I always have to have something to read, from the time I get up in the morning until just before I turn out the light at night. If I’m not reading, I’m writing. I have an almost pathological need to be doing those two things to the exclusion of all else. I’ve often wondered why I’m this way. The other day, I think I found at least a partial answer.
I like to keep my mind occupied, because if I don’t, I think about things that drive me crazy. I have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, but I don’t think you have to be mentally ill to be debilitated by anxiety from time to time. At any rate, if I’m not reading or writing–in other words, if I’m not directing what I’m thinking about–my mind goes wild. Thoughts of what could go wrong in any area of life–health, finances, family, marriage, nationwide and worldwide events–come close to paralyzing me. My mind is so overcome by fears that I can’t think of anything else, let alone of creative writing ideas.
I think I need to learn to trust my mind. To believe that I can handle whatever fears and anxieties come my way. Unless I learn how to do that, I will never be able to move beyond those actions and thoughts that make me feel secure. What complicates matters for me as a writer is that I am always anxious about my writing as well. I start things and then don’t finish them because my anxieties prevent me from doing so. I’m not just afraid that I can’t finish, I’m also afraid that the finished product will be crap, and that that will be the best I can do. I’m afraid of being found out to be talentless. Of having to face that reality about myself as a writer.
Better that I not finish and leave my potential as unknown and unverifiable. Then I can at least fool myself into thinking that I do have talent–as long as I don’t let myself think deeply about it. Better to keep busy with reading, journal-writing and blogging than to set out in uncharted waters. The saying goes that it is better to be safe than sorry, but that’s assuming that you will always be sorry if you let go of what is safe. I need to convince myself that there is greater joy in challenging myself than in protecting what I already know to be true. Fear keeps me from exploring the world, even the world of my own mind. I need to reject that fear and let myself go.
I am currently reading Ralph Keyes’ The Courage to Write. It’s not a very long book–203 pages, not counting the notes and bibliography. It was written in 1995 and you can also find it in paperback. I forget where I heard about it. It might have been when I was browsing at Barnes and Noble. Instead of buying books I might not like, I write down the titles and try to get them from the library. Then if I do like them, I buy them, but usually from Amazon or Half.com. I’m not sure if I’m going to want to buy The Courage to Write yet. But so far it seems promising.
Here is an excerpt from page 7:
“I’ve learned that a rising tide of anxiety isn’t necessarily bad. It’s a sign that I’m getting serious. Nervousness keeps me alert. Fear forces me to focus and to work longer hours. Restless nights mean I’m gaining momentum. The end is in sight. Getting there isn’t always pleasant. Neither is running in a marathon. Or staging a play. Or climbing a mountain. All such activities take courage. And all reward those who complete them not only with an unparalleled feeling of achievement but with a thrilling sense of adventure along the way.”
I don’t know about the thrilling sense of adventure, but the part about anxiety makes a lot of sense to me. I suffer from anxiety anyway, about everything. I take medication for it, but it creeps into my psyche several times a day. And it is worse when I’m trying to write. I get so far and then start feeling anxious and can’t continue. Apparently this isn’t as unusual as one might think. But it sure wreaks havoc with my writing career.
If I could just learn to work through the anxiety, I might be able to finish more pieces and even submit them. But I even experience anxiety about writing query letters. The only reason I’m able to write my posts for my blogs is because they don’t feel real. I don’t think anyone is really reading them. So I can make mistakes, write sloppily, even be incoherent and who’s going to know? I almost dread the day when (if) someone lets me know that they’re reading my posts. I wonder if I’ll start experiencing anxiety once that happens and not be able to write them anymore.
Right now the blog posts I write are the only writing outlet I have, besides my journals. I’ve gotten addicted to them. I don’t often write good ones, but every once in a while I think I’ve done a pretty good job and then my spirits soar. But it’s very hard for me to maintain a sense of self-confidence. Especially when I’m working on other things besides blog posts. I’ve started countless essays and I just can’t finish them. I’ve written over 50,000 words of a novel and it’s awful, but I don’t have the guts to start over.
Maybe this book will give me some insight into why I let myself choke so often when I’m writing. I’ll keep you posted.
I have plenty of time (I work at another job, but only part-time), a new laptop, an encouraging and supportive husband (who doesn’t expect me to do housework) and a certain amount of faith in my writing ability. So why am I having so much trouble writing?
It occurred to me recently that I’m not having as much trouble as I think I am. But I’m obsessing about how hard it is for me to finish anything, let alone submit it somewhere (which automatically means no publication). And I think the reason I’m obsessing is the same reason I don’t feel good about myself and my life in general: my clinical depression and anxiety. Not so much because I still suffer from those two bogeymen of the mind, but because I still act and think as if I do. I haven’t revised my behavior and thinking to correspond to the strides I’ve made in achieving mental health. I’m used to being down on myself, because mood disorders make you feel that way. You can’t control how you feel or think because your depression, anxiety or whatever is doing the controlling.
How do I break through the control that depression and anxiety have over me? One technique is to act “as if” I am no longer controlled by them, to step out in faith in myself as a new person. Easier said than done, I know. But imperative if I’m going to get anywhere with my writing.