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.