3 Types Of Writer’s Anxiety: And How To Overcome The Avoidance Behavior They Evoke

439421_headacheToday I wanted to talk about writing and anxiety: the different ways anxiety can affect us, and how we can counteract the impulse anxiety always gives us toward adopting avoidance behaviors.

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.

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15 responses to “3 Types Of Writer’s Anxiety: And How To Overcome The Avoidance Behavior They Evoke

  1. Great article! I have been suffering from writing anxiety myself. Avoidance is my number one reaction to writing-related stress. I feel better having read this. Sharing with my writing pals on Twitter!

  2. Enjoyed your post as always, Victoria! For me, I never have “plot issues” because my characters dictate the story. Usually, I’ve spent a good deal of time developing my protagonists; I also write a synopsis of my book before I begin. Helps me get from “A to Z,” even if my characters do make a few detours! When I feel bored with the story, I know I’m suffering from “mental fatigue.” Rather than push through it, I find that taking a little time off and engaging in other activities I enjoy is more beneficial. I come back refreshed and ready to strain my brain again!

    • That’s a great point…. we have to know ourselves and know when we are pushing too hard. There is a big difference between apathy/ennui and true fatigue/burnout, which necessitate rest and regrouping 🙂

  3. Definitely hit the anxiety part of the job more often than I’d like. Usually it’s when so much is going on outside of writing that I feel like I have to battle for some book time. Gearing up for a release does this too, especially when I have nearly everything together and am waiting on that one piece. Add in a rambunctious child that is one antic away from being duct taped to a roomba and I’m surprised I still have hair. (You can tell what’s going on in my life there.)

    • It’s really tough trying to balance time to write with other obligations that may always be more urgent, even when they aren’t necessarily more important. Add in really important stuff, like caring for our kids, and it’s always a struggle. Sometimes it helps just to know we all feel that fight.

  4. My anxiety point is the ‘bored with the story’ part. I do try to write every night, but sometimes I’m just too tired. This year I am trying to finish up a couple of stories that I started last year so I can go ahead and work on new stories.

  5. Reblogged this on aihunter's Blog and commented:
    The best Read

  6. Pingback: 3 Types Of Writer’s Anxiety: And How To Overcome The Avoidance Behavior They Evoke | thewritealice

  7. As a child I wrote poetry, stories, and plays. As a young adult I sent out my first novel to one prospective publisher and had it rejected. I went into a downward spiral of self doubt and anxiety and didn’t write again for a long time. Anxiety can cripple your writing process. For years I “prepared” to write, jotting down ideas, organizing my desk, reading articles about developing story ideas and getting published–anything except actually writing. How did I break through my years (actual years) of doubt and procrastination?

    I was assigned to teach a class in Creative Writing and decided that I needed to put myself in the same position as my students. I undertook the same writing assignments I gave them. I encouraged them to share their work and I began sending my own stories to journals and online magazines.
    After my first story was accepted for publication it became much easier.
    Still, after twelve published short stories, (four first prize winners in contests) one mystery, and various plays produced, I still have these moments of anxiety and self doubt. Meditation helps. Self hypnosis helps.

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