The Worry Rat


Hi All.
AJ is currently buried under revisions, teaching at school, and other stuff. So today, I’ve asked another newly published writer to visit and share some thoughts. Alex is the author of CLEAN. Welcome Alex Hughes!

Most of us writers are a little bit up and down. One day we think our work is better than Michaelango’s, and the next we think it classifies somewhere below the microbes that live on the pond scum in a particularly nasty pond. And the more pressure you put us under, sometimes, the more we worry everyone else will discover the pond scum in our writing and call their friends and laugh about us in large groups, followed by an award-winning YouTube expose of our pond scumminess to public cheers.

 There are downsides to a writer’s imagination.  

 But here’s the thing. Nothing great ever came out of panic and worry. Worry grabs problems and hoards them like a packrat, little paws running over the troubles again and again to the exclusion of all else. It is obsessive. It is jealous, and demanding. And it will grab at your attention nearly ad infinitum – if you let it.

 In contrast, I was in a group of artists and musicians a few weeks ago, and to a one they all said their best work came when they were in a calm place of surrender. They felt a connection to God and the universe, and they felt like the story, the painting, or the song was flowing through them. This place of “flow” is about faith, and trust you can make something great today, or at least make something better. It is a pair of open hands and a smile, a small child playing happily engrossed with shiny toys. It is beautiful and accepting.

 The worry rat does not play well with the flow child. The rat pushes the child out if possible, or sits in the corner and demands attention from important things to deal with imaginary enemies Right Now. The child gets bored, or scared, and stops playing, and art is lost. Opportunities are lost. Stories are lost. And enjoyment of the work – that thing we all did so easily in the beginning – enjoyment is lost too.

 So, for the sake of my work and the sake of my sanity, I am setting out traps for my worry rat. I am learning to lock his little cage in a storage locker well away from my workspace. To ignore his piping demands for attention. And never, ever, under any circumstances give him any new material to play with. If you’ve noticed, worry rats love to get together on the internet and talk about the Big Scary Problems We Have to Fix Now. Turn them off – and get work done instead.

 Neil Gaiman said the best advice he ever got (that he ignored) was from Stephen King. “This is really great. You should enjoy it.” He was in the middle of some of his biggest times of success, but he didn’t take the advice – he didn’t enjoy it. He worried about it – the next deadline, what was going to happen, the next project. And he missed a good part of the ride as a result. (Hear the end of the speech here: He gives advice to all the creative out there: let the worries go. And enjoy the ride.

Don’t let the rat steal your joy.
For more about me and my book, check out the social media links below.

Alex Hughes
Twitter: @ahugheswriter
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6 comments to The Worry Rat

  • I get the rat drunk. Well…not drunk, but so that it wants to curl up in the corner and let me do my work. 😉 I can see why many famous writers enjoyed a nip or two during the process. 😉 Relaxes my brain just enough to let go and do what it needs to do.

    And it is sort of a zone I get into, a calm place where everything outside my vision of the screen melts away and the words just flow. There’ve been times in that state where I finally stop and look around and realize I’m 4000+ words in and I’ve forgotten to even eat. I’ve tried to force the writing and it rarely works.

    And yeah, the big scary problems line…it’s why I don’t look at the feed on the book o’ face anymore. I think it was sapping my creativity and taking years off my life. 😉

  • Welcome, Alex! 😀

    Worry cripples me, or rather, I let worry cripple me far too much. Thank you for talking about this subject. Moving forward, I’m going to try to keep this in mind. Because I get tired of not being able to produce much.

    @Daniel – Smart! I don’t know if I could stop looking at the feed completely, but definitely not around writing time. The moment it opens, well, goodbye to being creative.

  • Julia

    Welcome, Alex! I love this post — and I heartily second your statement that the worry rat likes to congregate on the internet.

    Rather than actively focusing on sedating the rat, I’ve put a lot of thought into trying to court the child! I know she like candles and nibbles of chocolate, time outside to sparkle up the creativity, and firm reminders to my stodgy adult self that it’s worthwhile taking time to play.

  • Hi, Alex! Great to see you here (you and I were on a panel together the last day of DragonCon). Maybe it’s because I have a pretty broad pessimistic streak, but I actually find at times that the worry rat does me some good. It keeps me working, it forces me to try things I might not otherwise consider. The flow child is good for me, too. I guess I find that I need an internal good cop/bad cop thing to stay on course. Sometimes I need to work the positive angle; sometimes I need to push myself with the worry and fears. But that’s just me.

    Looking forward to reading CLEAN. Hope it’s a huge success for you.

  • Gypsyharper

    Hi, Alex! I definitely struggle with the worry rat on a regular basis – and then I worry about how much I worry! I welcome any and all tips on how to get the worry rat to stay in its corner and stop interfering with my creative process. I find that if I can just get started, that helps – the rat is really skilled at getting me to go watch TV instead. I’ve recently set up an actual schedule for my writing, which has been a lot more effective than just saying to myself, “of course I’ll write sometime this weekend.”

  • sagablessed

    Worry provides stress, which keeps me together. I think if I ever relaxed, I would melt into a puddle of goo. Of course this may be why I have ulcers.
    I shall have to take your approach, and poison-bait the little b^st^rds. A change now and then is good thing. 🙂