Thoughts on Writer’s Angst

(This was originally written as a guest piece for Sarah Beth Jones, owner of Nary Ordinary Business Services, aka No B.S. Check out her blog.)

It happened just the other day. I came up with an idea for the prologue of my second book. It was a long time coming—I had waited for it patiently—and now, at last, a good seed and germination. The idea was exciting enough to cause me to wake up earlier than usual. Then, not two days later, I was sure it was an awful idea.

I was able to critique the idea several ways. For one, it probably wouldn’t be long enough to be set apart as a prologue. And two, it was gimmicky. I also reminded myself that many writing experts are not in favor of prologues.

This, my writing friends, is a form of writer’s angst. Maybe you recognize it. There are many strains, I suppose, but what they all seem to have in common is a two-word, self-defeating message:

I suck.

Writer’s angst is like poison ivy. The more you scratch, the more you itch. If you don’t treat it, it spreads.

I’ve observed that many writers have this affliction. Some try to hide it because they worry about being found out. They think that other writers are naturally gifted and don’t have to work nearly as hard.

As the hilarious and wonderful Anne Lamott wrote in Bird by Bird:

“I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her.”

Most days, here’s my three-word answer to writer’s angst (“I suck”):

Trust the process.

Those were the words I taped above my desk when I sat down to write my first book. It was a matter of survival, really, because the reality of writing a book (once I signed that publishing contract) was, in a word, scary.

Trusting the process works. You write some every day. You do various other writing tasks day by day. Over time, something good materializes. When that self-defeating voice harangues you, you talk back to it. You never waver. You trust the process.

By the way, I’m still working on that prologue. You know what? I actually like it.

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