We all have good writing days and bad writing days. If you’re a writer who writes even somewhat regularly, you know that’s just the way it goes. But sometimes, it seems we imperceptibly move into a place with our writing when it’s not just a bad writing day that’s getting us down, it’s more like a persistent, low-key feeling of unease and anxiety about writing overall. When this undercurrent of unhappiness becomes the status quo in our writing life, then we feel like every writing day is a bad day.
This can easily occur when we place way too much pressure and expectation on our writing. For some writers, this happens constantly whether or not they’re sharing their writing with anyone else. However, for most writers, this most often happens when we’re making our writing public online, or we’re hoping to get accepted by a publication or an agent. Suddenly, we’re in a position of having our writing judged, and possibly found wanting, and it feels awful.
The fear of judgment is an obvious (and very real) thing for a lot of writers and so, of course, some writers get triggered when they put themselves out there on the internet or submit their work to outside parties, but there’s something else that is ALSO usually going on in tandem with the fear of judgement, and that’s attachment to outcome.
Attachment to outcome means that we get an idea in our head of something that would make us “happy” or “fulfilled” and the mind then decides that we must have that thing. It shifts from something we would like to happen, which is a preference, to something that MUST happen, which turns it into a need. In reality, there is a big difference between preferences and needs, but when the mind has decided something is a need, it can be very difficult to talk the mind out of this illusion.
So, now we have this need for our writing to be accepted, approved of, praised, chosen, recognized, etc. Whatever it is, it feels big and high stakes and like something within us is going to collapse if it doesn’t happen, whether that’s our particular writing dream, or our overall self-esteem. The thought of the thing NOT happening, in fact, can trigger stress all on its own. Because now the possibility of it not happening feels like failure, and like evidence that we made a mistake, or we’re bad or wrong in some way.
You can see how, for writers who are in this place, things can quickly spiral out of control.
When we lose ourselves in attachment to outcome, what’s really happening is that we’ve lost ourselves in a projected future that our mind has made up, and that projected future is very black-and-white. Either we “win” and get the thing we have now decided we “need” and we’ll be “happy.” Or, we “lose” and we’re a “failure” and this leads to all sorts of other horrible things.
Writers can play out this destructive game with just about anything writing-related. We can attach to the outcome of finishing our novel (it has to be finished in a certain amount of time), publishing (we have to get an agent or else), or even just posting a poem on our blog (if no one leaves a comment that means we suck). Once you see the game for what it is, it’s apparent how absurd it is, and also apparent that it’s a game you can never win. When you play the attachment-to-outcome game, you will always lose and you will never be good enough, because as soon as you “win” something, the mind immediately changes the rules and you then have to “win” something else, so your euphoria over winning is always extremely short-lived.
The only way to really win the attachment-to-outcome game is to not play it at all, and the only way to do this is to take your attachment OFF the outcome.
How do we do this?
We start by observing ourselves and noticing when we’re getting sucked into the game. You’ll know you’re sliding down that slippery slope whenever you feel anxious, pressured, or very worried about something turning out a certain way for you. You may also notice you feel rigid. You might catch yourself having thoughts like, “It has to happen exactly like this.” Or, “There are no other options, it’s this or nothing.” Once we notice that we’re attached, we acknowledge and accept that attachment so that we can work with it.
The next step is to notice where your mind is going when you catch yourself worrying about this thing. Almost always, you will find that your mind is projecting itself into the future, and getting lost there. Slow down, get still, and call all your energy pieces back to you, in the present, where they can actually help and support you. You can’t do anything in the future, so it’s useless for you to store any energy there. Once your energy has returned to you in the present, you’ll usually feel it. You may feel relieved or calmer, or like you’re more energized. This is because you just fixed a big energy leak and you’re reclaiming more of your resources for use in the here-and-now.
Most importantly though, the essential part of this process is that you realize it is a process. This is not something you do once and then you’re fixed forever. If you’re a writer with high anxiety, impatience, or low self-worth, this is something that will probably keep happening until you really get the hang of calling back and reclaiming your energy pieces. Until then, just stick with it. Every time it happens again is just another lesson on the learning journey.
Lastly, there is nothing wrong with you if you’re a writer who gets attached to outcome. We all do it, because we’re all human. You’re human too, so give yourself a break. As long as you can slow down, make a conscious effort to observe your mind and course correct as needed, you’re more than halfway there.
And in this kind of work, halfway is a long way toward the goal.
Lauren Sapala is the author of The INFJ Writer, The INFJ Revolution, and the creator of The Joyful Writer, a online video course for writers who struggle with self-deprecation, impatience, and anxiety around the writing process. She is also currently offering a free copy of her book on creative marketing for INFJ and INFP writers to anyone who signs up for her newsletter. SIGN UP HERE to get your free copy of Firefly Magic: Heart Powered Marketing for Highly Sensitive Writers.