Anxiety runs in my family, and while I certainly don't have the most severe case, I do have some and I've learned a few things about it through my family's experiences. Today I want to talk about Catastrophizing, because I think many writers face it in their struggles to get published.
At least I hope I'm not the only one.
You can read more about Catastrophizing here, but basically it's a form of anxiety in which a person immediately jumps to the worst case scenario. It can manifest itself in two ways—present and future—and can severely limit one's ability to succeed. Why? Because you get in a cycle of negative thought process, one that you may then carry out to prove your worries right.
This type is kind of along the lines of "making mountains out of molehills." For example, say you check your inbox first thing in the morning and you find two query rejections. Catasrophizing this event would look a little like this:
"If these agents rejected me, then every single one on the planet will hate my book!"
I've never thought that before...*cough*
Here's a few more that you may be familiar with:
"I can't believe I still had 308 'just's in this MS! I'll never, ever be able to make this book perfect. I'm a failure."
"If I don't write this perfectly, my agent will be embarrassed to have me as a client and DUMP me."
"If my editor saw that lame metaphor, he'd nullify the contract immediately."
"ONE STAR REVIEW? Everyone is going to hate my book. It will never sell. I'm doomed."
This type is related to the first, but has more roots in mentality and the future. It's a pattern of negative thinking, in which a person begins to believe everything will always go wrong. This type of Catastrophizing is forecasting negative events before they even happen, whereas Present is spurned on by some kind of bad thing that we think is worse than it is.
"I can't go to that conference—no one will talk to me and I won't make friends like everyone else. And besides, even if I sign up for a pitch session, I'll just bomb it and the editor/agent will laugh in my face."
"I can't edit more. That would just be more work for nothing. They obviously didn't like the idea enough to get on board, why waste my time with it when I have other better ideas?"
"I can't really be an author. That's for really good writers and I'm just a hack. People will see through me if I try."
"I can't put 100% in this. If I fail, it'll hurt more than anything. I won't be able to go on if I really try and nothing comes of it."
I think we all Catastrophize to some degree. People with low anxiety levels can easily recognize the falsehood of these negative thought processes and snuff them out quickly. But people with higher anxiety can sometimes have a harder time talking themselves out of Catastrophizing. It can be a constant battle.
The most important thing in combating this is to recognize when you are doing it, and to talk yourself out of it.
"I will never get published...No, that's not true. I don't know that for sure, but if I don't try then I definitely won't. Trying is scary, but if I want publication that's the only route."
If you think you're experiencing Catastrophizing, try keeping a journal of your thoughts through the day for a week or so. This can help you identify triggers to your negative thinking. Once you have that figured out, it's time to talk yourself out of the thoughts. This can be harder than it sounds.
I personally have found a lot of comfort in friends. When I talk about my triggers and what I'm feeling, I realize how silly they sound. When I type them out in an email, I realize I really do sound like I'm overreacting. This is a very important realization—it removes the doom and despair and anxiety that comes with Catastrophizing.
The worst thing you can do is keep it to yourself, as in not even writing it down. The feelings build inside, and if you're not able to talk yourself out of them you can develop a very negative way of thinking that will limit your experiences.
Catastrophizing and Writing:
Hope is basically a requirement for pursuing a career in writing. Believing you can make it keeps you going when things get tough—and they will get tough. Catastrophizing can severely damage your mentality, which will get in the way of your work. Trust me, I've been there.
But the I-will-never-make-it-why-am-I-doing-this-to-myself feelings will come. Unless you're some kind of cyborg or grinch without a heart, both of which probably won't make you a very good writer.
When they do come, it's important to realize that these feelings are false. That's the weird thing about emotions; they can trick you into thinking things that are very far from reality. I guess it's lucky we humans have logic too, just for these types of scenarios when we have to battle ourselves.
When it comes to writing and publishing, the best is advice is usually the simplest: