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.