Whenever I talk to writers about how anxiety shows up during the writing process, I usually ask them if they’re experiencing the most anxiety during the first draft stage, the editing stage, or the stage where they begin to share their writing with other people. And always, quite a few writers tell me that they experience the most anxiety before they even start ANY of the stages. It’s when they are thinking about beginning a writing project, or pushing themselves to actually sit down and do it, that they feel the most freaked out.
This strong, underlying anxiety about the writing process is rooted in perfectionism, and it causes writers to self-sabotage their writing goals before they even begin.
Every year, hundreds of new books on productivity are published on Amazon. Out of all these books, a significant slice is dedicated to productivity for writers. Many of the titles promise to teach us how to write faster, how to schedule our time more efficiently, or how to publish our books more rapidly. But no matter what they promise, they all contain a common theme: The way you are working now is not good enough. You are too slow, and if you are too slow as a writer, you will get left behind.
I shudder when I see these kinds of books, and my heart breaks a little more each time I work with a new client who tells me that they’ve been devouring this kind of material in the hopes that it will help them become a better writer. Because these types of books are intertwined with the dominant mindset of our culture that says that a person’s worth is defined by their productivity, and that there should be no low-energy periods of any creative cycle. It’s best to be always growing, growing, growing, and getting bigger and bigger, like a corporation.
But writers are not corporations. And the belief systems that run corporations are poisonous to the natural cycle of life.
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.
In my last article, You Really Want to Be a Writer. So Why Do You Have So Many Problems Actually Writing? I talked about the dysfunctional cycle many writers are trapped in when they’re dealing with writer’s block. Most writers who are struggling with writing blame themselves and are weighed down by the heavy shame and guilt they experience over not writing.
In that article I explained that this dysfunctional cycle happens because of unresolved trauma that is blocking the writer from being able to write, and I promised to go into detail about what’s actually happening between the nervous system and the brain when this happens, and why it always results in self-sabotage.
In my last article, The 3 Biggest Self-Sabotage Traps for Writers, I talked about some of the most damaging mindsets for writers, and how when we adopt these mindsets and use them as “writing goals” we always end up defeated in the end. However, there is another, much worse, approach that writers can take in the attempt to become a successful writer.
And sadly, I see writers do it all the time.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginning writer, or have been writing for many years, if you do this one thing, your writing life is sure to fail. You will feel blocked, empty, stuck, and hopeless about your writing. The one thing—that’s the worst thing you could do—is this: