What It’s Like Trying to Write with Anxiety

August 11, 2017
August 11, 2017 bryan

What It’s Like Trying to Write with Anxiety

It comes from out of nowhere really. It’s worse if there’s actually something to be anxious about – like a meeting I’m dreading or because I happen to turn on the news and see North Korea mentioned or even if I’m on my way to a dentist appointment. But more often than not, there is no immediate reason for me to be anxious. But I am. It starts with a kind of nagging feeling like I forgot to turn the oven off before leaving the house (which I didn’t) or like there’s a special meeting or project coming up that I know I’m supposed to be at but am not there (which there isn’t), or like I have a sudden pop-quiz or surprise test that I forgot to study for or had no idea was coming or read the wrong part of the text book (and I haven’t taken a test since college).
That’s the beginning of it.

Then it breaks into a kind of panic – What if I actually didn’t turn the oven off? How in the world can I break away for a few minutes to go make sure? And what if that meeting was actually today? And how do I know they’re not going to give me a pop quiz? I begin feeling like something bad is happening. Something very unpleasant is happening and I don’t know what it is or how to prepare for it. And today was the first day for my kids to start school and they’re on two different buses now. But those bus numbers aren’t the same that the bus company told me they’d be. How do I know for sure they’re going to the right school? What if my oldest got on the bus for high school and not the bus for middle school?
These are completely ridiculous and a big part of me knows it’s fine. They’re going to the right school. And even if there was a mistake, my oldest has her phone and can text or call me and I have the car so I can go make sure if something goes wrong.
After a few minutes of feeling this tension inside between what I fear the most and the knowledge of knowing that there’s nothing to be afraid of, there’s a weird kind of procrastination and boredom that sets in. I know that there are things I need to get done, like going through our budget or following up on a phone call, but I’m not in the best of states of mind at the moment and fear that I’ll stutter and stumble all through that phone call, that I really don’t have my thoughts together.
So I begin to jot those thoughts down. I make a bullet list of all the things I want to make sure and say on the phone. And then another wave of anxiety hits. This time about writing. I haven’t had a significant blog readership in years. I was too scattered when I was posting regularly and then got busy so I stopped writing. And then I wrote two novels but they weren’t published outside of my own self-publishing. I’m thirty-seven now, and my dreams from childhood had morphed from wanting to be an actor and musician, and then realizing I didn’t have the resources to make those happen the way I once wanted them to, so I decided I could write from anywhere. It started out that I wanted to shift into screen writing, but the best way to break into that was to have a literary agent. Then I had the thought that I could make an independent film and begin shopping that to distributors and film festivals. But then I did a few film projects for school and work and realized that filming is really cumbersome if you don’t have a full crew. You have to wait for weather changes and lighting changes if you’re using natural light, and then you have to make sure all the sound works because it’ll be recorded separately, and then you have to make sure you have actors who can make it actually happen the way you envisioned it. It’s really hard and expensive and time-sensitive.
And that is what led to writing a novel. I could tell the story in a narrative format without having to buy expensive equipment, without actors, without set pieces, without waiting for the perfect weather to shoot. Just write it. It’s 50,000 words, but if I get on a roll, I can type out thousands of words in one day if I try. So I wrote my first one, and then I wrote my second one. But I couldn’t sell them just right. I couldn’t tell that story in a single sentence or paragraph well enough to hook in an agent into wanting to read more. Maybe I wasn’t that good of a storyteller if I couldn’t describe my book in one paragraph.
So I try to sit down and think of a brand new starting place for a brand new story. And each time, I get stuck. I look for writer’s prompts but decide that’s kind of cheating, so I try to write down an idea I think is worth exploring. I begin to write out a short description and plot summary, and that kind of has me intrigued, so I begin writing an outline, and before I can get a third of the way through it, I’m exhausted and disgusted with myself. It’s too slow! It’s way too simple of an idea! Why would ANYBODY want to read this? And I’m stuck.
So I write a blog post to try and get the wheels of cognition working in my brain again. Sometimes it comes to me, and sometimes it doesn’t.
And THIS is when the anxiety sets in. I AM thirty-seven! I’m almost forty! And everything I dreamed of doing boiled down to a simple task of writing! And I can’t even do that! How in the world will I be able to write something good enough for a mainstream publisher to publish! And what if I can’t sell the film rights? What if it’s not that good?
These are actually ridiculous thoughts and fears. But I lived my whole life with the feeling that I was meant to do something to set me apart. To make my mark on the world. To have someone remember who I was. To inspire someone out there to be creative or to produce something. To me, this was the calling I had. To inspire creativity. And I have not been able to hit it out of the park yet.

And then there’s the bookstore.

What once was the absolute favorite spot for me to get lost in and spend hours of time scoping out the latest Stephen King novel or seeing what new book covers would inspire me to read something or write something turned into something different. I still like going to bookstores if I’m there, but I know I’ll have to pass the business and leadership sections if I do it. I used to read these books religiously. All the years I spent in church ministry and then trying to grow a twitter audience and then write a successful personal growth blog had me reading everything I could from John Maxwell to Seth Godin to Tim Ferriss, and I’d keep trying to put them into place in my business and my life. I’d try to silence all distractions from my computer and just write and produce and publish blog posts and set up business models. But then I quit blogging because I got too busy with my day job of making sure my fast-paced church campus was set up and everything was ordered and ready to go by the time the group started, and then I had the bright idea to plant a church and it didn’t work and threw me into massive amounts of personal debt that I’m still trying to figure out how to pay off. And now, when I see those books, it triggers something dark in me. I go to a deep place of failure and regret. I didn’t do the steps right. I clearly didn’t understand what John Maxwell was trying to get me to do. My dad was a big John Maxwell enthusiast and managed to pastor a successful church by implementing Maxwell’s leadership techniques. I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t eliminating distractions well enough like Tim Ferriss told me to, and Seth Godin had all these amazing larger than life stories of business leaders who started companies based on a simple idea that made the world fall in love with them. I didn’t have good ideas.

And if I did, I definitely didn’t sell it right.

Because in the end, everything that makes it big is something that had to be “sold” right? Sold to a literary agent who believed enough in the story they had to sign you and then sell that work to a massive publisher. That publisher had to have enough clout that movie studios would want to buy the rights to it. The blog only works when you get a readership so large they will buy anything you self-publish. You have to sell it to enough people. To make a small business or church plant work, you have to pitch it successfully to potential funders and backers to have the money to make it happen. I wasn’t able to do that. I couldn’t talk about it. I couldn’t ask people to “buy” something.
Which boils down to my failed attempts at selling televisions and extended service plans at Circuit City back in my college days. I would do my best to get the customer to like me and sold him on myself and then tried to sell the TVs, but then to have worked so hard to make them like me, I had to ask him to buy something else that he didn’t need – in my case, an extended service plan for an ugly projection TV that was already on its way into antiquity and obscurity. But the customer might suddenly see through my “nice guy” act and know I was just another salesman trying to get a paycheck. (What is wrong with this? NOTHING to a normal human being. I guess I’m not normal either!) And I couldn’t do it. Nevermind I would never see this guy again, and the whole point of me winning him on me was so I could sell the products that would earn me a commission. And I couldn’t..muster..up..the..courage to try and ask a sale from him.

It was all one big game of self-loathing insecurity.

Now, when I walk through those bookstores and see those books telling me “How to Talk Like a TED Talk Pro” or “How to create the next Google/Facebook/Uber/Whatever,” it triggers those feelings of everything I did wrong and that triggers me back to how awful a sales pro I was, and then I remember how old I am and how the years are now counting backward for me to produce that ONE THING I NEED TO PRODUCE.

And then I have writer’s block again.

Do I worry too much? Yes. Am I putting too much pressure on myself? Absolutely. Was everything I did a failure? Probably not. And admittedly, most of the things I failed at, I failed at them by simply ceasing to do them.
But I have a new blog post, which means I wrote something, which maybe…just maybe… will start the gears in my head turning again as I keep working on the outline for my next book. So, all in all, maybe it’s a win.