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Monday, July 7, 2014

Dancing with Anxiety

Photo by Kevin Tomasello
Anxiety in writers is like the common cold. It's easy to catch and hard to let go. When I feel anxious, I go to nature. These orchids offer their quiet beauty, reminding me to take a deep breath. Breathe in, exhale slowly...okay, not working. So, I will go to writing. Bear with me, I will try to resolve this issue by the end.

Of course, writers are not the only people to suffer anxiety. Any number of people can carry this affliction at any one time. But, I do believe writers have an edge when it comes to this problem. We may turn it into a character: Anxiety is a sharp-chinned rogue, too restless--or afraid-- of being ripped open with all its entrails hanging forth. Or Anxiety crept up behind her, its icy tendrils slithering up her back , encircling her throat until her breath was a gurgle. Or even: Yo, b*tch, Anxiety here, that's right, I'm baaaack. Yes, Anxiety is usually an antagonist.

But, couldn't Anxiety be a good guy (or gal, let's not discriminate)? What if it is simply The Spark? The effects of anxiety often come from indecision or lack of knowledge or lack of confidence, right? Maybe that tremor in your voice or the sweat on your palms is a sign. Maybe your heart is beating out of your chest to make you pay attention. Maybe--shall I go out on that thin limb--maybe it's a gift. That's right, you heard me. A gift.

Oh yes, I know, it's not a good feeling. Anxiety and I have a long relationship, but that doesn't mean we are soul mates. I am still learning how to dance with this bastard, er, gift. But, how, you may ask? How do we tame the savage beastie? Natalie Goldberg talks about alleviating writer's anxiety in her powerful book THUNDER AND LIGHTNING: CRACKING OPEN THE WRITER'S CRAFT. She suggests (for writers, at least, it is a book for writers, after all) that we not beat ourselves up for missing a day of writing, or two, but instead, SCHEDULE IT IN. If you only have a free half hour on Friday after the kids go to bed, put that time on your calendar for writing. Anxiety hates structure. It thrives on chaos and disarray. Turn the lion into a purring kitten. Goldberg reminds us that if we structure our time for writing, we won't be thinking about it while we're at our kid's soccer game or talking to our spouse or consoling a sick friend. We can focus on the present thing. We know we will have that time, no matter how small, to devote to the thing we are compelled to do. I think this could work for anything we want to do: writing, painting, meditation, working out, researching things we are passionate about, animal welfare, thinking up cool crafts for the kids, designing the perfect tattoo--whatever! Why not?

Don't give up your dream. If you are passionate about something, if you can't stop thinking about it, if it wakes you up at two in the morning or even if it's long buried, but kicks to the surface at odd times, it is worth putting it on your "to do" list and marking time on your calendar for it. I've had a burning desire to write all my life. I wasn't sure what to write exactly, but I knew I was meant to do it. I kept journals on and off, started articles and short stories I never finished, and  puttered around for years doing other things that I was also passionate about, but writing always bobbed its little head out of the water. I finally put it on my schedule. And I wrote a novel. I get to see it published next year. I can't wait to see what Anxiety has in store for me then! But, the point is, I went for it full throttle despite my anxiety. Keeping some structure allowed me to stay in my stride so Anxiety couldn't step on my toes. Perhaps you will do the same. I would love to hear how you manage anxiety and your plans for following your dreams.

And don't forget to breathe! Thank you for scheduling a moment with me.