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Everything is Going to be Ok: On Writing and Anxiousness

The other day my daughter pointed out the coffee stained piece of paper that's been sitting on my writing desk for the last few weeks.
“Mama?” she asked. “What's that?”
“It’s a note I wrote to myself.”
“For when my brain is being mean to itself.”

Sometimes I wonder whether writers are prone to being anxious people, because god knows there are plenty of reasons to be anxious about writing, or if anxious people are prone to being writers, because when you have the kind of brain that spends its time constructing complicated imaginary scenarios, you might as well use it for something, right?

Either way, I get anxious a lot. About both writing stuff and personal stuff. The kind of anxiety that wants to hang out at 4 am, detailing all the many, many ways in which everything in the current draft of my novel could be horribly, gigantically, unbelievably wrong. The kind of anxiety that wants to hang out at 8 pm when I sit down to write, filling my brain with things that aren't related to writing at all.

So one particularly worried day a few weeks ago, I wrote myself a note. I'm not usually into affirmations, but I needed something. A thing to focus on. A message from the kind, sensible part of my brain to the irrational, ugly part. A reminder to let go of all the things I carry around when I sit down to write, because my brain can’t work on my novel if it's working on a hundred things which are not my novel.

Sure, there are scenarios where things could turn out not ok. Most of them involve major illness, large scale disaster, and the deaths of people I love. But they’re all unlikely, and all of them are unrelated to my writing. There are other scenarios where things could turn out sad, disappointing, difficult. But do they mean things won’t be ok? No. This draft of my novel turns out to be every bit as bad as I think it is at 4 am? Then I'll rewrite it. I'll ask for other people’s opinions on how I can fix things. And I'll keep working, small piece by small piece, until things aren't broken anymore. My novel doesn't find an agent? My novel finds an agent but not a publisher? My novel finds a publisher but doesn't sell well? Then I'll write another novel, using everything I've learnt from writing this one. I’ll write another dozen novels. I'll write. And learn. And write. And write. And write.

Because there are only a few things that I can truly control, as a writer. I can write the best novel I can possibly write at this moment in time, and I can find beta readers who will help me make it even better. I can do my research so that my manuscript reaches the agents most likely to see potential in it. And everything else? Everything else is out of my control, so I won't let it control me. And I can do my best to set the rest of my life aside when I sit down at my desk, so that I’m dealing with the words in front of me, and not everything else.

Because, really, everything is going to be ok. And there might be days when that seems impossible to believe, but all I need to do is write, one word at a time, until I believe again.
Leila Austin

Leila lives in Middle Earth, also known as New Zealand, and writes YA fantasy.

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  1. Encouraging words can mean all the difference. Glad you put your note idea to good use!

  2. I just read this whole post out loud to my husband and told him to file it under, "See? Jenny's Not the Only One." Thank you so much for putting it into words better than I usually do!

  3. I'm such an anxious writer. I actually have OCD which makes writing feel impossible some days. But deep breaths and perspective make a huge difference. (Along with my medication! :P) Thank you for sharing your struggles! It's so important for writers (and artists across the board) to know that their fears are not theirs alone.


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