In the previous tip, I argued for the use of exploratory writing—writing whose purpose is to explore ideas, not writing that helps you communicate with other people—and I’m going to follow up on that notion here to focus on the emotional difference between practice and performance—between writing to learn from the process and writing something that other people will see and evaluate. One of the main anxieties that people face is about how their work will be received, and if that can be put aside, even for a time, then writing anxiety can be reduced and writing productivity increased.
An anxious writer once told me “I made some notes and organized my thoughts but didn’t get any writing done.” She was feeling anxiety, shame, and a sense of failure about not adding to her manuscript. But that narrow view of what counts as “writing,” doesn’t recognize the value of some activities that are valuable parts of the writing process. In the previous post, I argued that all types of writing—email to friends, social media posts, etc.—can contribute to your skill as a writer. In this post, I’m following a related idea—another idea about what does and does not count as “writing” and what does (or does not) help you make progress on a manuscript. You can do important academic work without adding a single word to a manuscript if you are using writing as a tool to explore ideas.
To reduce writing anxiety, it helps to re-imagine the practices in which you engage. People who struggle with writing anxiety often think of “writing” as only meaning the most difficult projects—the dissertation, the journal article, etc. They reduce “writing” to only those projects where they face serious writing blocks and anxiety. Meanwhile, these same people often write eloquently and effectively in a number of other roles—they email friends, they reach out to scholars whose work they appreciate, they make posts on social media, they complete administrative and educational materials, etc.
The first key to developing a healthy writing practice despite writing anxiety is gentle persistence. Every writer needs to maintain a consistent practice over time, which takes persistence and self-discipline. But persistence and self-discipline must be applied judiciously. As discussed in the series introduction, “try harder” and “be more disciplined” are not particularly good advice for someone struggling with writing anxiety because trying harder can lead to destructive practices. If you are suffering and you “try harder” to “be more disciplined,” you are likely to reinforce the negative experiences that contribute to writing anxiety. In a healthy practice, persistence is carefully balanced to approach your limits without pushing past them. You need the persistence to push against your limits and face challenges, and you need the gentle sensitivity to step back and care for yourself.
Over the years, as a writing coach trying to help others write more effectively, and as a writer seeking to improve my own ability, I have read a lot of good advice on writing. Too rarely, however, have I found advice that really helped me in my struggles with writing anxiety or that resonated with me as a coach seeking to help other anxious writers. Too often, the advice boils down to “be disciplined and write.” And that’s great advice, of course. At least in a general sense. But for people struggling with anxiety in their writing process, it’s not necessarily good advice. Depending on the degree of anxiety, “be disciplined,” can lead to vicious cycles in which each anxiety-drenched attempt to write only confirms the fear that writing is a painful ordeal. If you’re feeling enough anxiety, writing is a painful ordeal, as I will attest from personal experience.
My previous posts have been concerned with the large number of different issues in my contract as well as the general question of what ability I had to negotiate/renegotiate with my publisher who has a ton of leverage compared to me, a relative unknown. This post follows that basic theme, but looks specifically at the question of royalties.
One of the first things I’ll mention is the variety of different royalty clauses. To start, there were the basic book formats: hardback, paperback, and e-book. Following these were another dozen or so clauses, split into “rights and royalties” and “subsidiary rights and royalties,” which included things like international rights, audio and video rights, book club uses, use of excerpts and more.