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Writers Thrive On Anxiety

How wrong can a person be? While taking a break from writing an article about how hypnosis can help writers conquer fear, I read this startling statement:

"A writer's fears are never 'conquered.' Nor should they be. Were an antidote discovered to literary anxiety, writers would be deprived of a powerful ally. When anxious, I'm also sharp: alert, observant, sometimes even witty. Fear energizes me."

The quotation is from Ralph Keyes, author of The Courage to Write. This book -- itself an example of good writing, and presumably created while Keyes brimmed with anxiety -- offers readers valuable insights from an experienced author and teacher who is also president of the Antioch Writer's Workshop.

Keyes illustrates his thesis with numerous examples from his own and other accomplished writers' lives. It would seem fear is common to them all.

And so is courage. At least among those who succeed in first putting words on paper (or computer) and then getting published.

The author distinguishes false fear busters from genuine courage boosters. The former are "tactics that soothe writing nerves in the short run but do nothing in the long run to help us actually write." Keyes gives several false fear busters, including:

"buying new gear (computer, typewriter, fountain pen),
moving to a more pleasant setting,
applying for grants and fellowships,
improving our vocabulary . . ."

(How true, how true. After all, I've spent many a pleasant hour in the middle of this very review escaping to explore the Internet for additional wisdom on writing!)

Genuine courage boosters are such activities as:

"read about successful writers...,
join a serious writers' group,
develop anxiety-easing rituals,
devise fear-taming work techniques,
write at times of day when you're most productive..."

Keyes points out that courses and workshops on writing can be either false fear busters, or genuine courage boosters -- all depends on what kind of group and how much you work. Plus how much courage you imbibe from the classes and colleagues.

Of course, as Keyes says, the best boost to a writer's courage is to write. We all love having written. And according to the author, we all have anxieties about revealing ourselves, or suffering rejection, or offending some reader. But he astutely points out that we are actually more afraid of our own condemnation of ourselves. We are afraid of what might be revealed of the darkness which lurks within ourselves.

And perhaps writers are not quite sane. "Scribbling words on paper hour after hour, month after month, year after year with only anxiety for company is an unnatural act. Finding reasons not to engage in this act could be seen as a sign of mental health." [!]

Few successful writers were popular as kids, claims Keyes. "Popularity is a serious brake on artistic expression of any kind." Popular people are naturally reluctant to say anything revealing, or to do anything controversial. Unpopular kids, on the other hand, now grown to adulthood, have a thirst for recognition -- and retribution. What better way than through the mighty pen. This man has amazing insight.

Keyes claims that page fright [what a wonderful analogy!] afflicts all writers, including some famous ones such as Fran Lebowitz, John Steinbeck and Margaret Atwood (who is quoted as saying "Blank pages inspire me with terror.") So the author does concede that anxiety can impede a writer. Indeed, if it didn't, why would we need fear-taming techniques, or rituals to reduce anxiety?

The author himself is reluctant to write fiction because he considers it too revealing, too intimate. So his ten books and numerous articles have focussed on what he considers the safer arena of non-fiction.

Some people will hide their anxiety by writing obtusely. Keyes has a delightful section in which he explains why university teachers encourage vague, flowery, jargon-ridden prose.

So now I have a great approach for the development of my article on how hypnosis can help writers:

first, in lowering anxiety

second, in dealing with our own negative self-talk,

third, in providing motivation to stop procrastinating,

fourth, in building self-confidence (hypnotherapy is excellent in that regard), fifth, in releasing the creative power of the subconscious.

And, of course, in reminding writers that their best work is probably done in hypnosis, anyway. As Keyes says: "Many authors enter a trance-like state as they write. Distractions disappear. Anxiety is put on hold. After what seem like minutes, writers glance at the clock and see they've been working for hours. Writers often end a working session unable to recall a word they've written."

So true. Thanks, Prof. Keyes.

Now, I'll just check the Internet to make sure I've not overlooked anything, before I return to writing that article on hypnosis for writers....

Courage to Write
by Ralph Keyes.
Henry Holt & Co.


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