Writers, by and large, are neurotic messes. You may already know this if you’ve been around one for more than about five minutes, but if you don’t, I’m here to confirm this rumor. And I am far from being immune from this particular quirk of our profession.
For some, they turn to hard drugs and lots of alcohol to escape the bees in their brains. For others, like myself, there’s a far more addicting tonic: self-sabotage. Ooooh, boy, is there. Today’s blog is a story of self-sabotage, fresh from the field.
I’ve spent the last two weeks in what can only be described as a non-stop anxiety attack, with all the trimmings. AND YOU CAN, TOO!
New Jobs and High Stakes
Starting any new project, even if it’s for an established client, is one of the most anxiety-inducing things I do in my life. And it really doesn’t matter how many new projects, how many existing clients, it’s always the same. I am terrified that they’re finally going to figure out that I have no idea what I’m doing and this whole keyboard monkey stuff is all for show.
I’m horrified that I probably don’t know enough about the material, I don’t know enough about the audience, I don’t know enough about what they want from me to really accomplish it. I’m feeling the anxiety climbing just typing all that out.
It didn’t occur to me why this is until this morning.
I am a recovering people pleaser, which has often been my downfall. I need approval. I need it like air in my lungs. Or, I did. Even though you’ll see plenty of old iterations of this blog where my big takeaway is “fuck em,” I couldn’t actually live by that advice. I wanted to, but I just…wasn’t there.
It wasn’t until I had to confront my people pleasing, flee a marriage that was dangerous to me and mine, and finally do things for myself, that I became capable of actually telling people to go fuck themselves without cringing.
When I started this new job with a publication I’ve been trying to get a foothold with for years, the stakes were way too high. I was terrified. With every step, I feared I’d destroy all I’d worked for, that they’d figure out I wasn’t all that and a cup of soup (total aside, but I *AM* actually all that and a cup of soup).
My solution? I froze in place. Stared into the abyss. It stared back. I lost weeks of traction doing that. So, by the time I knew I *had* to get moving, I was in so many knots that I was sure it didn’t even matter anymore. I was the suck and my writing sucked and I had destroyed my career and I was destined to spend the rest of my life writing churn and burns.
You Can Bounce Back From the Abyss
I finally turned in my first piece for this new project a few days ago. I was not confident in what I had written, I was sure it would come back with a million revision requests. I was still convinced I was the suck.
But you know what? It flew through editorial with only a few minor changes. Those changes included: changing headers from title case to sentence case and adding internal linkage to support an SEO plan I wasn’t aware applied to the class of piece I had written. There wasn’t a thing said about my writing. My writing was fine.
So, while this is all still fresh and weeping a bit, I wanted to record it for posterity. In case you – or I – needed a little push in the future. As per always, what I write here may not apply to you, but it certainly shouldn’t hurt you to give it a go. So, take that as you will.
- 1. Think about what has worked for you in the past. I realize when you’re in a frenzied state, this may not help a lot. But if you can remember the things that help you find your focus, it’s a good start. For me, there’s something about wearing big, bulky headphones that puts me into writing mode. I don’t love doing this because I feel like it messes my hair up (sorry, but yes), so I bought a mini soundbar for my computer instead. That was apparently when things started going wrong for me. Last week, I reverted to putting my headphones back on.
- 2. Remember your successes. Look, if you’ve got a writing career that’s already established, the odds are really good that you didn’t just accidentally make it through all those years of critics. The odds are good that you actually know a thing or two. Even if you’re just at the beginning of your career, the fact that you have a career means that someone hired you to write stuff, and so far they’ve not fired you. That means something. Mostly that you’re not an actual fraud.
- 3. Squeeze the words out. This is the hardest bit. Getting started again is a bit like giving birth, and I’m in no way being hyperbolic. It’s an inch by inch, letter by letter situation. Sometimes you just have to sit down and write. And what you write won’t necessarily be the best thing you’ve ever written, but it will be better than not writing. Squeeze them out, every letter. Watch as those letters turn into words, and those words into phrases, and those phrases into sentences, and those sentences into paragraphs, and before you know it, you’ll be left wondering what you were so worried about to begin with.
I mean, what’s hard about that? Nothing.
Why are we even like this? I don’t know, man.
But as long as we’re captives in prisons we create in our vast and mighty imaginations, we can’t do those things that keep us alive – both financially and emotionally. I’m going to close this a little differently than usual, by quoting that thing from Dune that I like to scream in my heart when I get in a funk.
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.