Writing isn’t one of my worst focuses of anxiety. I get worry and sinking feelings, and what I think of as lower level anxiety — the kind that can certainly interfere with work, without involving intense fear.
Still, worry and sinking feelings and lesser anxiety are still problems. I’ve been thinking about why — in my case, as I can’t speak for anyone else — writing causes these psychological effects. In no particular order, this is what I’ve come up with so far:
1. Tension between the pure/spontaneous/natural/naive — call it what you want — creative impulse and my expectations of readers’ expectations.
2. Financial insecurity. Few writers make a living from their work. Writing well is not a guarantee. Writing badly is not a guarantee. Writing safely is not a guarantee. Writing boldly is not a guarantee. Not only the financial but the psychological aspects of this insecurity, especially in terms of self-judgement for “success” or “failure”, can be challenging.
3. Writing, for me, started off as a self-comforting activity — an escape from reality and from my own mental state. When it became a public, commercial matter, it ran into consensus reality and other people’s individual realities. Which was funny in a way, colliding or intersecting realities being a topic of interest to me, and one that I had used in my fiction. Psychologically, I still need writing to fulfil that self-comforting function. The stories I write certainly don’t have to be comfortable (in fact, I guess they tend not to be), but if I am torn by worries about what an A to Z of readers, all with their own tastes, needs and aversions, might want from me, the comfort (of privacy?) is lost and replaced with bad nerves. I try to wear a mental condom when I write, but it has a tendency to slip off. That might be why I’ve managed to write short stories and not another novel yet — I can keep the prophylactic on for a few thousand words.
It isn’t that I want to write with no thought of the reader, but the reader either needs to be someone like me or another single person, not a plural entity with wildly divergent personalities. As Kurt Vonnegut said: “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.” I find that window can blow open rather too easily.
5. Writing can feel the opposite of self-focused. I’m not thinking about me, I’m listening to a head voice or thinking about the story. But that isn’t the same as thinking about another person. When push comes to shove, this is my stuff and I want and need to do it. There’s probably more self-focus in it than I consciously feel, and no doubt that can lead to anxiety.
6. Writing offers myriad opportunities to be unkind to myself. I can be constantly unkind, constantly unsatisfied, constantly demanding. If I think I’m “not good enough”, that attitude can seep through into my writing, making objective assessment difficult if not impossible — leading to uncertainty and loss of confidence.