Don’t Worry, Be Happy … Oh, and Finish the Book

Joanna here, asking the Wenches the somewhat harrowing question —

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"Do you get angsty and anxious at any part of the writing process? And, if you do, does it make you more productive?"

Mary Jo Putney says:  Writing always makes me angsty!

I think it’s part of my creative process to have to fret and chew at the story and wonder if the current work is a career ender.  Luckily, I’ve been in this business long enough that I recognize angst as part of the process, which spares me the worst of the feeling.  But it doesn’t make the angst go away, alas.


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Creative work comes from internal fires.

Pat Rice says: I don’t handle stress well. No one in my family does, so It’s apparently genetic. As a result, we aim for a laidback attitude and careers that don’t create tension.  

In writing, stress has to come from inside the writer because no one else gives a dang what you do. I’ve set up time frames and work schedules that don’t require that I freak out on a regular basis. And if a book isn’t going well, I’ve developed methods of looking at it from a fresh perspective and beta readers who can sometimes point out problems.

The only time I angst is when someone else doesn’t step up when they’re supposed to, and I’m learning to ignore that as much as possible. I might chew a few nails and fire off a few e-mails until I annoy the devil out of the slacker, but otherwise, I try not to angst over the delay.

This is probably not a formula for fame and riches, but I’d only stress over those anyway!

Joanna: Fame and riches. Y'know, I wouldn't mind stressing over that.


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Jo Beverley, when I ask if she gets angsty at any part of the writing process, says:
About half way. My husband calls it the time of the book.

One of the aspects is a conviction that it will be too short. I always end up too long and cutting.

I don't believe any kind of stress helps me. It can be tempting to think it does so as to avoid the additional stress of guilt over feeling stressed!

Nicola Cornick says: I'm not usually anxious at the start of the book because at that point the excitement of starting something new taken together with the misguided belief that *this book* will be plain sailing usually helps me get going ok.
Hit twenty thousand words, though, and I am busy re-appraising the conflict, the characters, the plot development…

This is when paralysing angst usually starts to hit, I start to question myself, I change what I have already written, I become convinced I will never finish this book, nay never write another book again…
This phase sometimes lasts until the end of the book. If I'm lucky I come out of it before then and actually start enjoying myself again.

When I ask if writer's angst makes her more productive, she says:
No. It paralyses me. When I'm in the throes of writer's angst I find the process is like dragging words from treacle.

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Anne Gracie says: At some stage in every novel I am completely certain I can't make it work and that the novel will be a terrible failure.
My friends say, "Oh, Anne you always say that," as if I'm fussing over nothing, or making it up, but it's completely genuine and heartfelt every time.  

I suspect that by wrestling with whatever it is that's not working (because it's different in each book) the book is improved. But it's not a fun way to work.

And does writer's angst make her more productive?
It probably reduces the number of books I write in a year. It might make those I produce better — I hope so, but I have no way of testing the theory.


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Cara Elliott/Andrea Penrose
Writerly angst always seems to rear its ugly head at around three quarters of the way through a manuscript. The characters appear to become bored with my company (Moi? Who has done her best to amuse them with bon mots, gorgeous clothes, not to speak of inviting them to all the interesting places in Town?)

I, in turn, become sulky and am tempted to abandon them in the slums of Southwark and find new friends. For a time, we don’t speak to each other. . . 

I fret, I whine. I eat chocolate. The Muse gets annoyed because the chocolate is supposed to be for HER. She starts whispering in my ear that all relationships have their ups and downs and I can’t very well leave these people abandoned in a strange place The is appeal to my conscience usually works and no matter how awful the walk home feels, I try to make polite conversation until we reach the end.

Strangely enough, when we sit down for a last glass of wine together, I usually realize that they not so annoying after all and we part bosom bows.
I must be a difficult person to get along with, for this keeps repeating itself. I need to either change my personality. Or buy a lot more chocolate.

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Joanna:  My own writerly anxiety clutches at my mind till I can barely work.  Messes with my head.  Makes me miserable.

But once I get going, once I get into the story, it goes away.  The only cure for the pain of writing  is writing.  (I think I've just described addiction, maybe.)


I put out one final question.  Sometimes I see 'writer's anxiety' as a chittering monkey, clinging to my back, chattering in my ear, distracting me from writing. So I asked what animal folks think of when they think of writerly angst.

Jo Beverley says, "Preferably a bug I'd feel okay about stamping on." For Nicola Cornick, ". . . it would be a pacing tiger. It's quite fierce, it feels frustrated and it just wants to break out of the confines and roar." And Anne Gracie says it's like a "Rat on a spinning wheel, round and round and round, over and over the same thing. And only stopping to gnaw thoughtfully at the bars from time to time."

I think folks who do any sort of creative or important work under a deadline suffer from this same 'angst'. This performance anxiety.

What's your own particular anxiety for the work you do?