The Enemies of Our Progress Part Two


I worry. 

Oh, how I worry.  If my husband is late coming home from work, I worry that he’s had a wreck.  If he’s early, I worry that he was fired.  If I don’t hear from a friend for a while, I worry that I’ve angered him and we’re not friends anymore.  I sometimes joke with people that I worry about them because I was already worried about other things, so it wasn’t out of my way to slide a worry in there for them, too.  Most of all, I worry about my work.  Is it good enough? Will anyone pay to read it?  What if they wouldn’t even read it for free?  What if I never get anything else sold to a major publisher again?  What if I go the self-published route, and no one cares? 

All those worries and fears plant roots in my head, tangled roots that grip tight and do not let go for love nor money.  Have you ever tried to pull up a tree that decided to grow in the wrong place in your yard? (It happens, so please don’t fuss that I should leave all trees where they are.  I have one right now that if I allowed it to grow as it will, would trap me from ever leaving my back door again.)  Anyway, you yank on the part you can see, thinking, “I shall pull this up and toss it out into the woods where it won’t bother me,” but as you pull, you realize nothing’s moving.  So you go in the house for a spade to dig out some of the dirt and loosen the grip of the roots, and only then do you see that the roots are deep and strong and maybe not ever coming out.  Worry is just like that.  Once it finds its way in, getting it out again is harder than you think it should be. 

Worry isn’t just an enemy of our progress…it can be the evil overlord of all the other enemies we already have.  It’s insidious and cruel under the guise of being helpful.  “I’m just trying to make sure you see all the possibilities, so you make an informed decision,” says Worry.  So instead of trusting your instincts, you second-guess every move you make.  You hamstring your own progress, all the while thinking you’re just being careful.  You stop believing that anything you write is any good at all, even if editors and beta readers have told you it’s quality stuff.  After signing the contract for Mad Kestrel, I started worrying that Tor only bought it because the editor was an old friend of my agent.  I’ll give you a minute to roll your eyes over the nonsense of that thought.   Tor is a major publisher, and the idea that they’d spend money on crap just to do a friend a favor is complete silliness, but I was so determined to worry, that’s where I went.  This is the kind of madness worry creates for you, and the more roots you let it grow, the more your creativity suffers.   

So what can we do to defeat this enemy?  Well, that’s the worst part – I can’t tell you to stop worrying.  No one can.  It’s like telling someone not to think about an elephant.  Tell them that, and they’re going to think about elephants all afternoon.  You have to consciously find ways to shut the worry down.  Once you find ways that work for you, you can’t stop.  Worry is sneaky.  It finds cracks and niches in your confidence.  You must be forever vigilant. 

Meditation works for me sometimes.  I like guided meditation, because frankly, if you give me a quiet room and soft music and nothing else, I’m going to either worry or go to sleep.  A gentle voice leading me (with no particular religious focus) can bring me to a healthy, quiet, relaxed state, from which I can rise and go on with my afternoon less trapped and frightened.  Sometimes that relaxed state can even boost my storytelling, so even better.  A sister to meditation is massage.  It’s like meditation but with the bonus of ridding your body of stress and toxins while your mind relaxes.  If you can afford it, I highly recommend trying to go regularly. 

I mentioned sleep a second ago.  Be sure you’re getting enough of it.  Each of us is unique, but studies have determined that the average adult needs seven or eight hours a night.  I’ve been known to try and survive on far less than that.  After a few days of sleep deprivation, I notice I’m worrying more.  

Something else you can do to kill the voice of worry…pick a problem that you can do something about immediately, and then do that something.  For example, I have bills (who doesn’t, right?)  I wonder how I’ll ever pay down my credit card, or if my son’s student loans will take forever to be paid.  Oddly enough, though, I can write a check and put it into the mail, and the worry eases for a while.  If I start fearing that something terrible will happen and there won’t be cash to cover it, I’ll drive by the bank and transfer twenty dollars into the savings.  Moving just a small portion of money around triggers the better feeling.  It feels like I’ve actually done something.  Maybe you’re worrying over something you said to a friend, and now you’re afraid your friend doesn’t love you any more.  Instead of running conversations endlessly in your head, call your friend.  Say “I’m sorry.”  It costs you nothing to spend two minutes talking, and when you’re finished, you’ll both feel better. 

Okay, now I want to hear from you.  What are some ways you’ve found that help you quiet the worry enough to get back to work?  Share with us.


17 comments to The Enemies of Our Progress Part Two

  • Quality sleep…yeah…what is this thing you speak of? I don’t get very good sleep, either my brain wakes up before my body is ready (like this morning), or keeps thinking long after my body wants sleep, or my joints, back, neck, etc, have me tossing and turning all night. The sandman and I are not friends.

    As far as worry and stress goes, yeah, have a bunch of that of late, money matters, health issues, etc, and have found it hard to push aside. My gray matter likes to dwell on things, mulling the problems over, trying to find solutions to the Kobayashi Maru, so to speak, and unlike Kirk’s solution, I can’t just reprogram life. Of course, stress exacerbates my illness and just serves to make matters worse. With my head always going in a million different directions, it’s always been difficult for me to meditate. About the only time I can do anything close is when I get “in the zone” while writing, where I get sort of tunnel vision and all I can see is the screen and keys and all that’s pouring from my head is the current work. I think it’s why I decided to jump back into the middle grade I was working on instead of continuing on revisions of book 2 of my epic fantasy romance trilogy. Although, one thing I think would help in here (“in here” as in the whole house) would be better lighting, but can’t afford it or the rewiring required. Dim lighting has always made me feel more tired and lethargic. I’d pay bills to feel better…if I had the money to do it. 😉

  • Oh, Misty. How I needed this. I devoured it and will go back and read it again in a minute. For me worry and depression are lifelong enemies poking me in the dark place in my soul. And they have a voice. That voice makes me question myself endlessly. And that evil whispering voice tells me I’ll never grow up and find wisdom and kindness and I’ll always be a failure, no matter what.

    Like you, meditation and prayer helps. Massage helps. But I have discovered that writing helps most. I can lose myself in the writing and that evil whispering voice in my head will go silent for a while. SILENT! Blessed peace for a moment or two or an hour or two, and the evil-depression-worrier is quiet in the face of the story on the page.

    I think maybe a lot of people have whispering voices. Most of them on are on strong medicines. I’m on writing. 🙂

  • Hepseba ALHH

    I usually can’t focus when it feels like I’ve got *too* *many* things that need to be taken care of, as if focusing on one thing will doom all the others. When this happens, the best thing for me is to make a list of *everything* I can think of that needs to get done. Once it’s out of my head and down on paper I can look at it objectively. I can note which things are part of a tight schedule and which things are highest priority and which things I might need help with. Then I can choose logically how to proceed. More often then not, lately, I don’t get even half of the things on the list taken care of before I stop using it, but the process itself *really* helps.

  • I’m a worrier, too. And the lion’s share of my worry is focused on my kids. Have I been a good parent? Are they healthy, safe? Are they making good decisions socially? Are they doing well in school? Are they happy and well-adjusted? Next to that, my work worries seem small and insignificant. And that’s a boon, in a way, because it makes writing a refuge. Yes, I worry about my career, and I am prone to self-doubt. But somehow I find that I can handle those things. Or if not handle them, I can at least set them aside for a while and lose myself in creativity. I guess I’m like Faith that way.

  • Oh my gosh, these things all sound like me! We were having a discussion on our way back from coffee this morning about whether or not we would want to know the future, and one of my co-workers said, “maybe if it was good news.” And I thought about it for a minute and said, “No, I wouldn’t want to know even then, because I’d be constantly worrying that I’d do something to change it and make it bad.”

    I definitely worry more (and more irrationally) if I don’t get enough sleep. Yoga helps sometimes, and exercise. If I can get started writing, that helps – it’s the sitting down and starting that’s the hardest. I like meditation, and I think it would be really helpful, but like Misty, I think I need it to be guided. I suppose you can get CDs or something for that? And lists – I like to feel organized, otherwise I just generally panic about all the things that need to be done.

  • Ken

    I do that too. I’ll get to the point where I’m playing out arguments in my head that haven’t even happened. When I catch myself doing that, I do, actually, tell myself to stop. Literally. I speak the words out loud which does two things for me: it represents a conscious decision on my part to stop and I’m usually reminding myself that I’ve got more important things to bend my imagination to.

    Sometimes it works.

    I also tend to distract myself with music. Lots of music.

  • Fireheart1974

    Quiet the worry? Like Gypsyharper – organization is good. I keep calendars (both hard copy and google) that capture and try to balance everything from work, to Geeklet, to ConGregate to writing goals and deadlines. It’s messy but it works!

    But my biggest worry release…gaming. I use it to escape every few weeks the reality of my over-complicated life. For a few hours, all I have to worry about is did I roll a one and which spells do I have left. 🙂


  • @Ken – I was just now doing that. Heh! But I’m also getting myself ready for what I know will be a pain in my backside phone call that I’m probably going to have to argue over until I get satisfaction. Yet one more stressor…

  • mudepoz

    I pet my dogs and talk to them. Sometimes they give me some pretty good answers. Other times they just tell me they want treats.
    They don’t worry about much and don’t understand why I would.

    Life at its easiest.

  • Cindy

    Walking the dogs is great too. I try to get more exercise and not worry too much. Of course, I do worry too much but some of us do. Enough sleep is a huge help.

  • When worries start to get the best of me, I tend to find refuge in reading. This is often when I go back and reread favorite books–I can lose myself in a friendly, safe world where I already know what happens. Music works too, although I have to be careful about what kind of music–I usually go with old Motown or fun 60s rock. And if none of that works, I sometimes find that if I allow myself to go ahead and worry and push everything to an extreme, I just might be able to laugh at myself and my worst-case scenario imaginings. If I ever get to that point, I’m usually good for a while.

  • Honestly, I rarely worry anymore. Yes, there are plenty of stressors in my life, but I’ve learned not to let them wrap me around their axles. I used to worry, A LOT, until I realized how much energy I was spending on things that hadn’t happened – might never happen – and I was too worn out for anything else. That I was wasting energy that could better be channeled toward ensuring other things don’t happen. There’s an old Irish prayer – I’m sure most have heard it – that starts, “Lord, Grant me the serenity…” I have an abbreviated version. Whenever something occurs that gets me started on the Worry-ride, I ask myself, “Can I fix/change this?” If the answer is yes or maybe, then I use that worry-burning energy to do just that. If the answer is no, then I let it go. It doesn’t mean the Bad Thing, or perhaps an Even Worse Thing won’t happen; it just means that I’m going to use all that energy I could’ve wasted worrying on fixing those things I can.

  • Razziecat

    Oh lord yes, I used to do this All. The. Time. Sometimes I still do, no such thing as a totally worry-free life. A lot of my worries pop up when I’m trying to sleep. One way to combat them is to remind yourself, you can’t do anything about it (whatever “it” is) in the middle of the night, so you might as well sleep. You need to be rested so you can deal with things. Also, a cuddle with a purring cat and a fierce focus on good memories is a nice way to relax for a little while. I call it the kitty meditation technique. Pour all your attention into the feel of the warm furry buddy in your arms, and then let those good memories flow. If any bad ones slip in, shove them ruthlessly away and concentrate on the good ones.

    An hour or two sitting at a nice coffee shop or cafe is good, too, especially if you’ve got someone to sit with and talk to about ordinary, inconsequential things. Do a little people-watching, sip your drink, nibble a biscotti or something else tasty, and consciously relax your body and your mind. 🙂

  • Vyton

    Misty, I loved the story about the tree roots. That really works. And that bit about how the trees are trying to block you in your house. You need to run with that before S. King gets hold of it. Not that you really have to worry about trees encircling your house or anything, right? Like SiSi wrote, re-reading old favorites is a good refuge from chronic worry. Travel the old paths. But not through Mirkwood.

  • Fireheart, I think that’s part of my problem…my gaming group split up a few months ago. I miss it so.

  • As with several others who commented above, I try to tame worry with Order — making lists, controlling what *I* do and when I do it.

    My other major strategy is “Worst Case Visualization”. In the worst case, Book X won’t sell to traditional publishing. (Yes, I’ve been worrying about poor Book X for, literally, a year.) If it doesn’t sell, I can offer it to these small presses. Or self-publish it on this schedule. Or, blah, blah, blah. Having a decision tree dilutes the worry.

    And I try to remember that almost everyone feels this way — and we all still manage to put one foot in front of the other and move forward.

  • Hello fellow worry-warts! I’m glad to see I’m in such good company. Running or walking outdoors helps me immensely, both because when I feel trapped and hemmed in by worries a good run answers that physical need to fight something and to escape. I come back calmer, more ready to cope. And running helps me sleep – lack of sleep definitely makes all my worries seem bigger. And I find someone to talk to, especially Emily. A friend who can hear and sympathize without feeding your anxiety is a rare treasure.