Anxiety & The Creative Process

I shared a post on about anxiety and the creative process:

“People will do anything to alleviate their anxiety.”

This is a quote from a recent episode of Mad Men, that to me, underscores the everyday context that no one talks about publicly.

I work with writers, and find that anxiety is a very real and very constant part of their lives. Why? Just a few reasons:

  • The act of creating and publishing invites judgement, especially self-judgement.
  • Being a writer is often a new identity that one carves out for themselves, while everyone else around them clings to other ways of labeling them: mother, spouse, colleague, sister. They don’t easily accept defining the writer as such.
  • The “return on investment” of writing breaks traditional models. We do it for so many reasons, but the common reward of money is rarely the primary driver.
  • There are so many decisions involved in being a writer. First, with the process of writing and editing, then the process of choosing how to publish, and then the process of finding and connecting with readers. Each is not one step, but 1,000 decisions. None of which are clear from the start.
    This is, of course, not exclusive to writers.

But what I find again and again is that we don’t talk about our anxiety. We don’t admit that we have anxiety. We don’t talk about how crippling it feels. That it can bathe one’s days and nights in a foggy cloud of uncertainty and panic. That we make decisions out of fear that stems from anxiety, not because they are the best things for us.

Our anxiety is often hidden, masked behind common expressions, and simplistic answers to the question, “How are you doing?!” And when we express the anxiety to friends or colleagues, it is often explained away with simple solutions to complex problems. You get responses such as “Ah, don’t worry about it,” or “You are doing great, you worry too much!”

Our anxiety is always relative, and truth be told, sometimes other people’s anxiety can seem insignificant on the surface. When someone expresses that they don’t know whether to self-publish or not, or they are nervous about a book reading, you rarely feel the depth of their anxiety. To you, it is a logical decision, and one that likely won’t have crushing ramifications one way or another. But to the person with the question, they can get lost in the internal debate in their head, where all potential success as writer hangs in the balance.

Read the full post here.