23 Dec How to avoid writer freak out
Here are six common causes why writers panic – and six solutions
- You get stuck halfway through
Don’t worry. I’ve referred to this before as embracing the chaos. Former Good Weekend editor Fenella Souter described it as the ‘slough of despond.‘ Keep chipping away and you’ll get clarity on your thesis question (for an essay), your narrative thread (for a book), your character’s journey (for a novel) or your key findings (for an executive summary in a report).
- You seem to be going round in circles.
A friend writing a university essay complained that after spending all day on it, she’d advanced nowhere. While she might have felt this, immersing yourself in the material and research is necessary before you can figure out your exit path… and with it the main point of your story/essay/report. If you find days bleed into weeks and you’re still swimming in your research, then call a halt and put it aside. A break will give you the distance you need to read your work with fresh eyes.
- Your writing bores you.
Sometimes boredom is another form of procrastination or it masks fear – that you think you’re no good. Sometimes boredom is telling you to move on. The story may not be relevant in your life, or it may bring back too many bad memories – which you don’t want to re-experience. Listen to this. I’m always telling my mentees if you’re writing for fun (and honest, some of us are!) then there aren’t any ‘shoulds’. Life is too short for another ‘I should be doing this.‘ Find another topic that excites you and write about that.
- You hate your writing.
My writing buddy said to me on the weekend, ‘I’m sending you the last part of my novel to read so I can get it off my plate. I’m sick of the sight of it.’ Strong words – and not unusual. When you’ve been working on a manuscript for months and years, by the end, you often hate it. This is especially true when a book is going through the publishing process and after several edits, you still have to make more changes. All I can say is… this too will pass. Grit your teeth. Do whatever you need to, to get it across the line. And know you’re in good company!
- You get a bad review. Or a rejection. Or someone criticises your story.
Sadly rejections are part of the artistic lot. When you’ve written something very personal, it can feel like you are being rejected — not your art. But you’re not. Like any art form, writing is subjective. What I like to read one week will differ to what I enjoy the next. Humans are very fickle. I’ve written about rejection strategies here, but in a nutshell, tell yourself this. You can’t please everyone. Nor do you want to. Write what is true to you.
- You’re writing something unique and someone publishes a similar story – or worse, similar book.
Call it zeitgeist. Call it strange universal happenings. This year sees the release of two films about Yves St Laurent as directors battle over the fashion designer’s legacy. American writer Patrick Robbins describes his horror after working on his first novel for two-and-a-half-years only to discover another writer had just published a similar story with… get this… the same bizarre title Babayaga. It happens.
If you aren’t too far advanced in your project, and a similar title is released, change yours enough and find a new angle. Take it as a sign that there is wider interest in the subject. There might be 100s of books on marketing, but remember that yours, with your view on the world and how you approach a subject, will be different… And if all else fails, put together a zany media strategy to make sure your story gets seen.
And take heart. As Robbins says in The Awl, ‘The sky is not falling in if someone writes something similar to what you’ve written. Neither is everyone ripping you off… Your writing is still yours.’