Category Archives: Anxiety

Feeling guilty

I decided to give myself a break from writing the novel simply to give myself some space, and explore other projects. But I’ve done nothing very constructive for all that time – I seem to have collapsed in on myself like a burst balloon.

Maybe I should just enjoy this down time rather than waste energy feeling guilty about it?

Since working on The Artists’ Way I’ve slowly got out of the habit of doing my morning pages regularly (my excuse is Josh – he wakes up too early and complains) and I’ve stopped doing artist dates. Maybe that is the key and I need to go back and bring those things back into my life?

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More about getting into a writing frame of mind

I’m still having a rest from writing the novel – and still feeling vaguely guilty about it. It’s made me think a lot more about the writing process: why I want to write, and also why sometimes I find it so hard.

Being ‘in the mood’ for writing is definitely a key thing for me – but as writing is a large part of my work as well as something I do for myself, I don’t always have the luxury of waiting until the mood hits me.

So how come I can churn out press releases and brochures to order, but not the next few chapters of my novel? They key is preparation or warming up. At work there are things I always do as preparation – but because they are things that I do at work, I haven’t been applying them to myself at home when I feel as if I should just be able to leap straight in. Here are a couple of techniques that I’m going to try to transfer from work to home:

The friendly Martian

At work, I often have to spend time explaining what it is that I’m going to write about to other people, usually to elicit information from them. But often the act of explaining is just as useful to me as the information that I get out of it because it makes me think it through carefully and maybe look at the project from other angles.

Of course, to apply it to my novel, I’ll either have to find a willing victim or perhaps write questions and answers.

Word association or clustering

This is like mental doodling – letting your mind wander and think through the problem. (It makes you look more efficient than staring aimlessly out of the window when at work, too.)

 

Clustering (a technique I picked up from Gabrielle Rico’s book Writing the Natural Way) also helps to organise ideas. It’s similar to mind mapping, but I enjoy the action of circling words and phrases, then joining them up to form a huge web of ideas.

It helps me to organise ideas as well as find new connections; I’ve already been clustering to help me organise the sections of the novel. But I’ve also noticed that my writing comes easier after clustering so I’m going to work through some of the exercises in Rico’s book, especially those on modelling and re-creating.

Know the subject

When I get stuck writing something at work, it’s usually because I don’t know what I’m really writing about. Some people can work their way round that and make the best of what they do know – I’m not like that. My writing is like an iceberg: what appears on the page is only part of what goes on to create it.

One of the hang-ups of the book at the moment is the uncertainty of what is going to happen next. The characters are moving towards a pivotal point in the book, and none of us know what is going to happen next. And I’m getting twitchy about not knowing enough about the court system in early medieval England. It’s in danger of becoming too much of an episode of The Bill or Inspector Morse because that’s more or less the sum total of my knowledge of criminal law…

Obviously research and asking questions is going to be the answer for this – but I’m also going to explore visualisation techniques too. The passages of writing that have been easiest and turned out best were where I had a very clear picture in my mind of what was going on. All I had to do was describe what I saw in my head, and so it follows that if I can train my mind to rehearse parts of the novel in my head, writing it will be easier.

 

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Filed under Anxiety, copywriting, Middle ages, Motivation, Research, Writing

Creative U-turn or recharging?

I’ve decided to stop pushing myself so hard to get the first draft finished. Although I’m worried that this could be a bit of a creative u-turn.

On one hand, I’ve got a lot going on in my life. I’m a single mother (to an incredibly engergetic and sparky six-year-old boy) and I work full time. I have a house that needs cleaning and decorating along the lines of the Forth Bridge. And then on top of that, I’m writing a novel, trying to keep posting in a blog – not to mention attempting to keep up with my professional development and fit in a little social life.

I’m beginning to think that somewhere along the line, I need to fit in a little bit of relaxing!

So I’ve decided to ease up with the novel and let my batteries re-charge. I’m not going to be giving it up, though – just not punishing myself to get it finished. I don’t think that forcing myself to try to meet deadlines is helping me in my writing. I’m getting bits done, but I’m not enjoying it as much as I should be.

Having said all that, there’s a little voice in the back of my head that’s telling me that I should keep going and not stop. That I’m giving up and I will regret it later.

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Filed under Anxiety, Children, Housework, Motivation, Self sabotage, Time, Writing

Synchronicity

I’ve read about it – but not really ever experienced it in any meaningfully creative way until yesterday.

I wrote a post about how I find it hard to get into a writing frame of mind. Then I had a look a website that I’d seen earlier on – the Learning Space  from the Open University. There are free modules that you can study at your own pace, and I’d seen one that I fancied called ‘Writing what you know’.

And one of the first things I came across in this module was an interview with Andrew Cowan (author of several novels) talking about how he finds it hard to get into writing. He has to ‘circle the nest’ first – that is get all the jobs and distractions out of the way before he can write. He talked about putting his first novel Pig aside for weeks at a time while he did anything but write it.

So I feel better now. I’m not the procrastinating freak that I thought I was. (Or at least not the only one.)

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Getting into a ‘writing’ frame of mind

Lots of times I sit down to write, but just can’t get into it. I don’t have the right frame of mind – and given that I get very little time to write I want to be able to make the most of the time I have. I’m surprised at how hard I find it sometimes: after all I want to write. If I wanted to eat ice-cream, I’m sure that I wouldn’t have the same difficulty!

Of course, writing is mostly a mental process, and the mind has lots of ways to stop us from doing what we want. (Or maybe that’s just me!) My problems with getting on with writing seem to have two sources:

  • Anxiety
  • Distractions

The anxiety is all internal. Although I know that what I’m writing is just a first draft, and that no one is going to be seeing it, I have what I can only describe as performance anxiety, and I’ll do anything to avoid writing when I get into that state – which is where the distractions come in.

Distractions come in two sorts: internal or self-created ones (who’s emailed me today? Better just check my bank balance – etc.) and the real ones (Josh not wanting to go to sleep, the cat wanting attention, someone telephoning just as I’ve sat down).

Of course identifying the problems is only part of the battle. How do I overcome anxiety and the distractions that I create for myself? Obviously, will-power and self-discipline (as much as I hate to admit it) are the key things – but that’s not something that you can just ‘get’, it takes practice. I mean, I can’t go from having will-power with the consistency of jelly to tough and sinewy determination overnight. I need to build up to it.

My strategy is:

  • Fool myself into not being anxious. I’ll have warm-up session where I just ‘mess around’ with ideas to get me in the mood – the idea is that once I’ve started writing I’m usually ok.
  • Start small. If I really don’t feel like writing, I’ll just do it for 15 minutes to see how I get on (and set a timer so that I don’t clock-watch) and then carry on longer if I want to, or take a break.
  • Avoid opportunities for distractions. So, no internet connection when I’m writing and a note pad to write down all the ‘urgent’ ideas that occur to me while I’m getting started so that I don’t feel obliged to follow them up immediately!

Will it work? I have no idea.

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More elements of style

Had a good day yesterday, just writing whatever and however but slowly working my way through the plan. I’ve found that it even works better for me if I leave spaces where I feel a bit bored or de-motivated – like today when I found I just couldn’t face going through a bit of dialogue. Instead of getting stuck in a rut, I just moved on to the next bit (which I really wanted to write) knowing that I can work on that bit of dialogue later.

My strategy for dealing with the chaos of my first draft is going to be based on what I found from the books I looked through on Friday.

I’m going to aim for:

Directness. Instead of telling readers  how something happened, or what someone felt, I’m going show it through actions and dialogue – or at least aim to do that 90% of the time.

Simplicity. Next to being direct is being simple. Just tell it how it is – leave out anything that’s not completely necessary. And not to overdo things – I’ve got a tendency to want to ram stuff home, when it detracts from the story.

Readability. What really annoys me is not being able to read something aloud – sentences that seem ok when you scan them with your eyes suddenly trip you up when you try to read them out loud.

Of course, all this is going to be much easier in theory than in practice! But at least knowing that I’ve got some idea of how I’m going to fix the chaos at the end is keeping my interal critic quiet (so far) and actually letting me get on with writing.

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Filed under Anxiety, Language, Motivation, Writing

Holiday

Had a break from writing (and blogging) because I’ve been on holiday. All my good intentions went right out. I didn’t:

  • do any research
  • write my morning pages (there were no curtains in the cottage. I was woken by Josh as the sun rose. There’s a limit to what you can achieve in a cottage containing four adults and two young children. Morning Pages are not included. )
  • read through what I’ve written so far and make a detailed character list.

But I did:

  • eat too much (fresh baguette, butter and cheese!)
  • drink too much (especially vodka orange one night in Vierzon. Ouch)
  • swam every day (in the freezing pool at the cottage. Josh would jump in and gasp at the cold. His lips would be getting blue before he’d come out to warm up before getting back in. I had hoped to get him swimming by the end of the week, but at least his confidence has improved)
  • visted two chateaux (Valencay and Chennonceau)
  • broke my parents’ car (but it was ok in the end)
  • read Tell No One.

I didn’t really expect to get anything done on the novel, but it’s going to be hard to get back into the swing of things again – especially the morning pages. I also came back to a mountain post which included a rejection for a short story I sent to Mslexia. I didn’t really expect it to be accepted, but that doesn’t help me to ignore the little nagging voice inside that tells me to give it all up now…
Off to do ironing and watch an episode of Danger Man to take my mind off writing and the french-bread-and-cheese in the evening habit I’ve developed.

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