I am always thinking about stories.
This is a fundamental truth of my personality. You would think that this would mean that I spend a huge amount of my time writing, but the truth is – I don’t. I would, however, very much like to. The problem is that there is something else happening in my brain all the time. My anxiety.
Now, once I’m actually in front of a page and writing, I tend to find that my anxiety isn’t so much of a problem. Sometimes it crops up in the form of an overactive editor, but mostly as soon as I’m there and focused, I’m focused. Where my anxiety buts its head in unhelpfully is the path to sitting in front of that blank page.
This is very apparent at the moment with Nanowrimo. I’m struggling a lot to plan. It’s not that I’m not invested in the book, nor keen to plan – I’m in love with my characters more and more each day, and I can’t way to start putting them onto the page again, to step from my utterly abysmal first draft into a more rounded second.
The problem is that whenever I put a writing task on my daily list, something gets in the way. I start thinking about, for example, the fact that I didn’t clean the bathroom this week. And when I think about things like that, it isn’t just a stray thought – an ‘oh, I haven’t done this, I should do that’. It becomes something else entirely.
‘Oh, I haven’t cleaned the bathroom this week. God, I’m such a pig. It’s my fault we live in a dirty, messy house. I’m the one at home all the time, I don’t spend hours a week commuting, I earn so much less, I should be the one doing all of the chores to make up for it. But I haven’t because I’m basically just a terrible person. Why doesn’t everyone who knows me just replace me with someone better? They will eventually, I’m sure.’
Suddenly, I’m not thinking about writing at all. I’m thinking about how much I hate myself.
The path of getting to sitting in front of that page is a minefield. Even trying it first thing in the morning isn’t always successful – I struggle a lot with getting out of bed on time, and when I do I spend at least an hour groggy before I’m functional. Which gives my brain time to wake itself up…with some anxious thoughts.
I’m sure by this point you’re thinking: gosh, this blog’s gotten a bit down in the dumps. I thought it was all about finding solutions to things – where are the five ways to write despite your anxiety? My personal tips on how to navigate the anxiety minefield? Well, hold on. That’s coming. Sort of.
Because here’s the thing: what works for me might just not work for you – what works for me is different every day. Some days, just really telling myself to do it is all I need. Sometimes it’s more complicated than that.
It involves listening to my brain and my body and judging the situation. For example, am I actually not well enough to write? Is this a very bad anxiety moment, and what I need is not to force myself to work but to take a bit of a break – not necessarily for the whole day, but at least for an hour or two?
Or perhaps my anxiety is focused on a single thing. If it’s just that I feel godawful about not cleaning the bathroom, would I be able to write if I did it? Because if that’s the case, then I want to put my effort into empowering and motivating myself to do that, and then I’ll be able to write.
But it’s not just about that single moment. It’s about the sum total of how I am doing at any given time. It’s whether I’ve eaten well, slept enough, been outside recently. Whether I’m under stress from other things, or feeling more relaxed.
The truth is, the way I find space in my head to write isn’t by silencing the thoughts I have. It’s the total of all the effort I make to live despite those thoughts. And I truly believe that that work continues subconsciously as well as consciously. That there are things happening in my head that I don’t always see or know, and that these things have an influence upon my wellbeing and capabilities. Which means that sometimes I’m not ready to write – and I don’t know why. Or sometimes I’m ready to, and I didn’t expect to be.
It’s not a simple way forward, but it’s the truth – and frankly, my anxiety lies enough already. I’d rather take the complicated path, if it’s the honest one.