Creative Anxiety

It’s been a month already, huh? As you may or may not recall, last time I rambled for a bit on Today’s Author, it was about the differences between the writing process and a writing cycle. The short version looks like this:

The Writing Cycle

I think that with some very minor revisions, we could view any creative output through a similar lens.

Of course, this is just how one guy thinks about it (that’s me). And I admittedly think about creativity a lot—maybe too much. I am inherently curious about what triggers creativity and why it happens the way it happens for the people it happens for. But that’s for another day.

Today, I want to look at anxiety in both the creative process and the creative cycle–creative anxiety, we could call it. I think that artists are, on average, a pretty anxious breed. We worry about almost everything it seems, but in my experience the anxiety is worst at the beginning of the writing process and at the end of the writing cycle.

When I start a new writing project, I freak out in the early going. Are the ideas good enough? Does the story have enough going on? Are these characters interesting? As a “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants” writer for a good chunk of the process, this anxiety hangs around for a while. As a writer of general fiction, the anxiety starts to fade when I get up around 40,000 words. It’s almost all gone by the time I finish my outline of the last half of the book. That’s when I know, for better or worse, the book will be finished. The momentum takes over.

Writing poetry was similar. At the inception of an idea for a new poem, I was nervous about writing. I would struggle through the lines for a while, and eventually, if the poem was meant to be, some line or couplet or stanza would snag me and the anxiety would fade away.

I enjoy the early stages of the process, though—in spite of the anxiety. It’s new and exciting and I’m learning about these new people, so there is a chance that some of that anxiety comes from the excitement of starting something new.

 

We’ve established that the writing cycle encapsulates all of the movements of any writing project—from its planning, to its editing and revision, to cover design and layout, all the way through publication, if that is the goal of the project. Of course, a creative cycle can end when you put the binder clip on and shove it in the back of a drawer. Once a writing project is abandoned for whatever reason, that cycle is done.

I’ve learned that I feel the greatest anxiety at the very end of this process. When I’m out promoting the book, I’m anxious about two things:

1.    My creation doesn’t belong to me anymore. It belongs to the world. Will they take care of it? Will they love it? Will they hate it and burn it? Will they understand it?

Not that any of that really matters. It’s up to readers to read and draw their own conclusions. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t still a source of anxiety.

2.   What will the next project be?

This is different from the anxiety felt at the beginning of the writing process. Here, we worry if we will have another idea worth pursuing with the same vigor as the one that just wrapped. Will we always have stories to tell? For some people, it may be alright to imagine a world where they don’t write anymore. But for me? I don’t know what that looks like.

There is a great scene in Salman Rushdie’s autobiography, Joseph Anton: A Memoir, where a young Rushdie meets Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut asks the young writer, who was fresh off publishing Midnight’s Children, “Are you serious about this writing business?” When Rushdie responds that he is, Vonnegut says, “Then you should know that the day is going to come when you won’t have a book to write, and you’re still going to have to write a book.”

That scene sticks in my head for a couple of reasons. First, it would have been super badass to be in that room. Second, what if I run out of stories?

What are your experiences with creative anxiety? Let’s discuss in the comments.

Advertisements

The Creative Cycle: A Primer

The Creative ProcessMy first book, A Year Since the Rain, was released earlier this year—in March. It was a strange time for me. That day in March saw the end of the most intensive and longest creative cycle of my life. It was the most public my writing had ever been. Well, that may not be entirely true. Blogging may be more public by definition, but blogging doesn’t come with the same pressure.

An indie publisher had decided to take a chance on my little book and traditionally publish it. This vote of confidence from the publisher was huge for me. I decided early on that I didn’t want to go the self-publishing route—at least not for my first novel. I won’t rule it out for future endeavors, but for whatever reason (I blame Academia), I wanted some external validation from someone who didn’t know me. And I found that in Snow Leopard Publishing.

But this isn’t about that—not entirely. This is about the creative cycle, which is different, I think, from the creative process. Let me try to explain.

The Creative Process: A Working Definition

When I think about a process, I think about a list of steps or a checklist of items that have to be accomplished in a certain order. The creative process, then, would include the specific steps that an artist must take in order to create. For me, that looks like a coffee (if I’m writing during the day) or whiskey (if I’m writing at night), followed by putting on instrumental rock music (usually Explosions in the Sky), followed by parking my ass in my old and gross green chair that I’ve had since college. These things are important for getting my head right.

Then, the creation part—I’m a “let the story happen to me” kind of writer. At least, I let the story happen for a while. Eventually, I will transition into researching and outlining. To me, the creative process ends when I stop creating—that is, once the story is complete. Certainly I add to the story afterward, or take away from it, but these things happen with a different part of my brain. I think that revision is a step in the creative cycle that exists outside of the creative process—for me. Some writers are revise-while-writing writers. Clearly, one phase of revision is important to their process. The rest happens in the greater cycle, but outside of the process.

The Creative Cycle: A Working Definition

The creative cycle is bigger than the creative process. The cycle changes based on the project, just like the process changes based on the artist. For me, the creative cycle that ended when my book launched in March of 2016 was a cycle that began sometime in 2012 when I first wrote the words that would become the title down on a page in my journal. So, something like four years.

The cycle included trying to write a poem and realizing it was something different. It included all of the things from the process that it took to create the book. The cycle included querying and pitching and being rejected and rejected and rejected. And finally, the cycle included acceptance, signing a contract, rewrites and revisions, promotion, and finally release.

That’s four years of my life spent focusing on one creative pursuit. Of course I was working on other projects, but the novel drew most of my creative energy. And then one day in mid-March of 2016, it was over.

And next time, we will talk about what happens when one of these lengthier cycles ends.

~~~

I’m Shane—one of the newer members of the team here at Today’s Author. I am grateful to Rob and company for allowing me into their space. I look forward to working my way in to this new community and trying my best to contribute something worthwhile.

Until next time—