First we talked about the anxiety stirred up when it’s time to start a writing project. Then we talked about four causes of this “weakened mind anxiety,” a term coined by Eric Maisel in Fearless Creating.
The next obvious question is: what do we do about it?
As it turns out, we do many things in order to make ourselves create. Some are appropriate and helpful. Others, however, are not. Let’s mention those first.
Things we do that get us writing, but do NOT help in the long run, may include:
- Beat yourself into submission with “shoulds.” Call yourself names and force yourself into your office.
- Find fortitude (or relaxation) in heavy doses of chocolate, caffeine, or other drugs to dampen the anxiety enough to work.
- Narrowly focus on something do-able, perhaps something you’ve done before that can be “tweaked” or modified, instead of creating something new.
- Rationalizing an interest in shallow commercial work that seems to sell better in today’s culture instead of producing what is true and deep and sincere.
I think we’d all agree that those solutions are temporary, at best. You also rarely enjoy the writing process when you choose such a “getting started” method.
Helpful Solutions for Writing Anxiety
There are 22 techniques in Mastering Creative Anxiety (Maisel), but I will only list a handful of things you can try. If anxiety over getting started is a big problem for you, I’d recommend getting both of his books. The sample solutions I list may not apply to your particular problem.
1. It’s here to stay.
“Embrace the idea that sitting there and doing the actual work of creating provokes anxiety. Accept it.” (Mastering Creative Anxiety) This may sound like bad news, but it was rather a relief to me. I could stop thinking there was something wrong with me for feeling anxious. “Do not hope for the process to be different,” Maisel says. Instead, learn anxiety-management tools. In other words, the feeling won’t kill us–we can learn tools to overcome it and write anyway.
2. Power Thoughts
Physical relaxation coupled with power thougths can drastically lower your anxiety level and help you slip right into writing. (Don’t discount this till you try it. My first reaction was, “Oh this is hokey.” But after it worked for me, I was impressed!) First, learn to breathe deeply, five counts when breathing in and five counts when breathing out. Then write out some power thoughts to contradict the neagative thoughts you’ve been telling yourself. Say the first half of the sentence to yourself when breathing in, and the second half when beathing out.
Sentences like this along with the slow, deep breathing can work wonders:
- (I am equal) (to this challenge.)
- (I am called) (to write.)
- (I can do) (hard things.)
- (Anxiety can’t) (hurt me.)
- (I write) (with ease.)
Begin using these daily as part of your anxiety-management program.
3. Get Physical!
Discharge your built-up anxiety with physical activity. Stretch, run around the block, or jog in place. (Of if you have a treadmill desk like mine, rev it up faster for a few minutes.) Don’t sit and brood and grow more anxious.
4. Develop an “artist’s discipline.”
Do you want to develop discipline as a writer? Understand that an artist’s discipline is a different kind of discipline. We think of discipline like doing an exercise program daily or disciplining ourselves to show up for our day job on time. However, for a writer “there is only one discipline, the discipline of creating regularly even while anxious,” says Maisel. Learn the tools!
So…Where’s the Hitch?
Can you master creative anxiety instead of it mastering you? Maisel says yes–but there’s a condition.
“Anxiety mastery requires that you actually do the work of managing and reducing your anxiety. It is not enough to have a refined sense of why and when you become anxious: you must then do something.”
Because I don’t want to plagiarize his books, I won’t list more of Maisel’s solutions. But they include lifestyle changes, behavioral changes, changing the way you think, various relaxation and guided imagery techniques, “detachment” training and identifying those things that trigger writer’s anxiety in you.
As Anna Held Audette said,
“There are probably as many ways to get started as there are ways of chasing the blues. Use anything that works even if it seems ridiculous or not what an artist does.”
If getting started writing troubles you to a significant degree, take steps to change as much of the anxiety as you can. Yes, a certain amount appears to be inherent in the writing process, but it’s up to us if we let it cripple us–or if we choose to use it as a springboard for writing growth.