Thursday, May 6, 2010

Creative Tension: Writing and Controlling Anxiety

So on a children’s writing panel the other night, in response to a question about the writing life, I said that I agreed with a comment I’d recently heard from another writer. “Writing is all about controlling anxiety.” There was nervous laughter in the crowd.

But for me, it really is about controlling anxiety. Is this worth putting my heart and soul on the page every day? Yes, yes, yes. But it’s not so easy. When I told a writer friend last week about my anxiety during the revision process, she suggested the two-handed meditation. On the one hand, I can’t write well. I’ll never finish this project. One the other hand, of course I can. I have finished many projects in my life and I’ll do it again.

Isn’t this like all the tension in our lives? How about for our characters – fiction or nonfiction? Will they step up or collapse to the ever-greater challenges in their way? Will you?

I vote for acting like our protagonists, instead of our antagonists. Janet Fitch in that workshop on dialog said that she believes the antagonist in the story is the one who never changes. So are you the protagonist or antagonist in your writing life? Do you control the anxiety, live through the creative tension or do you give up and go eat some chocolate?


  1. Hmm, interesting Claire. My protagonists suffer so much they make me sad. They do have some inner strength that comes out in the end, though so I guess I'd rather be like them. But must I go through their excessive pain? Some writer once said (was it Sendak?) that the author has the same emotional crisis at the exact time their character does.

    Writing to control anxiety is so true, but don't we also write to avoid anxiety? I'm only anxious and insecure and desperate to control it when I am NOT writing. When I am writing it is all good.

    I better get back to writing...

  2. Acting like protagonists instead of antagonists is just brilliant.

  3. Can't I be the antagonist and eat chocolate and ice cream?

  4. I use chocolate to make my creative tension enjoyable. And pretty much everything else, really.

  5. And then there's shouting at race horses. They don't mind and I feel much better afterwards.

  6. I want it all--anxiety, writing and chocolate.