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Addressing Anxiety

Photo by Stuart Anthony.

Being a writer often means hosting a legion of insecurities.

Impostor syndrome? Check.

An overload of empathy, perhaps – creating an over-sensitivity to what’s going on with other people? Yup.

Fear of rejection?  Absolutely.

There are rarely writers who glide through the day, getting their however-many-thousand words on the page before switching gears and then gracefully promoting with that perfect balance of humility and self-confidence. Those that do appear to “have it all” usually have the shiny gloss of an Instagram post: that sense of “naturally staged” perfection, something that doesn’t allow the murky, ugly underbelly to show.

There’s a reason for that. Being vulnerable is, quite frankly, terrifying.  Also, it’s all too easy to be judged, quickly and brutally, especially in today’s anonymous comment culture. Who wouldn’t try to curate their presence in the world? Who doesn’t? If we’re honest, no one is completely raw when it comes to their outward-facing persona. Even people who proclaim “I try to be my most authentic self” are often making a performative statement.

At its heart: anxiety.

We’re usually an introverted bunch, as well, far more comfortable with digging deep and talking about writing or whatever other subjects we’re passionate about, exhausted by small talk, appalled by anything that might be taken as self-aggrandizing (and of course, talking about our writing feels more like boasting and less like sharing, so we shy away from it.)   Our work tends to happen in isolation. We can go for long chunks of time without interacting with anyone, if we so desire.

And yeah, we so desire. Quite a bit.

For many of us, the work can go in fits and starts, and a wellspring of creativity dries up into a desert of writer’s block. If or when we lose momentum, we can fear that we’ll never write again.

We can be a weird little bundle of neuroses. Sometimes that feeds the work. More often than not, though, it drains the writing and the writer alike.

How, then, to get past the anxiety?

  1. Identify what it is. What, exactly, are you afraid of?  As I’ve already pointed out, fear takes a lot of forms. What is your particular flavor of anxiety?  (This can be tough work, by the way. If you’re scared of something, you’re going to do your best to hide that fear from yourself because, hello, you’re afraid of it. Also, fear usually comes in a knot: it’s rarely just one thing, but rather a comorbid condition.)  The best way I’ve found to process this is to journal about it.  Write in stream-of-consciousness. Ask “If I were afraid of something, what would it be?” (that takes some of the pressure off) or “What do I need to know about my anxiety? What would help me the most?”
  2. Come up with a plan. Once you’ve identified fears, the next thing to identify are possible avenues to address them. Sometimes, this means coming up with a rational counter-argument. For example, if you’re afraid of rejection and consequently not querying or not self-publishing, narrow down what exactly is freaking you out, and see how you can mitigate it. Usually knowledge helps. If you’re afraid of being judged negatively, turn to your most supportive friends and ask them for their opinion first, so you know you’re putting your best foot forward. If you’re feeling more and more wrung out by either the world at large or some specific person’s drama, then find ways to disengage (for example, go on a social media and news fast, or find a way to avoid the emotional vampire.)
  3. Validate yourself and your feelings. In my opinion, one of the worst parts about having anxieties around writing is the one-two punch of not only feeling the anxiety, but feeling stupid or unworthy for having the anxiety in the first place. Even if your fear isn’t necessarily rational, it is meaningful, it is relevant, and it is yours. You don’t have to justify your fears to anyone else. Even if you don’t want the fear, sometimes it’s worse to hear other people say “that’s silly” or insist that you “shouldn’t” be feeling it.
  4. Develop a supportive writer network. Fear grows with inactivity and isolation, especially when the fears are emotional. One of the best ways to counter this is to create a routine where you check in with other writers. This can mean joining a writing group that meets weekly or monthly, or joining a local chapter of a genre group, or creating your own critique group. There are also writing conferences you can attend, if you have the means. If, like me, you live in a rural area, you might look at online groups (like Writer Unboxed!) and check in on their Facebook page regularly. Find people you connect with, and message them, or comment on their posts. Keep in mind: you’re looking for supportive. If you find yourself feeling more insecure and anxious, then they’re not the right group for you.
  5. Help another writer. Even if you’re a relative beginner, you’re probably more knowledgeable than you think. And even if you’re not teaching, more advanced writers can always use help, with promotion or with beta reads, or whatever. Getting out of your own head and doing something to help a fellow writer can help shift you out of a negative place.

Please keep in mind: these are relatively simple hacks, but they are not easy. When you’re in the grip of anxiety, picking up the phone or attending a writer’s meeting can feel impossible. It’s easier to binge Netflix and plow through snacks than it is to face a blank page and journal about your insecurities, and at least those provide some short-term comfort. And it’s very, very easy to slip into the downward spiral of using yourself as an emotional punching bag, judging your work and your very being and finding them lacking.

I’ve been there. Trust me. I get it.

But there is a way out. You can feel better, and write more. All it takes is some mindfulness, some kindness, and being open to help.

If nothing else, please feel free to email me: cathy@rockyourwriting.com [1].  I love writers, I love talking shop, and barring internet outages, I’m always around.

What are your biggest fears as a writer? Are they around the writing itself, or what comes after – querying, publishing, or promotion? What are your stumbling blocks?

About Cathy Yardley [2]

Cathy Yardley is the author of eighteen novels, published with houses such as St. Martin's and Avon, as well as her self-published Rock Your Writing series. She's also a developmental editor and writing coach, helping authors complete, revise, and get their stories published. Sign up here [3] for her newsletter to receive the free course Jumpstart Your Writing Career. [3]