Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Dealing with Performance Anxiety (as a Writer)

If you’re anything like me, anxiety has a tendency to crush your tired soul in countless aspects of your life, despite your best efforts to combat it.  The pressure only increased when I took my new job as a Copywriter for my company about two weeks ago.  It’s a position that didn’t exist in the company before then, so we’re all kind of learning what I do together. 

For some, the loose boundaries that come with a newly minted position might relax their anxiety issues, but nothing anywhere has ever made me feel less anxious aside from Chipotle, 30 Rock, and maybe my last girlfriend.  So far, I’ve done ok dealing with the anxiety of NOT having those things; well two out of three.  I’ll let you guess which (hint: it involves 100s of different delicious combinations).  On the bright side, I’ve lost 12 pounds!

Ok, this is a writing blog, my apologies.  So, with performance anxiety being a very real thing in the life of a writer, I thought I’d offer a few thoughts on dealing with performance anxiety as a writer.

I talked about writing about something completely different to get your head straight in a previous post, but what happens if you’re up against the proverbial wall (or literal wall, in my case, as my cubicle is too small to avoid it)?  Maybe you don’t have time to go crazy on something silly.  Maybe you need to get on your article right now.  Well, first off, I wouldn’t suggest thinking about it like that.  If you’re like me, the anxiety of knowing you’re up against it and the thoughts aren’t coming just results in you never getting anywhere; so here’s some things to try.

Manufacture some confidence

I haven’t been copywriting for too long and, outside of the few posts I’ve done on this blog in the past, my library isn’t terribly impressive.  However, if you look up the phrases “original Beatles lyrics” or “inspiration for bassists”, you’ll find my ugly mug right there on the first or second page of Google.  (I’ll talk about Google Authorship another time; you can definitely find more about it plenty of places.)  You may be saying, ‘dude, that’s not really that impressive.  Most of your articles aren’t even close to the front page for search results.’

That’s true, but you’ll notice that the title of this section is manufacture some confidence, not earn it.  Especially early on, you’re going to have to find confidence where you can find it.  Just knowing that my stuff is visible is some encouragement.  Maybe it doesn’t prove anyone has read it, but it’s plausible enough for me to pretend people have.  This is crunch time, remember, you can’t sit around being honest with yourself.

Focus on why you’re writing

Don’t get me wrong, the content itself is key, but we very often find ourselves obsessing over what to put in and not taking time to focus on why we’re writing in the first place.  At my job, I’m essentially trying to bring people to our website who will, in the end, buy something music related.  That means my blog needs to be a) something people would be interested in reading and b) probably related to music.  Other than that and some key words, things are fairly loose. 

As I mentioned before, that looseness causes me anxiety.  However, those basic tenants help me rein it in.  Once I have that more in focuse, I’m able to:

Write something genuine from the ‘heart’

I put heart in quotations, not because I’m encouraging you to use some sort of false sincerity, but because you do have to stick to the script with this sort of work.  However, readers can tell if you don’t give a hoot about your subject.  Writing is self expression no matter what you’re writing for, though, so don’t be afraid to use your voice.  Just read some of my Sonifly posts and you can tell I let whatever was on my mind at the time influence what I wrote.  None demonstrates that more accurately than ‘Vocal Sheet Music for (Single) Ladies’, which has, sadly, not yet been released. 

If none of that works, then I suggest writing a blog entry about how you’re going to calm your writing anxiety.  I actually feel a good deal better than I did at the start of this.  So goes the mantra, when it doubt, shut up and write.

Brendan Lyons is a professional Copywriter and the author of The Book of Iden series as well as a number of short stories.  You can follow him on twitter @theLyonbrary, follow The Book of Iden on facebook, or find updates on what Brendan is working on at Goodreads.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

4 Tips for Getting Over Writer's Block

A few days ago, I attended a writer’s round-table at my local library.  It was a really great experience (my first) and I feel like I got a lot out of it.  Of course, the objective was for the audience to get a lot out of it, but I think it was pretty mutual overall.  They asked a lot of questions about process and publishing, which put me in mind to do a few blog posts about writing in itself, rather than focusing on short stories, which I’ve obviously been slacking on with my books progressing.  That being said, I’d like to start with a problem we all run into: Writer’s Block.

For your consideration, I present 4 strategies for beating writer’s block.

1. Change Your Focus

If you’re having trouble with one part of your book, try moving to another part of the story.  This can be especially helpful if you’re unsure about your character’s motivations.  I had a similar problem with one of the characters in my second book.  I’ve had to press on a little to get a better picture of how she should react to things early on.  Once you’ve gotten to know your characters, it’s easier to know how they’ll respond to the action of the book.  

This is also a good way to explore where the story is going.  If you’re like me, you just like to write and see where it goes.  It doesn’t allow for too much hopping around, but developing later scenes won’t hurt.  In the end, you can always change that part when you get to it.

If time travel isn’t your thing, you can always just work on a different character.  For my current project, I bounced around between a few characters in different parts of the world as they came together and broke apart.  This helped to change things up for me while still keeping the story moving forward at a steady rate.  Of course, if that doesn’t work, you could always:

2. Write Something Else Entirely

If just diverting your attention to another part of your story isn’t enough to get you going, consider putting it aside for a while.  If you’re like me, you don’t like the idea of taking a break from writing, for fear you might get rusty.  Instead, write something totally different.  Old vaudevillians and a lot of comics throughout the years used a little joke called the Aristocrats to psych themselves up before a performance.  I do something similar, but considerably less horrible, when I’m feeling stuck.  

This can work for any sort of block.  I recently started doing blog posts for my company on various aspects of the music world.  When I’m feeling stuck, I tend to start writing either ridiculous nonsense about the subject (often times bands) or just making fun of them for a while.  I do the same thing when they have me compose a marketing email.  I’ve written a few joke emails to clear the cobwebs when I’m feeling iffy about the subject.  

It can be a little tricky with a novel.  I don’t like to walk away from that for too long, but sometimes putting out a quick, insane short story really hits the spot.  It helps you think in ways you might not have while working on your big project.  Diversity is a friend to innovation.  

3. Take a Break to Clear Your Head

As I sort of alluded to earlier, I don’t care for this strategy too much, but some people swear by it.  I can see the reasoning behind it.  Some call this the ‘Shower Principle’, as referenced in an eponymously named season 6 30 Rock episode.  When you turn your attention to something else, it allows your subconscious to work on the problem without you.  This may result in a sudden eureka moment in which you realize what needs to happen next (or I suppose whatever other problem you’re working on.  

4. Talk it Out

This is just a good policy in general.  If you can’t seem to bust through the wall, try chatting with someone who knows a little about your story or just a little about stories in general.  They might just have a comment or question that you never thought of.  I was an education major, so I learned a lot about how to lecture, use slide shows, and the like, but nothing was quite as conducive to learning as some good old question and answer.  Figuring out what someone else wants to know about your story is, after all, half of writing.  Why not just ask?

Another great way to go about doing this is to join a writing group.  I go to a monthly group of about 5-10 people who spend two hours just talking about writing and whatever they happen to be working on.  I’ve spent quite a few meetings just listen to other people talk about the problems they’ve run into, how they’ve gotten past them, and what they get out of/put into writing.  A little camaraderie can do a lot for your writing.

Got a question about writing?  Don’t be afraid to ask!

Brendan Lyons is the author of The Book of Iden series as well as a number of short stories.  You can follow him on twitter @theLyonbrary, follow The Book of Iden on facebook, or find updates on what Brendan is working on at Goodreads.