Every writer struggles with the fear of being judged at some point. It’s hard not to when the whole point of your creative work is to ultimately put it out there in the world for other people to read. But for most writers, this fear of being judged is a manageable struggle. Sure, it sucks and it’s uncomfortable, but it can also be negotiated and moved past. It doesn’t stop them from writing or from sharing their writing with the world.
However, there is a certain type of writer who not only struggles with the fear of judgment, but is completely paralyzed by it. This type of writer often reports extremely high levels of anxiety when they even think about showing someone else what they’ve written. They also often feel like everyone is observing them, all the time, and so the judgment coming at them isn’t solely limited to their ability as a writer.
I’ve worked with hundreds of writers over the past eight years and one of the most common problems they report to me is overthinking. They might overthink the idea of their story, how the characters should act, who’s going to read their memoir, if they’re writing their book in the right format, or a dozen other things.
One thing is for sure, when a writer starts to overthink things, the writing goes downhill fast. This is because most of the creative “problems” that arise with writing are not issues that you can think your way out of, and this is so hard for so many people to grasp because we live in a society that tells us that thinking is the answer to everything. And if you’re truly stuck about something, well, you just need to think harder.
But thinking harder doesn’t get us anywhere. In fact, it only makes us feel more paralyzed, more stuck and frozen and scared, and more hopeless.
One of the most painful struggles that writers with toxic procrastination and crippling perfectionism describe to me is the overwhelming anxiety they feel every time they sit down to write, or when they even think about writing. Much of the time they also feel severe anxiety when they think about all the time they’re spending NOT writing. This anxiety manifests as a vague nervous dread, but it can also show up as a specific sinking in the stomach or a panicky feeling in the chest and throat, like you might start crying at any moment.
Writers who struggle with these issues feel this way when they’re not writing, but they also feel this way—and sometimes even more so—when they are writing. It feels like an absolute no-win situation, because the thing that you want to do so badly and you feel so passionate about, seems to cause you even more pain whenever you actually try to do it.
Most writers who suffer from toxic procrastination and crippling perfectionism never discover the reason behind all of this. We just assume we’re failed writers and there is no solution. But there is, in fact, a very good reason for why we feel the way we do:
Today’s guest post comes from Angela Schenk, a Success Coach for Bold Introverts, a writer, and the founder of Quiet Creative, LLC. She is focused on helping Bold Introverts—the quiet ones who have something to say—get their ideas out of their heads and into the world.
In one of my Mom’s old albums, there’s a photo of me in dance class when I was around four or five years old. The sight of it used to leave me feeling broken and embarrassed. Why? Because I was doing the wrong move. There’s a line of leotard-clad little girls all doing the same thing. And then there’s me doing something else entirely. For years, when I turned the page and saw the photo, I’d feel the urge to peel back the protective film and slip it behind another picture. There was a way things were supposed to be done—a perfect way—and here was concrete evidence that I wasn’t living up. This amounted to nothing short of a glaring character flaw in my mind.
Although I have always considered myself a writer, I have also spent many years not writing. In fact, for most of high school, college, and my 20s, I didn’t write at all. Not one story, not one poem. During that period, I was mostly entangled in living the life of a depressed alcoholic, while trying to keep my shit somewhat together in the meantime. So, you could say I didn’t have time to write, but the truth was that I was really in no place to write.
I didn’t start writing seriously—and by seriously I mean that I committed to sitting down and doing it at least once a week—until 2006, one year after I got sober. Two things happened when I committed to the practice of writing. Number one, I found that it was hard. It challenged me on nearly every level and forced me to look honestly at my addictions, my demons, my self-loathing, and my depression. Number two, it felt better than anything I had ever done before. It felt like a huge relief to open doors within myself that had been closed for years and let all those long-buried thoughts and feelings pour out of me onto the page.