Jun 14, 2012

Repeat Performance Anxiety

Ah, performance anxiety.  So many people suffer from it.  Not me, though!  When the lights go off I am Hector tamer of horses.  I am Thor God of Thunder.  I am Godzilla stomping through...well ok, what I really am is full of shit.  Fortunately, I’m not talking about THAT kind of performance.  What?  Do I look like Dr. Ruth to you?  Go work out your sexual issues on your own time.  We’re here to discuss writing.

More specifically, I’m talking about something I see a lot of on Twitter, FB, and blogs.  It’s the flip side of the “Can I really finish this?” question that I think almost all beginning writers ask themselves, namely...”Can I do this AGAIN?”

It doesn’t really matter how you got there the first time.  No doubt, some of you had that first story idea pop into your head only to watch it practically spew itself onto the paper within a month or two. Conversely, I bet there are also plenty who put years and years into that first effort. In that case, it wasn’t so much a book as it was a lifestyle change. Regardless of the effort, though, there comes a time when it’s finally out there. You’ve done it.  You’ve finally finished your labor of love what? 

I’m sure some people are content at this point. Having said what that came to say, they move on to the next challenge that life presents. Those of us with the writing bug, however, may find ourselves wondering if we have it in us to do it again.  Even worse, we might find ourselves doubting that we do.

Personally, I think this is only natural.  While logic seems to dictate that whatever can be done once can probably be done again, our insecurities are always there to make us wonder if that first time was just an aberration or maybe beginner’s luck.

Having just finished up my fifth book (and fourth full length novel), I will caution that if you have this anxiety it never ever really goes away.  The good news is that eventually it just becomes part of the routine and little more than background noise. 

What starts off as an, “Oh god, what if I don’t have another book in me!?” panic, in time will turn into a, “Hmm, I wonder if that last book was it. Oh well, best start writing and find out,” challenge.

Thus, my advice is simple: relax.  Rather than freak out, remember what you did to climb that summit the first time.  Bring all the same supplies, plus a few extras from the lessons you learned the first time.  Then sit down and give it a try.  Deep down you probably already know you can do it. Likewise, you know that fretting about it won’t get the job done.  So do what you did before: plot, outline, characterize, etc...and then sit down and write the damn thing!

The beauty of doing this is that you will definitely learn whether or not that first time is a fluke. If it is, it is. Sometimes we have a passion that once spent cannot be rekindled.  Don’t feel bad about it.  Rejoice in that you were able to accomplish what so many never will.  You’ve climbed that mountain.  Take a little bit of time to enjoy the view from the top.

That being said; if you are able to conquer that daunting peak again, you can be sure of one thing: once might be luck, but twice means you DEFINITELY can do it over and over again, no matter what your silly hang-ups tell you. If so, get back to writing! I expect to see a lot more stories from you in the future.


Doug said...

Definitely dealing with this.

I have three NF books out and a bazillion magazine articles. Long ago I wrote a trilogy of Sci-Fi novellas that was slapped down flat by agents. I've been noodling with it, thinking of releasing it as an e-book, but run into this anxiety every time I start to mess with it. Updating it a bit will take some time. Probably a lot of time. Wasted effort? I dunno. Guess the only way to know is to try, but... (shudder) :-(

Rick G said...

Get it out there in front of a few people, Allan and see what they think. As I think a lot of self-pubbers are learning, one agents trash could be a lot of readers' treasure.

Not to be harsh, but what is the absolute worst that can happen...they don't like it. In that case you're no worse off than before and at least you now know for sure it needs work.

Crazy Life of a Writing Mom said...

That's such great advice.

I've been thinking about this with my own writing. Running into a bit of a wall. But I've started writing again and it's coming back--thank God :)