The anxiety of writing

Depression and anxiety have been two companions of my adult life, and I’ve coped with them with varying degrees of ‘success’. I use the word ‘success’ carefully, though. Success stories in the media have, at times, made me question why I haven’t beaten them like other people seem to have, but I’ve come to accept now that they’re just something I live with, and coping, rather than beating, is okay. That said, I can’t help but worry that I’ve put myself in a situation, at least three times now, that exacerbates those negative feelings. 

I struggled emotionally when I was finishing my first book in 2010.  My beloved godmother — one of my biggest supporters and the person to whom I dedicated the book — had passed away earlier that year, and I was mourning for her and for the fact that she would never see the finished product of work in which took so much interest.

The final months before I submitted the manuscript of my second book three years later were a total disaster. Suffice to say, if it hadn’t been for someone who had been an informal academic mentor to me — you know who you are, and if you’re reading this, I’ll be forever grateful to you — I’d never have made it across the finish line.  There was a lot going on, and I don’t want to go into the finer details here, other than to say that it felt like my life was crumbling around me.

And now, as I work on my third book, I find myself waking up in the mornings with the familiar tightness across my chest — the one that anxiety brings. My position in work changes in September (when I’ll have less time for research) and I’m keen to get my manuscript finished before then. I’ve tried to talk to a couple of people about it, but the standard response of ‘you put too much pressure on yourself’, ‘you have plenty of time’ and ‘it’ll all be fine’ doesn’t help. Those responses are statements, not helpful suggestions. Maybe I’m expecting too much.

There’s a definite pattern emerging in regards to my writing. In all three book-related instances, there has been something else going on in my life — though this time round, the change that’s coming is definitely a positive. But maybe they’re all just contributing factors to my feelings? Perhaps — and this is the the thing that worries me — every time I start a new, major project, I’ll experience these feelings as I bring it to a conclusion. I hoped I’d handle it better this time round. I think I probably have, but that doesn’t really lessen the anxiety.

Published by Dr Ciara Meehan

Reader in History at the University of Hertfordshire.

4 thoughts on “The anxiety of writing

  1. Wow – such admirable honesty and bizarrely comforting that the bright and the talented also suffer – one often mistakingly places the successful in the exempt category. I used to have depression and a nurse once said to me that I should stop writing because it would only make it worse – apparently there is a link but I never followed it up.

  2. They say that there is a book in everyone. You have produced two fine volumes. This is an incredible achievement which you should reflect on as you become anxious about completing the current book project. It also takes a lot of self discipline and hard work to produce books that are worth reading which are strengths that you possess in enviable quantities. Deadlines are important but they should not be written in stone as circumstances sometimes prevent publications from appearing as anticipated.

  3. Only just seeing this now Ciara. I think you should take a bow, for getting two books out in what sounds like difficult circumstances especially the first one when you were bereaved. You have a lot on your plate with the new role but sometimes stress and deadlines make us focus and produce better work, maybe it can be a positive rather than a negative? I know my writing is better when I’m under pressure and burning midnight oil which isn’t necessarily good but it’s how it seems to work. I know I’m looking forward to reading your third one.
    Writers have to have such thick skins and while lots of people say that they get so much support when they bring out a book, there’s bound to be a bit of a “dog eat dog” thing going on especially in academia. As long as you feel you’ve done the best job to your ability and it’s 95% of the way there (I don’t believe in waiting for perfection as otherwise it would never be published, not that I’m an expert but that’s my take on it), I hope you’ll be happy with the finished product. Good luck! Hope you’re feeling more under control now.

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