Managing Creative Worry

What could a writer possibly be worried about, right?!

Most creatives have scads of concerns and insecurities to worry over. In fact, I think that’s a major reason I put off writing as long as I did.

“I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” – Mark Twain

Mark Twain Writing

Mark Twain Writing

Here are some creative worries I’ve had recently:

  • “Did I just spend half my day writing the weirdest scene ever penned in this galaxy?” As in, weird in a not cool way…
  • “Am I publishing something I will regret for the duration of time because of the eternal nature of the interwebs?!”
  • “Have I chosen a topic or plot line any rational person would see is a controversial minefield, a failure, or worst of all, doomed for milquetoast obscurity?
  • And the ever-present: “I’ve bled, sweated, and cried over this story. But if I keep working could it be even better?” (While excellence matters, the answer to this question will always be yes, so there comes a point when you have to cut it off and it’s so hard to!)

Ways to Manage Creative Worry

Writers need some kind of strategy for not just tolerating creative worries but leveraging them for our gain. My thoughts lately have been that worry should be managed rather than eliminated. I recently wrote a post asking Can Worry Actually Be Productive?

I recently asked a few creative people I know how they fight worry. My friends are smart. Here’s what they came up with:

  • “Working on more than one painting at a time helps me. they solve each others problems. Also loud music drowns out the voice of worry in my head.” – Jennifer Rasmusson, Figurative and Abstract Painter
  • “Best thing I’ve found is to do more creative things. The more I fill my life with the light of creativity, the less worried I am about any one particular piece of art.” – Ben Hodson, Writer, Filmmaker, and Musician
  •  “Go for a run. It clears the mind.” – Deborah Gatrell, Teacher, Leader, and Pilot

Also, my friend Ramsey Dewey is an MMA fighter, performer, and writer. He went in-depth on the subject and I wanted to share the full expression in a separate post you will definitely want to check out.

An Example and Experiment: The Vent and Shred Method

I found myself dithering about how I’ve chosen to write about the vicissitudes of being a single person through the character in my upcoming novel. What if writing that honestly about it just comes across as lame and results in this, this, or even that terrible outcome?!

In this case I gave my worries a different kind of ‘timer’. I wrote down all the bad outcomes I was worried about. On the back, I wrote ways I could best avoid those outcomes by how I tell my story–without compromising what I ultimately want to say on the subject.

I went on a walk to let it marinate. When I got back to work, I made a few changes in my manuscript. Then I put the scratch paper in the shredder as if to signal to myself that worry had been leveraged for my gain as much as possible. Time’s up. Anything more, and worry would begin to have diminishing returns (sorry, I was an econ major!).

Maybe shredders are underused!

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3 thoughts on “Managing Creative Worry

  1. benlanehodson

    I’ve had some of the same challenges. Some of it is probably more “self-doubt” rather than worry but it feels the same emotionally to me. Just as a pure survival instinct, worrying definitely has a place. It can keep us from danger and help us examine our decisions before they become actions. But for the most part, worrying has been a waste of time for me.

    To worry is to feel anxiety towards an undesired outcome in most cases and the big thing I always have to ask myself is, will worrying about it effect that outcome? If not, then why expend the energy?

    I love your idea of just letting the emotion flow for a bit, if nothing else than to cleanse your system in a cathartic burst that drains the anxiety from you. That’s a great suggestion because there is no way (at least that I’ve found) to stop feeling completely (nor do I want to).

    Now, most of what I’ve been talking about is more specific to personal worries about my own decisions and issues. Worrying about someone else is much harder to counteract because you care for that person and part of worrying for them is going over and over possible solutions to try and help them. When you truly care about someone, this kind of worry is unavoidable to some extent. It’s much harder to put out of your mind.

    The thing that has helped me the most is to replace worry, doubt, and negativity with decisions, faith, and a positive attitude. If I fill my life with enough light, it pushes out the darkness. Throwing myself into creative pursuits, giving service to others, making someone else’s burden lighter, those are the things that make me forget my worries.

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    1. cindygrigg

      Thanks! I like how you brought in the word ‘anxiety’. I think that’s a great descriptor of how negative worry can start to feel when it is not assigned boundaries. I love the idea of replacing negative worry with thoughts and actions of hope and trust. What I’ve struggled with in that regard is to not feel like that’s abandoning the person in a need for my own comfort. This is something I need to work on because we are all entitled to maintaining our own inner peace so somehow I’m probably blurring lines there and not valuing that for myself. You articulated very well how much harder all this can be when we’re worried about another person. Thinking about all this again just now, I realized that usually when I am worried about another person I’m also dealing with a lack of information–either about what their experience is like (so I assume it might be heinous and then I get worried!) or what principle in the universe works to fix it. It’s that ever-elusive line between being a thoughtful, aware person versus one who should stop over-thinking it. 🙂

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      1. benlanehodson

        Which might imply that getting more information from the person through talking with them and having them share their feelings may relieve some of the worry. Also, does beating yourself up internally help the other person? Granted, it’s hard to not worry for someone you care about but drawing a line doesn’t mean you care less. You get to feel whatever way you want to and worrying doesn’t necessarily equal love.

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