Writing with Anxiety: Be Afraid and Write It Anyway

Anxiety in writing often derives not from a fear of writing itself. In truth, we writers fear audience judgement

Word Nerd Scribbles Turns 100 Posts Old

We hit the 100 posts mile marker last week with the review for All Systems Red. Such a momentous occasion deserves something special, so today’s 101st post will mark the beginning of the addition of semi-regular Tuesday posts, complementing flash fiction publications on Thursdays and book reviews on Saturdays.

While in search of ideas for a spiffy 101st post topic, I ran across The Writeous Babe’s article 100 Blog Post Ideas and My 100th Post, stuffed full of excellent suggestions. If you writers ever run dry on post ideas, I suggest wandering over there. Two of the suggestions that intrigued me were “Write the story of how and why you got started blogging” and “Post an inspirational quote and what it means to you.”

We will, in a way, cover both as we explore my personal methods for dealing with anxiety as a writer.

Be Afraid and Do It Anyway

As a young person harboring both anxiety and ambition, I had to adopt the mantra of be afraid and do it anyway just to accomplish anything, including my goal of becoming a writer. The phrase echos Susan Jeffers’s book entitled Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, which may be where I got the idea. I’ve never read her book, but the basic premise of my attitude runs thusly: accept that you are afraid–impossibly afraid, too afraid to ever make the move, submit to the contest, post the article online–and then make it, submit it, post it, even if you do so blind with panic. Being afraid and doing it anyway landed me my first job, got me into (and, when necessary, out of) relationships, and convinced me to start showing readers my written work.

(Disclaimer: I’m fully aware that anxiety is a difficult disorder to deal with, especially when it involves actual panic attacks. When applying this principle, your mileage may vary.)

Anxiety in writing often derives not from a fear of writing itself. We like writing; it’s fun and brings us satisfaction. Lots of writers write just for themselves or trustworthy friends and while this may involve its own sense of anxiety, I myself haven’t experienced such in my own experiments with personal journaling.

In truth, we writers fear audience judgement–how our work will be received by friends and strangers, whether it will be “good enough.” By good enough, I mean entertaining. We hope so much for those likes and kudos and gushing comments, which follow effective entertainment, and fear the lack of them. Yes, yes, we’ve read those remonstrations that writers must develop a thick skin (all true), but anxiety cranks that fear up to eleven. If you write with anxiety, you may never develop that thick skin. May never feel ready to share your work with an audience.

Do it anyway.

Methods for Writing Anyway

Every anxious writer starts somewhere. While my experience may differ from yours, below are my suggestions to get you started writing in spite of anxiety, based on what helped (and helps) me write while afraid.

Because I write fiction, my suggestions live within the realm of crafting story more than in the various aspects of creating non-fiction. Be afraid and do it anyway still applies to all types of writing, as well as to living life in general.

  • Show it to a very trusted friend

Make sure you’re presenting your work to an audience that will be receptive to what you write. So don’t show it to just any friend. If you hand off your piece to your friend who doesn’t read much, you’ll probably get that “it’s nice” response that no artist wants. You stand a better chance of getting useful feedback/a desired response from friends who read, especially if they like the genre you write (i.e. if you write mysteries, hand it to your friend who likes solving puzzles and/or reading mysteries). Matchy-matchy.

I started this (and discovered who my First Reader would become) by offering to write fiction about characters my friends were playing in a tabletop game. People love reading your words about something they made, so you could even offer to write about the original characters your writing friends have created. Just ensure that you do those characters justice.

  • Write (and post) fanfiction

Writing fanfiction has a freeing effect on the anxious writer. Since the characters, backstories, settings, and plots have already been established, have already drawn in what might be a huge audience depending on the franchise’s popularity, you as a writer can capitalize on the readership of fans who like the same thing that you do. They’re hungry for more content and you want to improve your craft, so churn out coffee shop AUs and original plots and everything in between to hone your skills, drawing in enthusiastic readers who expect to be forgiving of amateur work.

I wrote and posted four Fallout 4 fanfictions before I got serious about creating original work. It’s gratifying to watch that views counter rise (in active fandoms) and even receive a kudo or a comment. More importantly, comparing the progression of your works shows you how much your writing has improved with practice. You can take the lessons learned in writing fanfiction and apply them to crafting your own original fiction.

I suggest Archive of Our Own as my favorite fanfiction forum, with Fanfiction.net as a close second. AO3 is much easier to navigate and post stories, but requires a request to join, while FF.net lets you get started immediately, even if the document uploader can be tricky to use. No reason why you can’t sign up for both for more wider audience variety.

  • Put it on your blog

Got a Tumblr? WordPress? Blogger? Reddit? Even if you don’t, it’s not hard to get set up on these websites and start posting your content, be it fanfiction or original work, short-stories or novel snippets. All of this for free with no gatekeepers to turn you away. Consider making your own little writing domain on a more open website like WordPress or Blogger and then crossposting your work to forums you must join like Tumblr. All of these boast an anonymous function if keeping your own name off your work will help you be braver about posting publicly. Liberal use of tags helps readers find you.

Keep in mind that what you post on the internet, most magazines, quarterlies, journals, and contest websites will consider published. It’s great to post original fiction on your blog, but make sure it’s work you’re willing to give away for free. Hold back any pieces you hope to submit or sell.

Word Nerd Scribbles (a blog I had created but rarely used) became a great place to post my profile pieces written about friends and family for a Facebook social project. You can read about how that went here.

  • Write it for you

In the end, the audience member who matters the most is you. Whether you write just for yourself or you want to garner as many appreciative readers as possible, you are the one who has to like what you write. Don’t be too hard on yourself, accept your own criticisms with a grain of salt, and remember to forgive yourself as much as you would forgive another writer.

In On Writing, Stephen King says, “Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” Meaning to help alleviate that anxiety, forget about audience altogether. They don’t matter until you get to the revision stage; your writing is for you.

Do you as an anxious writer have any tricks for powering through that fear and writing anyway? If you’re willing to share, I’d love to hear about them in the comments. Happy 101st Post!


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Reasons to Skip NaNoWriMo This Year

I want to address some arguments for NaNoWriMo and present other solutions to your writing woes.

 

What if I told you you don’t have to do NaNoWriMo? Meme Source: https://imgflip.com/memegenerator/Matrix-Morpheus

 

Today is the last Monday before November 1st, a day known for the past 18 years as the beginning of National Novel Writing Month. As November creeps up, writers start considering whether they’ll participate in the grueling one-month effort to write 50,000 words in pursuit of a novel draft, at a rate of 1,666 words each day. It’s like a one-month celebration of writing in which the measure of fun is in how much agony you’re experiencing.

I read an article from Chris Brecheen early this year that examined the detrimental effects NaNoWriMo can and often does have on writers. He maintained that trying to write 50,000 words in a month without doing regular writing throughout the rest of the year is like attempting to run the Boston Marathon after going for a few morning jogs. Such an ambitious but ill-advised undertaking only results in hamstrung legs and dreams.

The one time I completed NaNo left me feeling sick of words and incapable of writing for a long, long time afterward. I haven’t participated in it whole-heartedly ever since. Yet every year, I find myself getting caught up in that fever-pitch of anticipation as those around me gear up for another stab at that 50,000 words. As NaNo looms, I hear other writers (and myself) giving common reasons for why they might just roll up their sleeves and dive in again.

I’m skipping NaNoWriMo this year. Those aforementioned arguments often stem from guilt and misguidance, so I want to address some of them and present other, less detrimental, solutions.

#1 “It’s been so long since I’ve written and NaNoWriMo will get me back into it.”

Getting back into writing doesn’t have to wait until November. Also, it doesn’t have to take the form of writing an ocean of words every day. It’s as simple as picking up a pen and writing one sentence. Then doing that again the next day. And the next. The more writing you do, the easier it becomes and the more you’ll write.

Neil Gaiman was posed a question with this sentiment almost word for word on Tumblr. He gave an excellent response, saying that to get back into writing, putting down just 300 words a day will net you a 90,000 word novel in a year. That’s almost twice as much as NaNo, using a method that won’t destroy you.

#2 “Writing is so lonely, but NaNoWriMo gives me a sense of community with other writers.”

The advent of those new-fangled internets has connected writers all over the world. There are loads of websites, social media tags, critique groups, and match-ups available out there. With just a quick Google search, I found:

Critique Partner Love Connection – a forum set up to connect potential critique partners
Inked Voices – what looks like a GoogleDocs-esque group collaboration
Writers Online
– a database for seeking online writing groups
Writer’s Relief – featuring a list of writing groups by state or region

Most of these were just on the first page of results. Give some of these a try and get yourself some writing pals.

#3 “I just can’t seem to write without NaNoWriMo word count goals and deadlines to motivate me!”

I can see how “just write your goals down!” may not be concrete enough an answer to this dilemma. There’s something delicious about watching that word count line graph rise and rise the more you write. A physical, visual affirmation of the work you’ve done. (For me, a measurable distance for how much farther I have to go.)

There are some great programs out there that measure your progress toward your goal against a deadline of your choice. Give these a try!

MyWriteClub
Pacemaker
Writeometer
WriteTrack

#4 “It’ll be easier to write if I don’t have to think of the quality, just the quantity.”

But you will. While NaNo gets it right in encouraging writers to get those creative juices flowing through actual writing, it’s entirely possible to do too much. The more crap you sling at the wall, the louder that voice in the back of your mind will whisper this sucks. It doesn’t take long to succumb to the understanding that not only have you written total garbage in pursuit of that word count, you’re also not going to want to look at that mess long enough to edit and revise it in the future. It’s going straight into the trashcan.

This is because there comes a point where you pass productivity and cross over into word-garbage. Brent Weeks has been asked several times about how much he writes in a day. His answer (in a tweet somewhere that I can’t find now) was 500-1,000 words, saying that if he tries to go too much over 1,000, he starts to outstrip his creativity.

I discovered the exact same problem myself earlier this year when I was shooting for 1,500 words a day on a novel. It hurt. It resulted in a serious writing slump that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t overtaxed my creative muscles.

So avoid this problem by not setting such a high 1,666 daily word goal for yourself. Something reasonable, like 300-500, is a great way to start. Then, when you reach that mark, maybe you’ll feel like you want to keep going, more and more, until you hit your limit. You’ll know it when you do. At that point, all you have to do is stop…

…and start again tomorrow.