I recently had a conversation with another writer friend wherein we were talking about being overwhelmed in regards to writing. I don’t think we actually used those words, but it was the topic at hand. You know the feeling. You’re working on a first draft of a project that is large in scope and in the back of your head you might already be thinking about whether or not the work is good, will this do anything to advance ye olde writing career when it is done, should I self-publish if this one gets unilaterally rejected, and oh god if I do self-publish how the hell do I approach marketing and what if no publishing house or agent will touch me if it bombs and how will I support my coffee habit if I can’t make a go of this and will I ever be able to support myself doing this thing I am spending all of my time on and … and… and…
Dude. I’m exhausted just typing that out. I have had this feeling. It was a lot of years ago, though. (It could always happen again. You never know. I mean, I haven’t yet realized any of my wilder youthful ambitions on the fiction-writing front.) But because I had that conversation with someone who it happened to more recently I started trying to remember what I did to get out of the “What if everything’s awful?” spiral. It took a long time, and it was kind of painful but I had to remember to compartmentalize my own thoughts, separate each issue as if they were separate tasks. (It kinda turns out that they are, in fact, separate tasks.)
If I was going to have the fun of worrying about querying, publishing, marketing, distribution and getting paid, I knew I had to start finishing things. And that once I finished that first thing, I would have to finish more things. Basically, I realized that worrying about everything that might come after finishing a draft was going to keep me from finishing a draft. By thinking about all of that other stuff before it was even close to being a real world concern I was throwing cinder blocks on my own toes as I was trying to hike uphill.
So, I did a fairly banal thing to break the cycle. I divided up my writing time in order to focus on doing the work and finishing that draft. I don’t remember the specifics, but let’s say, for example, that I had time scheduled for writing 5 days out of the week. The idea was that for four of those scheduled days, I had to work on the writing, and allow the fifth day to be spent on worrying about things that weren’t necessary yet, like queries and agents and publishers. I wrote out a list that broke down which elements concerned me, and devoted that fifth day to researching/thinking about those things. It took some time before I stopped having spillover on writing days, but it helped to retrain my brain to stop messing with me during creative time.
I don’t know if that is something that will work for anyone else, but it is the thing that worked for me. The bottom line is that it is really hard to get on with the business of creating when you are trying to hold all aspects of publishing in your head at the same time.
So I have a question for anyone else who might have gone through something similar. Any advice? How did you get yourself out of the spiral?