Embracing Creative Angst

mindset writing process Aug 17, 2020

A Common Concern

Do you feel stuck in your current writing project? Or maybe you know you want to write and even have a vague idea as to your topic, yet can't seem to move forward. Worst of all, perhaps you've become so frustrated that you just shove your ideas aside and walk away with no idea what to do next.

Despite your frustration, it is important to know that you're not alone and that this is a common problem for most writers at some point during their projects. In fact, I was talking with an accomplished writer only a few days ago -- one who has won accolades for her work and has had multiple books published -- and she expressed this same frustration and self-doubt with her own current project. For the sake of discussion, then, let's give this ubiquitous experience a name: this collective frustration and self-doubt is what I would call creative angst.

Since creative angst is a common (and one could say normative) issue, then it can be rightly considered as merely part of the creative process and not actually a problem at all! So what is the problem? The real problem is how we interpret our angst.

Remember that the creative process in writing is one of taking an abstract idea and giving it flesh and bones and feelings and motives and actions...it is creating something from nothing. Why wouldn't we struggle with our creation and labor over its form and voice and destiny? It may rise from us or from parts of us but it takes on a life of its own and grows in ways that feel independent of us as we become more intimately connected with its shape and meaning.

Our creative angst, then, is a necessary part of the creative process and represents our  desires and thoughts and beliefs in action as they coalescence into a story full of characters unfolding in a directed drama. We must take care to make the right decisions, decisions that direct the drama to the intended climax and to communicate the intended message. This necessitates uncertainty! For what will the outcome be? How will we accomplish it? How will it be received? Will the message be understood and the story enjoyed? If we didn't feel angst, the likelihood is that our story would fall far below its potential and die in anonymity. Our angst is the embodiment of our love for the craft and the concern for the outcome of our creative efforts.

This means it is wise to embrace our creative angst and let it push us into the arms of our highest potential. It is not an embrace to be avoided or misinterpreted as an omen that we are somehow less than we thought or potentially incapable of magnificent work. Oh, contraire! It means we are taking care and that the resulting work, once fully formed, will be all the more delightful with power to inspire and force to move the reader.

Keep Struggling, Keep Asking

If we expect creative angst to be part of the process, we will approach this task differently. In working towards our starting point, we have to keep asking ourselves the hard questions.

  • What am I trying to say?
  • What do I want readers to take away from the story?
  • What is my underlying core message?
  • How do I want to tell it?
  • Why do I care?
  • What motivates me to write this?
  • What encourages me to keep writing this?
  • What must I do and what must I have to finish what I start no matter the outcome?

Keep in mind that any inventor will have far more failed inventions than successful ones. While this may seem discouraging at first blush, it is not (again, wrong interpretation). Failed inventions lead the way to successful ones and, in fact, is the only path that leads there. This is such an important concept! The creative process of writing is no different than the creative process of inventing...try, fail, try, fail, try, partially succeed, try, fail, try, succeed at last. When we write a story and it fails (i.e., it's not very good), this means we are one attempt closer to genuine success and all the lessons learned along the way make such success far more likely.

If we never write, we will never fail. That much is absolutely true. And honestly, this is where many potentially award-winning writers will stop. The fear of failure is so strong that success is never given a chance. However, if we view our failed attempts as what they are -- meaningful steps toward success -- then we can pick up the pen again with confidence and courage.

Coming Up Next: Ten Steps Forward, Three Steps Back

Starting with our next blog, we'll explore ten steps in the writing process. These steps aren't magical or even surprising, but perhaps having a roadmap will help keep some writers from getting entirely lost and abandoning their project along the way to their destination. As always, our blogs not only cover targeted content for writers but purposefully aim toward encouragement to help you successfully tackle the mental and emotional challenges inherent to the creative process.

Happy writing! See you soon!


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