feeling, something that just makes them get up from the desk and call it a day without ever knowing why.
That’s anxiety, and if you don’t want it to interfere with your writing life, here are a few ideas.
Don’t Combine Writing With Unpleasant Things in the Name of Multitasking
Multitasking is something I talk about frequently on The Procrastiwriter, because often it can be the only effective way for a writer with a full-time life to really get anything done. But there’s a dark side to the technique: When you pair another task with writing, do it carefully. Don’t keep your work email up and running in the background (as I did last Saturday), or the moment you get a less-than-pleasant message (which tends to happen on work email), your writing flow gets diverted toward either solving the problem or trying to not think about the problem.
Other common multitasking mistakes include pairing writing with an emotionally draining task, like writing out Thank-You cards from a recent wedding shower or your kid’s baptism, or timed tasks like cooking, in which you have no wiggle room in case you want to, you know, finish that sentence before dinner boils over.
Give Yourself Permission to Leave Mistakes on the Page
Honestly, I’m terrible at this one, which is how I know it can cause a lot of anxiety. If you begin to write a scene, and halfway through, you know the setting needs to change, just flag your spot (in Word, insert a Comment; on paper, use a Post-It note) and begin writing as though you’d fixed the mistake already. This exercise in marking a spot for later correction will be uncomfortable, but over time, you’ll get used to it, and see that it actually helps you keep your writing pace and makes the editing process that much easier.
Don’t Dance the I’m-Waiting-for-a-Response-to-My-Manuscript Dance; Leave the Party Instead
In writing, you’ll do a lot of waiting. Waiting for ideas, waiting for insight, waiting for beta readers, waiting for a response from an agent or publisher.
Or will you?
Since you’re going to have some free time anyway, why not shelve the waiting until later, and fall in love with some new project, instead? Think of it this way: the longer you stew on the whys and the wherefores of the manuscript you just sent out into the world, the more you’re going to pick it apart, and wonder, and you’ll be miserable. Choose to avoid the misery, and write something else.
What are your best ways to avoid writer’s anxiety? Share them in the comments.
(This is a report from November 2013, but I think it’s still really, really relevant.)