If you’re like me, you go through major phases as a writer. There are the dry spells, when you’re not really blocked, just not motivated to write all the things. More than likely, you’re questioning your abilities and you feel a little at sea with your reasons for writing. For a writer this can cause some anxiety, naturally. Something that you thought to be at the core of who you are is not beating in your veins as urgently as you feel it should.
Then there’s the other anxiety. The times you ARE motivated, ARE writing all the things, ARE critiquing and editing and altering. Finally, you ARE submitting! And despite the fact that you know writing is a process, sometimes a long process, especially the waiting to hear back from editors part, you can’t help but bristle with an impatience, which quickly turns to hyper-vigilance (your Outlook account is a perpetually open tab on your monitor? Or your Submittable account, perhaps?) which then turns to anxiety.
Both of these experiences, I believe, are a revolving door; two sides of the coin when it comes to doing what we do as writers. This is not to say that there are not also those times of real satisfaction and gratification, of course, because we wouldn’t be writers if there wasn’t that. But as with any passion that requires hard work, dedication, and commitment, the slumps and the nagging anxiety is almost inevitable.
How do you deal with these times as a writer? Below, I outline a few of the things that have helped me through these valleys. I hope they are helpful to you as well
Revisit your old textbooks from high school, your undergrad stuff, or your MFA coursework. Or find new things to read that discuss the mechanics of writing in whatever genre you prefer.
I have a cache of poetry technique and writing textbooks on my shelf, as well as books of essays and lectures from some of my favorite poets and other authors. Not so recently, I bought a book put out by the Vermont College of Fine Arts MFA program, titled Words OverFlown By Stars. The great thing about this compilation of essays, lectures, and criticism is that it discusses writing techniques for fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction (memoir), etc. There’s something for everybody. More recently, I made my way though The Triggering Town, a book of essays and lectures from one of my idols, the late poet Richard Hugo.
Find your own jam! Dive into work that discusses the how’s of writing. If you’re like me, a refresher on technique can give you some renewed confidence–whether that comes in the form of “oh, THAT’s what I need to do,” or in the form of “okay, now I can better break the rules!”
Explore A New Genre
Sometimes you need something that departs significantly from discussions of what you’re trying to do or achieve. They say that the best writers are avid readers, and that is absolutely true! Specifically, good writers are well rounded readers. They indulge in a wide range of material. You may write primarily flash fiction, but you take time out to dabble in poetry, essays, longer works of fiction in a variety of genres (perhaps you should pick up that sci-fi fantasy novel?)–or depart from the literary scene and read some history, philosophy, or politics!
Remember that everything is influence. You don’t need to read as if you were going to be tested on the content, but read to discover a new insight, a new approach to the world, read to delight in another author’s turn of phrase, read to imagine a world outside the parameters of your own.
Network with Other Writers
Chances are, you’re not the only one going through a writing slump. Every one of us has been there at some point. It always helps me to ask questions of other writers and thinkers. Find writers on blogs, forums, or other social media platforms, interrogate their process. How did they started their writing journey? What did success look like for them, early on? What about their failure? Be curious. Be kind. Make a connection.
These are just a few of the ways I try to stave off the inevitable self-doubt that assails me from time to time when it comes to putting words down on the page and especially putting words down with the hope another will appreciate them.
What about you? What causes your writer’s anxiety and what do you do to move yourself forward?