If you’ve got creative goals, my bet is that you’ve had to face anxiety about whether you would actually meet them. In its most dangerous form this anxiety becomes generalized — the free-floating fear that seems to emanate from your creative project and engulfs you when you approach it. When I’ve had this anxiety, it shuts me down.
In fact, I had this anxiety yesterday, and oddly enough it’s because I’ve been celebrating some victories.
The book I’ve been working on is close to complete. During the holidays, I organized all my writing in one document with chapters and subheadings. It was beautiful! I felt like I’d seen a sonogram of this baby at 7-months. I could see it: all its fingers and toes! It just needs to grow a little more and soon it will be ready to come into the world.
The fear that somehow I would screw this up, that I would fail to nurture my baby to full gestation was what set me in motion: I needed a schedule! Every piece of creative success wisdom had said this. So I bought a calendar, and I started filling in how much I was getting done each week. Startlingly little. A lot of my “writing time” was spent “goofing off” watching movies about magic or doing research on magic. I mean, after all, it is a book about magic and writing. But still… That’s when the anxiety started.
After a day of shutdown, I sat down to write an email to my coach (that’s right the coach has a coach!).
I am having trouble putting together a schedule for getting my book done. To be clear, I keep showing up and working on it just like you’ve taught me, which is why I’ve made it this far, but I’d like to hammer out a schedule. I keep seeing things that say pick a deadline and work backwards to create a schedule, but I don’t know if that’s realistic given my circumstances.
The problem: Lots of times I hit a block where I have to do research, meditate, or otherwise process stuff before I can write because I have no idea what the next idea block of info is about or what to say about it. And so the book slows down, sometimes back to R&D phases. Also, I am managing some health stuff (in addition to juggling the full time job) so some days I just can’t show up like I’d planned to.
When I try to create a schedule, honestly, it often amplifies the anxiety I already deal with on a daily basis and then I get MORE STUCK.
Is it possible to put together a schedule for completion in these conditions? Or is it better to just show up every day and record my progress?
I never sent that email. Because as soon as I wrote out what my problem was, I started to see what my REAL problem was. This is why when I’m coaching I say that we are not only learning to write but writing to learn! Once it was ON THE PAGE, the HUGE and INFINITE anxiety was FINITE, which meant that even it if it’s big that it could be managed. That actually reduced my fear. All I had to do was write it down.
Basically, there was a cycle that was based on these fears:
#1 Fear of failure. Who I am is based on what I achieve. If I fail, this just reinforces what I have long suspected was true: I’m a fraud. A bad writer and a bad person.
#2 Fear of the unknown. The baby is still growing, and I don’t know what it’s going to need from me or what it’s going to become. What if it’s hideous? What if I’m a failure? (Return to fear #1, and repeat)
These are normal fears that whip into a fast and furious cycle of dysfunction.
After writing things down, I realized I’ve met LOTS of deadlines when the stakes were high and I had no idea what I was doing. The thing was, the projects were smaller and the parameters more defined. Yup. That was my problem — an Earth element problem that lots of writers have.
(You can learn more about The Elements of Practical Magic for Writers.)
I, like other writers, am so frequently BIG PICTURE (Air element) in my thinking. My brain is so busy envisioning the grand scheme that it’s hard to focus on the minutia. But as soon as I realized, if I make this a CHAPTER project rather than a book project, the anxiety diminishes. And if I make this an ARTICLE project the anxiety is practically nonexistent. I needed smaller chunks! That’s not a new or radical notion at all. In fact, it’s common advice that borders on cliche.
I was so overwhelmed with anxiety, though, that I couldn’t see or think straight.
I would have been stuck in the anxiety cycle and shut down if I had not written down what the problem was and meditated on it. Sometimes the answers come. And the good news is this: if the answer doesn’t come, you have a clearly worded expression of what you want help with that you CAN SEND to someone who can help. That’s also part of the Earth element energy that assists us in our creativity: having a tribe. (You can join my tribe for free.)
So that’s what I’m asking you to do today. If you have some problem that is bedeviling you and slowing your creativity, write it down.
If you get an answer, would you share it me?
If you need help, let me know. I’m happy to help.