Thursday, April 11, 2013

When The Writing Challenges Are All Mental

The truth of the matter is that I'm freaking out, guys. This is to be expected, of course, with my first novel debuting in less than 40 days, but annoying nonetheless. I've been pretty open about my struggles with anxiety, and one of the most frustrating things about it is not being able to STOP. That's why it's a disorder, after all. Normal people can stop freaking out—when you have an anxiety disorder, you can't.  (So if you ever get the urge to tell a person with anxiety to just STOP freaking out, don't. We really, really wish we could. I promise.)

My meds help, but there is this threshold of stress that I reach where the anxiety outweighs my body and the medication's ability to contain my excessive angst. This is rather inconvenient, seeing as those moments are usually moments I need to be composed and focused and generally not crazy-looking. Like, say, when I have to promote my book plus working on a tight deadline or—please just kill me now—speak at my own impending launch party (preferably sans passing out).

I'm trying my utmost best not to freak out by doing all the things I know help my anxiety levels, like exercising and cooking and talking with friends and watching mindless reality TV. I am trying to stay out of negative thought patterns and focus on work. I am trying to eat nutritious meals so my body is at its strongest to combat stress. I am trying to stay away from any place where I may see publishing news/reviews/etc that may trigger insecurity and fear of how my book will fare out there. Trying, trying, trying.

I get so tired of trying to contain my stress levels. It feels like my whole life right now. It's frustrating as hell. (You know I'm annoyed when I start using such scandalous words as "hell.")

The worst thing is that all this gets in the way of my creative process. Oh, I know what happens in this WIP of mine. Technically, I should be able to write the rest of this thing with no stopping I have the story so firm in my head...and yet every day is a challenge. Just the thought of opening the WIP fills me with anxiety, not because of the words but because of how I FEEL about myself as a writer. When I get particularly stressed an anxious, I start thinking things like:

I will never get this right.

I'm a horrible writer, no matter how hard I try.

This story is just plain stoopid. Yes, spelled that way. It's too stoopid to deserve proper spelling.

No one will care.

And if they do, they'll just hate it.

I will never write a better book than the ones I've already written, so why keep going?

Super negative thought patterns, right? And I know that, too, but again it's part of that whole disorder thing. Knowing you're being irrational and not being able to just STOP. It takes so much work to quell that horrible inner dialogue. So much work to keep going forward when all you hear is those lies in your head. Some days are better than others. Some are much worse than others. I never know which I'm going to get.

So when all the writing challenges are in your head, what do you do? I wish I had all the answers to that question, but I don't. I have learned to accept that not all the things my brain tells me are true things, that sometimes I have to rely on the good opinions of my closest friends until I believe it myself. Those poor friends, they must get tired of saying, "IT'S GOOD. SHUT UP. KEEP GOING." But they do it, and I'm ever grateful for it.

I've also learned to STOP working when I'm having a super bad day, because everything I work on will just be tainted by that anxiety and I'll push myself into a panic attack. And I usually have to flee from social media because it's so easy to start reading everything as, "Everyone is more important and funnier and cooler and smarter and more talented than I can ever hope to be why do I even bother?" Comparison is certainly a deadly thing to an anxious personality.

Being okay with slow work days is also something I've gradually come to embrace. Sometimes I just have to be happy with the page I wrote, instead of worrying over the seven I couldn't manage. And I've especially come to understand that I can in no way feed my inner critic with criticism that comes from outside. I already beat myself up enough without reading reviews—I already believe too often that I'm a terrible writer and my books are drivel. There's no need to search for other people who may agree with that.

And most of all, I have learned to keep going. Even when it's annoying and exhausting and seems impossible. Having anxiety makes some aspects of my life so much harder than they should be, but I decided many years ago that I wouldn't let it stop me from doing what I most wanted to do. And this whole author thing is what I love even though my personal challenges sometimes get in the way.

If you got this far, thanks for reading. I think I mostly had to write this for myself after a long day of mental warfare.


  1. Sometimes, just pouring everything out like that, is the best thing you can do.

    Not to go into details, but my own writing has been crippled for several months due to a devastating development in my personal life.

    A couple times, when the stress is so bad I can't sleep for days, I've just dumped everything out in a new file. The release is good, but also seeing the words on the page somehow puts them in perspective and lets me take a breath of air without it feeling like there's a 2 ton weight on my chest.

    Breathe :)

    I'll try to as well :)

    Good luck :)

  2. In a new genre.

    With an idea that was more premise than plot.

    I spent 5 hours attempting to force my brain to come up with story ideas, the panic getting worse every minute. And the lack of sleep made today an absolute nightmare, filled with crying jags and morose sighs.

    1. (iPad wouldn't let me write any more in the comment box.)

      Like you, I took the night off. I watched some classic Doctor Who and I'm going to bed early. A friend helped with the plot problems, so tomorrow, when my brain is less tired, I can start writing.

      All you can do is take care of yourself as well as possible and listen to your friends when they say your writing doesn't suck.

  3. I applaud you for working so hard to be your best self. And for openly and honestly sharing your struggles with us. I hope it's good for you to vent it sometimes, and I'm quite sure that it's good for others to see that they're not alone.

    I mean, heck, I don't have an anxiety disorder, and I still identify with your inner dialogue and your frustrations a great deal. (Also, 1 new page of writing? That's a good day for me, not a slow one.)

    Just keep swimming, okay, Natalie?


  4. I'm really sorry to hear that. I've been following your blog/twitter feed for awhile, and while I've heard you reference your anxiety, I guess it wasn't clear that you were talking about a medical condition. (So many people talk about having "anxiety" when they just mean normal stress, so sometimes it's hard to tell.)

    Two of my best friends have similar conditions, and I know it can get really rough at times. I wish you the best with the next few months, I am stoked to read your book. :)

  5. Chin up. Boy do I get the whole anxiety self-doubt thing. Totally. Been there. Hope tomorrow is better.

  6. You're awesome. Your books are awesome. Don't ever stop fighting (especially when fighting means watching anime or something, cuz really? I could fight like that all day).

  7. I'm hugging you right now! don't be creeped out ok ;) I know there's nothing I can say to make you feel better, but I do hope that these next 40 days fly by for you and that once the book is out you'll be able to breathe a little easier.

    I think it's so important that you have learned how your body responds to stress and that you know when its time to step away and focus on taking care of yourself. So many people with anxiety or depression or whatever, struggle with recognizing the signs that they are spiraling out of control. So, yeah, even though it's still a struggle for you, at least you are taking control where you can.


  8. Natalie !

    You're a beautiful woman and a wonderful writer. You've done your best and, I'm sure, Lady Luck will do the rest. Just relax and listen to music. Stay blessed.

  9. Good luck! I know this is hard. We're all behind you. When this is over, you will still have great friends, great fans, and be a published writer.

  10. I cope with similar issues, and I remember how hard the run-up to my first book launch was. Especially the final seven days: I didn't think they were EVER going to pass.

    I'm sure you've had plenty of advice so I won't give you more. Just a reminder that the nice thing about a launch party is that everyone is there because they like you, they're interested in your work, they really do want to celebrate with you. It's a wonderful experience. (By which I don't mean, "Don't freak out," which as you say is not helpful, but, "It'll be okay," which usually helps me to hear.)

  11. Oh Natalie, I wish I could give you one big hug... even though I have never met you in person... and that might be kind of weird. Thank you for sharing and being so honest about your experience with anxiety. I am right there with you. For five years I have followed your blog and studied writing, I have yet to do it. Stupid anxiety. Have you ever heard of Brene Brown? She has three books out, but my favorite is The Gifts of Imperfection. A couple of TJED talks and an awesome interview with Oprah you can watch online. Her words have helped me learn how to deal with my anxiety in regards to my negative thought patterns... and even though I am not even remotely close to where I would like to be with my thoughts, her words help. I am writing stories like a scared chicken hoping that one day I'll be where you are. I am thrilled to read your book.

    ... and maybe one day I will be brave enough to attend one of your book signings and meet you in person :).

  12. Good luck, Natalie! We're rooting for you! Even though I haven't read your book yet, I know you're a wonderful, insightful writer from your blog. And I'm so glad you won't let the anxiety stand in your way.

  13. I know how you feel! You just gotta trudge on - you're already on the right track! Keep going, chin up, etc. etc.! :)

  14. Regular reader but shy commenter, stopping by to offer a virtual hug and best wishes.

    Anxiety is the worst.

  15. Natalie, like everyone else, I'm in your corner. Do what you have to do to be good to yourself. I am looking forward to your book's debut. I hope you'll come to Illinois for a signing.

  16. Situations like this always strike me as tough; I never know what to say. "It'll be okay" rings false because you know it won't magically be okay. You'll be dealing with the same problem again at some point. "You're doing great" feels a little too vague, too empty, too little for the struggle you go through.

    So, since words of sympathy are not my forte, I offer this: regardless of whether your book sells brilliantly or flops, regardless of whether you get 5-star reviews or the bin, regardless of how many people come to your signings and regardless of whether you stumble or giggle through a speech, you have already done something amazing.

    You have put in the time, effort, sweat and tears and you have finished a book. I'm in awe of anyone who has the perseverance and determination to do that. Not only did you finish writing a story you love, you pushed it through the giant monster of a publishing machine. Regardless of anything that happens next, you've already crossed the finish line.

    Best wishes and lots of luck on your book release!



    I think you'll be okay.

  18. Emotional and mental issues do have that way of draining our creative output. For me the particular case is depression, and I've had more than my share of bad days with it.

    Does music help, perhaps, to alleviate anxiety?

  19. YES YES YES everything I am feeling. Thank you.