“Whenever something good happens to you regarding your writing, you just get nervous,” my daughter tells me. She’s talking about when I’m on my way to publication, when I get a positive review, when I win a prize.
What’s also true is that when something bad happens to me regarding my writing (publication impossible, bad review, no prize), I get nervous.
Rejection makes me nervous because it confirms what I often believe to be true about myself. Acceptance also makes me nervous because I’m convinced some major rejection is next.
For years, I’ve told students in my workshops they need to possess both arrogance and insecurity to be a writer. Arrogance enables you to think that what you write might matter to somebody else. Insecurity forces you to keep going back to your work to revise, to strive to make it better.
But what role does nervousness play? And what is the key to getting rid of that nervousness or, at least, tone it down a notch? How do you become a person who approaches writing with a sense of calm?
Be a dead writer?
But if you’re reading this, you’re alive, and we need to work with that. Is there some trade secret all the successful writers know?
Ann Enright, an Irish writer, says, “Writing is mostly a case of mood management.”
So how do you manage your mood?
Well, this is what not managing your mood looks like:
- Praise paralyzes you. You think, surely they’re just trying to make you feel good. Or maybe the praise is sincere, but they don’t know good writing, so you can’t trust them. Or maybe they know good writing and meant what they said, but you know all that could change in an instant.
- You know you’ll never get it right. It’s the contrast between the image in your mind of the work you want to create vs. what actually ends up on paper. How they rarely match. If only readers could see inside your head, they’d know what a fabulous writer you are.
- You’re so afraid of failure, you don’t take risks. Your inner critic is forever blowing the whistle. Maybe you stop yourself before you even begin, before you take the risk of writing at all.
- What’s the use? is your mantra.
And what is really excellent mood management?
Persisting. Persevering. Without discouragement or bravado. With curiosity. With wide-eyed wonder. With the attitude that anything can happen — and so what? Regardless, you’re right there, at your sturdy little desk, pecking away. The writer, Fred Leebron, once said to me: “It’s a war of attrition. Don’t attrish.”
So, it turns out the key to continuing to write even while riddled with nerves is to continue writing even while riddled with nerves. It’s the trade secret every successful writer knows. It’s also the problem every successful writer struggles with.
ABOUT JUDY: Judy Goldman is the author of seven books – three memoirs, two novels, and two collections of poetry. Her new memoir, Child, will be published May 2022. Her recent memoir, Together: A Memoir of a Marriage and a Medical Mishap (published by Nan A. Talese/Doubleday) was named one of the best books of 2019 by Real Simple magazine and received a starred review from Library Journal.
Her first memoir, Losing My Sister, was a finalist for both SIBA’s Memoir of the Year and ForeWord Review’s Memoir of the year. She received the Sir Walter Raleigh Fiction Award and the Mary Ruffin Poole First Fiction Award, as well as the three prizes awarded for a poetry book by a North Carolinian and Silverfish Review Press’s Gerald Cable Prize. She received the Hobson Award for Distinguished Achievement in Arts and Letters, the Fortner Writer and Community Award for “outstanding generosity to other writers and the larger community,” the Irene Blair Honeycutt Lifetime Achievement Award from Central Piedmont Community College, and the Beverly D. Clark Author Award from Queens University.
Her work has appeared in USA Today, Washington Post, Charlotte Observer, Real Simple, LitHub, Southern Review, Gettysburg Review, Kenyon Review, Crazyhorse, Ohio Review, Shenandoah, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere.