Now, I want to be clear I’m not talking about the anxiety disease here, which is a documented medical issue. That is a whole other situation, and one I have no qualifications to comment on.
Rather, I’m discussing the natural and normal levels of anxiety all people face when they set about doing something they feel is good and important and worthwhile, but still difficult and maybe a bit painful.
These anxieties, which are only to be expected, can still provoke some level of avoidance behavior and lead us into writing slumps and periods where we don’t create anything, not because we have nothing to say and the ideas are still coming together, but because we don’t want to put forth the effort.
1. OVERWHELMED. In this situation, we have so many different, mutually exclusive ideas of where to take our story, that we have no idea which one is the right one, so we just don’t write… We can’t settle our brains or structure our thoughts enough to pick a path and start walking.
One way to confront feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of writing a novel is to sit and outline a couple of your options for plot. Where might each lead in the long run? This can clear up some of the confusion and give some order to the chaos…. Because if you’re anything like me, you find chaos and lack of structure intimidating. Even if you’re not an outliner usually, in this situation outlining is in no way wasted time if you gets you back on track.
Another option is to pick a plot option, pick it randomly if you have to, and then start writing according to that choice, with the understanding that you may not keep or use what you write, but writing is always better than not writing. You can start with a process of elimination…. Choose one of your most viable options, and write the next scene. If you end up loving it, keep going. If you’re not sure, backtrack, and write the next scene as it would be if you chose a different direction for your plot.
Also, if your fork in the plot road is still a few scenes ahead, my advice is to wait until you get to the critical moment and not agonize over the decision until then. There have been SO many times where, thinking two or three chapters ahead, I had no clue whether to do “this” or “that” at a future moment, but once I had gotten to that point, what I’d written in the meantime had made the path clear for me.
2. BORED WITH THE STORY. This is always tough, when we feel bored with what we are writing. Ennui is a very real temptation and very dangerous spiritually. The best way to combat it is to set doable milestones and not stop until you read them. Tell yourself, “I will write 400 words today,” and then sit down, and force yourself to pound out 400 words. Develop and rely upon discipline in these periods. It’s not easy, but it’s a habit worth developing in life.
Boredom is closely related to apathy, which can rear its head when we give in to the voices telling us that, “No one’s ever going to read it, so what does it matter?” Apathy can can also be the form that avoidance behavior takes when we are afraid of failure, which is number 3.
3. FEAR OF FAILURE. The fear of writing swill is real inside every author. That’s what at the heart of our fear of bad reviews…. We’re not just afraid of the damage they might cause sales, or upset that someone didn’t like our work. We’re afraid that the bad review that is respectful and clearly written points out some valid issues in our work. Usually, that kind of review does.
The way I combat fear of failure is to remind myself that I’m writing for ME. I write to inspire and challenge myself to follow the example of my brave and selfless characters, as flawed as they are, because I struggle with being brave and I think of myself and my needs far too much. I published my trilogy and I’m working on a second edition because I hope that maybe my work will have that same effect on someone else. If writing, for you, is about acclaim, you’ll find it very hard to get ANYWHERE.
So focus on how writing helps you to face the challenges in your life, how it teaches you discipline and patience and perseverance. The drive to develop those qualities–and writing DOES develop them–will keep you writing through fear of writing something unreadable.