Creative Anxieties: Fear of not writing enough

This blog post is late. I was meant to write it last week, but life got it the way, as it always seems to do. It’s not just this week’s though; the self-imposed schedule I imposed at the start of the year has slowly slipped away. This, inevitably, leads to guilt and worry. More specifically, I always feel like I’m not writing enough. I need to produce more. When I do write, it never feels like enough.

It’s not just me though. Have a look at this thread from Rebecca Williams about the constant guilt and pressure she feels to continue writing:

I’d recommend clicking through as there is a lot of good replies and advice to her in the thread below. Similarly, this post shows these feelings are pretty much universal:

Reading both of these threads, was helpful to me. I identified the same guilt I feel about not writing and it helped hearing others talk about the same feelings. So I thought I’d write my own experiences and what helped me, in the hope it might help others.

This worry is a vicious circle. Not writing leads to guilt which makes it harder to start which leads to more guilt. I think the problem is exasperated by our old friend the internet. We see the super successful writers constantly producing amazing articles and we wonder why we can’t do the same. On the internet generally, the new is favoured over the old, so there is a constant desire to engage followers with new content. Marketing advice says you should post every day. Writing advice says you should write every single day without fail. I’ve advocated for the benefits of a creative routine myself, but it can be overwhelming, especially when you have lots of other things going on in your life at the same time.1 This constant pressure to produce can make it feel like you aren’t doing enough and leads to feelings of inadequacy.
So what should you do to escape the pit of malaise? I have very little idea, but here’s what’s worked for me.

1. Forgive yourself.

It’s easy to say and harder to do. You need to start by not being so hard on yourself. When I wasn’t writing last year, I got some excellent advice along these lines by Selcouth Station:

I found this advice very useful. Pressuring yourself into writing and then feeling guilty when you don’t isn’t a healthy cycle. Essentially, you need to forgive yourself. Maybe there’s lots of stress in your life at the moment and writing understandably takes a back seat. Maybe you’ve lost the spark that made it interesting. Maybe there’s simply not enough hours in the day. Whatever it is, there’s probably a reason you’re not writing much. Try to focus on your own process and what works for you. Which means:

2. Ignore others

Even me if you like. Those people who consistently write great articles every day of the week and have a massive audience? Their world is probably completely different to yours. Maybe they don’t work full time because they won the lottery. Their success is an outlier, but we assume it’s the norm. It’s also important to remember that everyone’s process is different as well. They might make it up as they go, while you plan everything out in a detailed way, which takes longer. They might get up at 4 am when you try it you’re a bleary-eyed mess who can’t string a sentence together The point is that you shouldn’t measure yourself against others because their lives, their work, their routine and their measures of success is entirely different.
Instead, shift your attention and:

3. Focus on the work.

You just have to be a little bit selfish, block the outside world and try to make the work as good as possible. Listen to yourself and just focus on getting the words in as good an order as possible. When you’re working on something, it involves blocking out the outside world as much as possible and only being guided by yourself. You might not be as proficient as others. It might take you years to write books. That’s ok, as long as you’re making progress. You have to do it at your own pace.

I think the problem we have with ideas in our society is that they need to be instant. We need to continually react to the world around us, provide instant reactions and instant wisdom. This doesn’t necessarily mean all that content is good. Most of it will be rubbish. Ideas aren’t necessarily instant. Sure, you may get a great idea in the shower and then write it down in a mad frenzy. Or they make take longer to ferment. I’ve got half-scrawled notes in notebooks from ten years ago that I’m only just getting round to making sense of. Stories take longer to write than you might expect. As long as you keep moving forward, it doesn’t matter if you go at the speed of sound or at the speed of growing grass. It’s still moving forward. You have to try and make the work a little better each time. Guilt won’t help that. Similarly, if you need a break from a piece of work, then put it aside and work on something else. Or take a break entirely and go live your life for a bit. It doesn’t make you any less of a writer. It makes you human.

So that’s what I think anyway. You need to focus on yourself and ignore the outside world. It’s more important in my opinion to make good work rather than lots of it. In the end, you are probably your own worst critic.

I hope this helps. I’d be interested to hear from you if you’ve experienced similar pressure to produce and what you did to combat it. Leave a comment or contact me.
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  1. I’d modify that advice now, to say it doesn’t have to be every day, just whatever works best for you, as long as it’s regular

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