Joanna here, asking the Wenches the somewhat harrowing question --
Mary Jo Putney says: Writing always makes me angsty!
I think it’s part of my creative process to have to fret and chew at the story and wonder if the current work is a career ender. Luckily, I’ve been in this business long enough that I recognize angst as part of the process, which spares me the worst of the feeling. But it doesn’t make the angst go away, alas.
Pat Rice says: I don’t handle stress well. No one in my family does, so It’s apparently genetic. As a result, we aim for a laidback attitude and careers that don’t create tension.
In writing, stress has to come from inside the writer because no one else gives a dang what you do. I’ve set up time frames and work schedules that don’t require that I freak out on a regular basis. And if a book isn’t going well, I’ve developed methods of looking at it from a fresh perspective and beta readers who can sometimes point out problems.
The only time I angst is when someone else doesn’t step up when they’re supposed to, and I’m learning to ignore that as much as possible. I might chew a few nails and fire off a few e-mails until I annoy the devil out of the slacker, but otherwise, I try not to angst over the delay.
This is probably not a formula for fame and riches, but I’d only stress over those anyway!
Joanna: Fame and riches. Y'know, I wouldn't mind stressing over that.
One of the aspects is a conviction that it will be too short. I always end up too long and cutting.
I don't believe any kind of stress helps me. It can be tempting to think it does so as to avoid the additional stress of guilt over feeling stressed!
Nicola Cornick says: I'm not usually anxious at the start of the book because at that point the excitement of starting something new taken together with the misguided belief that *this book* will be plain sailing usually helps me get going ok. Hit twenty thousand words, though, and I am busy re-appraising the conflict, the characters, the plot development...
This is when paralysing angst usually starts to hit, I start to question myself, I change what I have already written, I become convinced I will never finish this book, nay never write another book again... This phase sometimes lasts until the end of the book. If I'm lucky I come out of it before then and actually start enjoying myself again.
When I ask if writer's angst makes her more productive, she says: No. It paralyses me. When I'm in the throes of writer's angst I find the process is like dragging words from treacle.
I suspect that by wrestling with whatever it is that's not working (because it's different in each book) the book is improved. But it's not a fun way to work.
And does writer's angst make her more productive? It probably reduces the number of books I write in a year. It might make those I produce better — I hope so, but I have no way of testing the theory.
I, in turn, become sulky and am tempted to abandon them in the slums of Southwark and find new friends. For a time, we don’t speak to each other. . .
I fret, I whine. I eat chocolate. The Muse gets annoyed because the chocolate is supposed to be for HER. She starts whispering in my ear that all relationships have their ups and downs and I can’t very well leave these people abandoned in a strange place The is appeal to my conscience usually works and no matter how awful the walk home feels, I try to make polite conversation until we reach the end.
Strangely enough, when we sit down for a last glass of wine together, I usually realize that they not so annoying after all and we part bosom bows. I must be a difficult person to get along with, for this keeps repeating itself. I need to either change my personality. Or buy a lot more chocolate.
Joanna: My own writerly anxiety clutches at my mind till I can barely work. Messes with my head. Makes me miserable.
But once I get going, once I get into the story, it goes away. The only cure for the pain of writing is writing. (I think I've just described addiction, maybe.)
I put out one final question. Sometimes I see 'writer's anxiety' as a chittering monkey, clinging to my back, chattering in my ear, distracting me from writing. So I asked what animal folks think of when they think of writerly angst.
Jo Beverley says, "Preferably a bug I'd feel okay about stamping on." For Nicola Cornick, ". . . it would be a pacing tiger. It's quite fierce, it feels frustrated and it just wants to break out of the confines and roar." And Anne Gracie says it's like a "Rat on a spinning wheel, round and round and round, over and over the same thing. And only stopping to gnaw thoughtfully at the bars from time to time."
I think folks who do any sort of creative or important work under a deadline suffer from this same 'angst'. This performance anxiety.
What's your own particular anxiety for the work you do?