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.
Being a writer is hard work, any writer can tell you that. But what many writers won’t tell you is exactly how deep their writing problems go. There are countless writers out there who deal with constant guilt and shame around the writing process. Either because they’re not writing very much, or they’re not writing at all.
Sometimes these writers can admit they have a bad case of writer’s block, and sometimes they just think they’re bad writers and writing is something they should give up on. Usually, when a writer has gotten to this point, they’ve tried everything. They’ve used different writing plans and schedules, made outlines and lists and writing maps, and they think about writing all the time and how they can conquer their writing problems.
But still, when it comes time to sit down and write, the writer procrastinates. Or, they make themselves sit down but are filled with anxiety and dread. They freeze, get overwhelmed, and then become paralyzed, and another day goes by without any writing being done at all.
Every writer I’ve ever worked with has specific anxiety trigger points that occur during different phases of the writing process. Some writers are the most anxious while writing the first draft, because everything feels chaotic, messy, and uncertain. Other writers love the first draft phase, but their anxiety kicks in when it’s time to edit. They’re afraid if they change things they’ll end up ruining the story.
Most writers assume that they have so much anxiety around writing because they don’t know what they’re doing, or they’re feeling pressure from the outside to perform or achieve according to someone else’s expectations. While this is true in some cases, it’s not the whole story. The deeper causes of the anxiety we feel as writers comes from the anxiety we feel in our lives overall, and this anxiety is a direct result of living in a society that feeds us the message that we should be in control of everything, at all times.