Insights: Anxiety & Writing

How to Handle Your Evil Anxiety Demon as an Author
By E.S. Barrison

Writing is probably one of the most anxiety inducing creative endeavors. I know, I know, that’s not really
the best way to start something like this, but let’s be honest: it’s true. In contrast to painting, or music,
or even a movie, writers are stuck creating something for what could be years…and feedback on it can
take just as long. A writer sits and waits while a friend, a significant other, a parent, or a complete
unknown reader goes through their work to ultimately say: “this is amazing” or “this needs work.” So,
the writer is left with their own thoughts and self-doubts for hours, days, months, or sometimes even
years, waiting for feedback.
Yet, so many writers it seems struggle with anxiety, so why do we keep coming back to it when we are
stuck holding our breath waiting for someone to say something? I wish I could give a psychological
answer to that question. But what I can offer is an opinion based on MY experiences with Generalized
Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and publishing my debut novel.
To say it has been easy would be a lie. Because it’s not easy. For all the years I’ve been working on this
story (which is 13 years since the idea was incepted), my stress levels regarding the book has come in
waves. Does it make sense? Is it well-written? Is the story good? Even now, three months after the book
has been out, I still struggle with these questions. It’s a battle to fight the negative thought demons
whenever a bad review comes in (which to my relief has been few and far between), or to climb out of
my comfort zone to reach out to book bloggers.
I could go on about these anxiety-inducing events, but I do want to get to the point. How can you fight
back these demons? They can be quite rude, disrupt your creative process, and leave your story in a
mess due to how many times you give into their incessant demands. The simple answer is this: ignore
But we all know it isn’t that easy. If it were easy enough to ignore these terrible thoughts, we wouldn’t
be having this conversation. Instead, I have a technique I use to keep my writing in focus.
I put on my Author Hat.
My author hat fights the demons for me. It’s my “author” persona, in a way. It is more confident than
my everyday persona. I’m more confident, more outgoing, and more talkative about my writing. If you
run into me on the street, I would shy away from any of that. But it’s necessary to take on those two
personas, at least for me.
Treating my writing in that professional standpoint helps me look at criticism as part of the job, not as a
personal attack. Sure, some days, it feels like a personal attack. There is no way to completely separate
yourself from it, after all. We’re human.

But as a professional, you can look at negative criticism and bad reviews as a stepping-stone: it means
you have broken out of just your family and friends. People who don’t know you have read your book.
After you get over the initial shock, from a professional standpoint, it’s just business as usual.
But doesn’t that make writing “work”? Not necessarily. It is more of my way of compartmentalizing that
aspect of my life. Does it stop anxiety? No. But does it let me keep writing even after something knocks
me down? Yes.
Unfortunately, there is no fool proof way to fight anxiety around writing. The best thing to do is just
write. For me, that requires putting on an author hat to protect me from my doubt monsters. For
someone else, that might be finding a support group. Whatever it is, whatever you can find to separate
your writing from those thought demons, do it.
And if that doesn’t work, consider this: you’re writing this story for YOU. Already, you have ONE person
who loves it. Have confidence. Have conviction.
And remember, just write. That is the best way to tell your anxiety to stop. Write your story and prove
to your anxiety you can do it.
Otherwise, who is the real winner?

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