Writing takes a weird kind of courage because you’re battling yourself. Fear makes you feel like a fool. In my early years of writing, I’d sit at my typewriter with sweaty palms and tears rolling down my face.
Why was I panicked? There was nothing to be afraid of. My typewriter wouldn’t explode in my face. Moreover, I was trying to write romance fiction — not horror stories. After feeling like a neurotic at best, and mentally disturbed at worst, I learned that creative anxiety is a thing.
Blank page panic: it’s creative anxiety, and it’s normal
Every writer feels creative anxiety, so how do you overcome your terror and write?
The TL;DR one-word solution: stay.
Stay right where you are. The panic will subside. It takes around 11 minutes — and yes, I timed it. Write a sentence or two. If you can’t think of anything to write, write that: I can’t think of anything to write…
Copy a paragraph you wrote yesterday or the words on the back of a cereal packet.
Over months and years, your creative anxiety will mostly vanish. Unfortunately, it will return whenever you attempt a form of writing which is new to you, or you want to write well.
A tip: thoughts like I want to write well and I need this to be good, are dangerous. They awaken your inner editor. The result? You’ll struggle to write anything.
Let’s look at some strategies to help you to manage creative anxiety.
1. Taser your subconscious mind with evocative images
Your subconscious mind and imagination are your silent partners when you’re writing. Whenever you feel uninspired, it means that your subconscious mind is asleep: it’s bored.
Wake it up with images. Your subconscious mind “thinks” in images — in emotions. Images open your imagination; words tend to close it.
Collect images that trigger emotions in you.
Images on my office walls include:
- A photograph of an alleyway in Edinburgh’s Old Town;
- A large print of Renoir’s Gypsy Girl;
- A print of Fragonard’s The Swing.
Great art is great because it has aroused emotions, sometimes for centuries or even millennia, as the Winged Victory of Samothrace, created in the second century BC.
Try starting a writing session by musing over your favorite images; the emotions they create push away fear.
2. The mise en place secret chefs know: get prep done before writing
No chef starts cooking without his mise en place. All his ingredients for a dish are prepared and set out, ready for him to use when he turns on the stove.
Your mise en place might include:
- Checklists: I use checklists for every form of writing, including fiction. Chunk your projects down into tiny tasks you can complete in under 20 minutes. This helps to eliminate fear and procrastination;
- Snippets of research;
- A brainstorming session. Anything goes — the more outlandish and way-out your ideas the better;
- Potential titles…
3. Your imagination hates stress: leave your office
You’re only creative when you’re relaxed. Get out of the office to brainstorm writing projects. You might head out to your local park, the beach, or a coffee shop.
When you brainstorm several projects in one out-of-the-office session, the pipeline between your subconscious creative self and conscious mind seems to open and flow more freely.
4. Batch: anything goes
When you “batch,” you work on similar projects together, as in brainstorming above. You save time because you’re setting up a writing environment once for several tasks.
You might batch:
- Communication: your email, phone calls, and messages;
- Bookkeeping: balance accounts, or generate and send invoices;
- Marketing: a sequence of marketing messages, or creating images for social media.
When you switch from one project to another, it takes time to get into creative flow. Batching helps because once you’re in flow, you’ll breeze through your tasks.
Try outlining similar projects, like five blog posts, in a single session. This kickstarts your subconscious mind. A day or a week later, when you write an outlined post, you’re less likely to procrastinate. Usually, the writing goes more smoothly, because your subconscious mind has had time to process the task.
Which brings us to…
5. Let your subconscious mind write for you: leave a draft alone for 24 hours
Writing is a process. Although it seems counter-intuitive, the more you can chunk down a project like an article, a book, or an advertisement, the more you’ll stimulate your creativity.
The easier the writing will be too because once you’ve chunked everything down, you can let your subconscious mind do the writing.
Bestselling author Stephen King calls his subconscious mind “the boys in the basement”:
King credited “the boys in the basement” with aiding his artistic creativity. In the words of Michael Noonan, the protagonist of his forthcoming book, Bag of Bones, “Eighty-five percent of what goes on in a novelist’s head is none of his business.”
You CAN overcome your creative anxiety
You might call your subconscious mind the muse, or the cobbler’s elves. Whatever you call it, it will work for you, when you overcome creative anxiety.
Remember the one-word solution: stay.
Veteran author, copywriter, and blogger Angela Booth loves mentoring fellow writers. Visit Angela’s site for tips, advice, and strategy in many areas of your writing business.