The Anxiety Monster

“OMG, I suck!” “What if everyone knows I suck but me?” “Who is ever going to want to read this drivel?” “What was I thinking?” “Why am I wasting everyone’s time?”

Negative self-talk is always the easiest to listen to. It tells us we aren’t worthy, and it happily drowns out ten times its weight in praise (ever thought to yourself, “Oh, they’re just being nice”?). Every creative I have ever known suffers from it at some point, even me.

My favourite paradox of anxiety is that success or the potential for it can be a trigger just as easily as failure. When the possibility that someone will really enjoy our work and want to help bring it to the next level, it brings on a swirling hell of various ‘I can’t do this. I’m not ready.’ To the point where the potential for failure can almost be seen as a comfort. Until, of course, that potential arrives, and we come back around to ‘Why I am I bothering to try and make a go of this?’

When you play by anxiety’s rules, you really can’t win. Much of the advice I’ve found on the subject suggests that you not fight it. Let the anxious feelings wash over you like a wave. ‘Invite anxiety to dance’ as one artist puts it.

Anxiety is fear on about a hundred cups of espresso, and fear has to be faced head on. If you can find the voice of logic in your mind, amplify it.

Do I suck?

Maybe. But so what if I do? What’s the worst that can happen? No one is going to come to my house and slap me for wasting their time. The very worst someone can do is say, ‘Sorry, not interested’. And in all honesty, there are more than a few wildly successful authors who really really suck. I’m not going to name names, but I think we can all picture at least one book that we read some or all of and thought, “how did this get published?”

Who is going to want to read my work?

You’d be surprised. I always answer this with, “well, I think my book is fun”. Is it literature? No way. Is a good way to spend a few hours? Hell, yeah. And I’m not the only one who thinks so. If people get a bit of entertainment out of my work, that is all I am aiming for.

What was I thinking?

Well, I was thinking that this is my first try at a genre I really love. I was thinking that it can’t be as terrible an effort as some that I’ve read. I was thinking that the character spilling his guts in my ear was somebody who deserved to have his story told. I was thinking ‘What have I got to lose?’

Am I wasting people’s time trying to get it published?

Maybe. But then again, if I don’t try, no one will ever know. As my mom used to say, “You have just as good a chance as anyone else”. I’m not more likely to be published than anyone else, but I’m not less likely either. Again, the worst they can say is no.

And what happens if they say no?

Then I get some more feedback, save my pennies to get some professional advice, and get back to work. Or I set it aside for now and keep working.

Last year I had a lot of trouble with anxiety and depression. I used TIPR* as a balm. When life got too hard for me to deal with, I wrote. At this moment, I have a half-finished first draft waiting on me, and at least three other stories in development. Not all of them can end up being terrible.

We learn and grow with each project we take on. And for me, I don’t write with an eye to be published. That comes afterward. When I am writing, I am telling my characters’ stories. If the finished product never sees the light of day, that’s ok. I have several half-finished projects that are a testament to writing as a learning process.

I’ve been drowning in anxiety since yesterday. I have been trying to meditate, think about something else, distract myself with tv and with social media. It lead to a series of anxiety dreams that kept me up all night. Writing this post helped.

Face the fear. Share the experience. Let logic answer. Even if this post helps no one else, it has helped me.

I’m not a brain surgeon. If I fail, it’s ok. Every failure, every rejection is one more time that I tried. And one more bit of advice that would be good for me to remember is ‘Don’t live future pain’.  Wait until there is something to worry about before you worry. I may need to get that tattooed on me somewhere.

Here are a few articles (and a video) that helped me today:

Overcoming the Anxiety Behind Art Making

Why Anxiety is the Handmaiden of Creativity

Making Your Writing Anxiety Disappear by Thinking Small

Negative Thinking

*If you haven’t seen me use this abbreviation before, it stands for The Incident at Palmer Road (my first mystery novel)

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