I Miss My Anxiety…But My Aim Is Improving.

Authors often suffer from anxiety.

Some consider it an problem and try to banish it from their lives. More experienced writers name it, buy it a sparkly collar, and let it sleep on the end of the bed.

They know it’s going to perch there anyway.

As a novice writer, I worried about publication. Would I ever find an agent? A publisher? Would I ever fulfill my dreams?

Once I gained a little experience, I worried about more important things like character, plot and dialogue. Were my characters too flat? Did my protagonist have a clearly-definable goal?

Three years later, the worry was whether I’d ever manage to write a novel that someone thought was worth reading. Dear Author, my mental editors wrote, Not only are we not interested in your novel, but we humbly request that you never produce a printed version of this manuscript. The paper’s worth more in an unblemished state.

Seven years after my first writing conference, and five manuscripts to the wind, I have an amazing agent, a major publisher, a fantastic editor and a three-book deal. One would think I had finally conquered the Worrysome Hills and located the Valley of Infinite Writer Bliss.

One would be sadly mistaken.

Anxiety is a moving target, and no matter how fast you move or how well you aim the anti-anxiety napalm grenades (patent pending) you’ll only succeed in slowing it down a while. Anxiety is THE BLOB, THE THING, and the shambling hordes of zombies rolled into one. It doesn’t sleep, it doesn’t stop, and if you ever stop fighting back it hunts you down and feeds on your brains. (True story.)

The good news is, you can slow it down, and distract it, and send it off after something else for a while. How do you do this? You find the methods that work for you and you train your mind to use them. Three of the best techniques I know are distraction, company and logical confrontation.

Distraction means simply refusing to give the anxiety breathing room in your brain. Anxiety is happy to fill any gaps in your thinking space. Remember the way  THE BLOB oozed in the diner windows and doors to get at the people within? Yeah, anxiety does that too. Good news: as cold stopped the blob, distractions have a chilling effect on anxiety. Worried about your completed manuscript? Start on another one. Panicked over a work in progress? Write the next chapter – and tell yourself you’ll fix the problems later.

Distraction usually puts my anxiety into a dormant state. I’d call it a 95% effective method. Sometimes, however, distraction makes the situation worse – like throwing a hamburger (or a pony) onto the Blob. When that happens, it’s time to call in the cavalry – and we’ll talk about that on Thursday.*

*In the meantime, tune in tomorrow for an interview with Laura DiSilverio about her new Mall Cop Mystery, ALL SALES FATAL, and Wednesday for our regular PubLaw post!

5 thoughts on “I Miss My Anxiety…But My Aim Is Improving.

  • April 30, 2012 at 11:54 am

    What an awesome analogy–anxiety does ooze like the blob, doesn’t it? I, for one, am the pay-it-a-sparkly-dollar type.

    Anxiety, though I do find it annoying at times, is like fuel for my engine. It’s what propels my never-dying need to be greater in some capacity. For now, however, according to your stages, I’m a mash-up of your first three stages. Maybe this is why my hair is greying…or better yet, that’s still probably from 3 a.m. bed wetting episodes.
    I look forward to the next in this series!

  • April 30, 2012 at 11:56 am

    Thanks Heather! My anxiety is named “George.” Extra points if you can figure out why. We’re of an age, so think back to your childhood and you can probably find the answer.

    The good news is, once you figure out how to harness the anxiety and send it in a good direction, it really does help productivity, doesn’t it?

  • April 30, 2012 at 11:58 am

    Distraction is great, but it’s the company of other writers that helps me when I’m on the ledge…
    Writers like you– who’ve been there, done that, bought the t-shirt and know how to talk down the jumpers.

    Thanks for that! 🙂

    • May 1, 2012 at 12:36 am

      Thanks so much Janet – and I completely agree with you – only in my case it’s the support of awesome writer friends who’ve been through the editing sloughs of despair and come out the other side…you included! And I’ll always be there to catch the jumpers, for sure!

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