I’m no guru. I love an evening cocktail (and then another), love the tingling chemistry coaxed by a chocolate bender, and sit entranced in front of artificially charged television dramas. I’m too much of a skeptic to go paleo, give up the gluten, or free my coffee of caffeine. So I’m not one to offer anything that smacks of spiritual advice, because I fear the sound of a duck quacking in the background.
But I’m comfortable discussing some of the vagaries of my writer’s mind, because some of those windmill tiltings might apply to you as well. My little cerebral workshop has been pervaded by a flavor of low-level anxiety and mild depression since my adolescence. Because writing has been important to me from that time on, I’ve cleverly assigned some of those mind leashes to dog my writing. These are the kinds of genial processes by which you look at a sentence and declare, “Ugh, that’s a terrible sentence.” Because the mind is generous with these offerings, if you’re me, you immediately jump from there to, “Ugh, I’m a terrible writer.”
[pullquote]Repeat these self-skewerings enough times, and they become a habit, a whisper in the head, an internal magnet that softly pulls.[/pullquote]
Repeat these self-skewerings enough times, and they become a habit, a whisper in the head, an internal magnet that softly pulls. Anxiety itself can become a habit, a kind of reflex. Some kinds of anxiety can be useful, such as when you are nervous and fearful about something that is a risk or a stretch for you, and you do it anyway. But the kind of anxiety I’m talking about is a nagging sore, an ache. This is lousy for anyone, but particularly lousy for writers, who often waver in their confidence. That kind of poor-mouthing of my own work has put up walls for me.
Peeking Around a Writer’s Walls
But if the walls can’t be fully toppled, there are ways to peek around them. There are some simple admonitions of the kind that Steven Pressfield advocates in his War of Art and Do the Work books, both excellent. I simplify too much here, but the message there is, “Yes, writing is hard. Yes, you will have resistance and fear inhibiting your writing. Yes, write anyway.” It’s a stern but friendly note written to your mind: Mind, get out of the way, there’s writing to do. The writing itself is the therapy for the anxiety. [Read more…]