Why I’m A Creative Anxious Person And What I Generally Do About That
I never knew.
About the creative anxiety thing.
I was told by my great-grandmother that we were just high strung.
That’s four generations of “high strung,” which can pretty much qualify my paternal line as having something akin to generalized anxiety disorder.
It’s something I live with.
A few years ago, I had no idea why I would get so wired about things. Why trying new things as a writer, or pushing myself on a writing project would make me feel so jittery.
Even this morning, as I sent out an email that made me nervous, I realized that now, TODAY, I finally notice when my generalized anxiety shows up in my life. Took me awhile to catch on, as those things go.
It happens when I’m VISIBLE.
Why does visibility bother me so much?
It bothers me when it’s MY writing, MY ideas, MY stuff out there, hanging out for all to see.
It’s so easy for me to pitch other people’s projects. “NOT MY BOOK.”
That’s been a mantra of mine since the mid-1990s.
“Not my book. Not my book. Not my book.” It allowed for distance, for me to be the copyeditor, the proofreader, the marketer, the consultant, the agent.
But when I’m visible?
It’s MY BOOK, MY BLOG, MY PROPOSAL, MY PRODUCT.
And I have to realize why that makes me quake in my boots.
I don’t expect it. I send out dozens of pitches each week, I pitch my client projects while having a normal conversation about the weather. I can completely mark up a page of someone’s academic journal article in 30 minutes. No anxiety. But I know I can add value. I can help. I can do something.
But I go all anxious when it’s my own. I shrink. I don’t think of it in terms of adding value. I think of it as “will they accept it? Is it good enough?”
I’m sure many of the writers reading this get what I mean.
It’s not second nature to pitch MY OWN WORK. It’s my first impulse to pitch my clients, to help writers, to be of service.
Until it’s mine. Until it’s me.
It’s this anxiety thing. It changes my brain, makes me forget how to show value, how to be of value, how to be in the moment, because I’m so terrified of being visible.
I wish I could do better. I am, actually. I used to have zero knowledge that this was happening. Now I am aware. I know it happens. I catch myself doing it. Slipping into anxiety when I need to be present.
And it shows up at the strangest times. Times when I think I’ve covered all my bases, and lo and behold, I didn’t. I worried too much about being visible and forgot about being of value.
So imagine my horror when folks asked me if they could see a sample of my new LIGHT YOU UP 2016 Creativity Planner.
I hadn’t even thought of it.
And I thought of a lot of things.
I made sure there were videos, made sure everyone got emails, wrote blog posts, wrote one heck of a product, made sure my payment server was up and running.
Even tried to dissuade my anxiety from showing up and stopping the entire launch process by taking up a running regimen (with an accountability partner) and not eating ANY Halloween candy.
Thing is, I missed the most important piece: showing the value of my product. Being of value to you, my wonderful readers.
And I’ve got something to make it up to you.
A sample. Go here to get access.
While you’re doing that, I’ll keep talking to you about creative anxiety.
It’s a real thing. Lest you think you are just “high strung” like my great-grandmother told me my family is.
When I was a child. I thought it meant we used to be in the circus.
There’s more to it than that.
You can have anxiety about anything. It doesn’t need to be strictly creative.
It just needs to be something that makes you worry, even a little bit.
We’re weird humans, creatures of habit. Perhaps it’s changing your habit, changing one thing in your life and suddenly, anxiety rears its ugly head.
But where does creative anxiety come from?
Fear of failure. The fear that you aren’t going to be able to stick the landing.
Fear of success. The fear that you will stick the landing and then not be the same. You’ll change and you’ll be a terrible person, for getting a book deal, having more money, or gaining a lot of fame.
Perfectionism. This anxiety is so hard to shake off. It can make us forget the value we ARE, how we give so much to the world, how we share, and bring joy. It forces us to focus only on if we’ve done it according to some ridiculous protocol. Usually picked up unconsciously somewhere a long time ago.
Not good enough. This is what gets me every time. I want everything I create to be good. I want it to be helpful, but I get so focused on how that affects ME that I forget how it affects OTHERS. I am determined to work on this one.
The mindset. Living and being creative with anxiety is learning to stop in the middle of the action (in media res) to take a deep breath, to reflect, to step forward with courage, with determination to try again.
Does that help?
So, if we’re anxious, what do we DO about it? You know, after you stop, take the deep breath, reflect, and step forward with courage and determination.
A couple of scenarios:
A gal I know, Eva, has always wanted to be a writer, ever since she was a little girl. She’s won awards, wrote stories in notebooks, was on staff at her high school’s paper, took every journalism class she could, and then graduated from college, got married, had a kid, and up until last year, thought everything in her life was hunky dory. And then she read a book that moved her, or met someone that reminded her of the little girl she used to be. She’s reminded of her dream: to write. But anxiety rears up quite fast. But to write what? What does she want to write and if she did write it, who would buy it? And if someone could buy it, is it good? Does it need work? How does Eva even know where to begin?
Greg, a technical writer, has made a living from his writing. He’s good at it, but it’s not all he wants to do with his life. He has always thought he would be excellent at writing science fiction. He’s attended a couple of Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America meetings, surfed a few scifi author websites, and thinks he could do a decent job at a novel, if he knew how to start. He’s decided to go to his local independent bookstore and ask for a book on writing fiction. But he’s anxious to really DO something. Is this the right thing?
Molly, a young mom, spends her days watching her rambunctious twins and stopping them from putting anything and everything into their mouths. She thinks “there has to be a book in here somewhere” and does a quick search online. She finds a self-published book about raising twins, a bunch of picture books that sound hilarious, about crayons quitting and dragons loving tacos, but she thinks she could write a picture book for toddlers about being toddlers. Right? She feels a little burst of excitement and then a bunch of anxiety all at the same time.
What do these writers do first?
How does their next step alleviate creative anxiety?
Action. Any sort of action. Buying a book on writing fiction and reading it is one action. But a better action for Greg would be to buy the book, read it, and then start writing a book of his own. Use the exercises and the inspiration from the howto book on writing fiction. WHAT? Before he knows anything about anything? Before he even understands the business? Yup.
Action. Reaching out to ask questions, get coffee, with that someone Eva ran into who reminded her of her dream. Asking around: “Does anyone know a writer? Do you know anyone who writes novels?” WHAT? Before she knows anything? Before she even understands the business? Yup.
Action. Molly should get back on Google and keep looking for more information. She should find out about a picture book writing class that’s happening in her area in the next few months. She should join a reading group at the library where her twins refuse to sit still, but she runs into someone who knows about an organization that could help her learn to write picture books. WHAT? Before she knows anything? Before she even understands the business? Yup.
Yes, there’s a message here. Yes, it’s deliberate.
When I’m feeling anxious, especially about my creativity, I try to do one thing to push myself forward. I read, do Internet research, reach out and talk to someone. I don’t put it off for another day. I do it then. Right then.
Action. It’s part awareness, part forward motion. Together, it changes the game. And that disarms anxiety. While you’re moving, anxiety has to move with you.
Make it tough for you to sit still, to continue to let anxiety rule over you. Make it hard for anxiety to win.
Again, to grab a sample of my LIGHT YOU UP 2016 Creativity Planner, go here. You’ll love it!
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If you’d like help creating more ideas you absolutely love, contact me about creative consulting services.