Tips & Tools for Battling a Common Affliction for Writers — Especially During NaNoWriMo
Do you suffer from —
- Writer’s block or excessive procrastination?
- An aversion to taking creative risks — resulting in writing that feels stale, imitative, or flaccid?
- A shortage of ideas that feels original, authentic, brave, or compelling?
- An overall feeling of creative lethargy, melancholy, or ennui?
- The absence of a playful, loving, and kind muse?
- The presence of a cruel inner critic who keeps you in an endless feedback loop of fear, criticism, resistance, and doubt?
If so, you might be suffering from Generalized Writer’s Perfectionism Disorder (GWPD).
According to data compiled over the last four hundred years by the Office of Fairy Queens, Mermaids, and Witch Doctors, thousands — and possibly billions — of writers live with a loud, critical voice inside their heads. These voices were often implanted in early childhood by a well-meaning but often unstable or narcissistic parent, teacher, or coach. Most often, these voices insist that the writer is not good enough, smart enough, talented enough, or special enough to succeed in their endeavors. In longitudinal studies, respondents referred to these voices as persistent, screeching, and demonic in nature.
Related Condition: Weltschmerz
Those suffering from GWPD are often highly-sensitive and may also suffer from ‘Weltschmerz’. In the 1790s, German author Johann Paul Friedrich Richter coined the term, which means — melancholy and world-weariness. This melodramatic world-view permeated the works of many romantic writers, including Lord Byron, Oscar Wilde, William Blake, and Marquis de Sade.
Symptoms of GWPD
- An inability to finish what you’ve started.
- Lack of spontaneity or joy in writing.
- The inability to handle rejection or constructive criticism.
- Disconnection from your voice, your muse, and your inner child.
- Periodic moments of mastery that are disrupted by sudden hysterical bouts of despair, unworthiness, and self-sabotage.
- An overwhelming desire to abandon or burn your unfinished manuscript, so you can crawl into a hole and die.
- Referring to your work as ‘a masterpiece of dog feces.’
Complications Due to NaNoWriMo
Be prepared for excessive symptom flares during the month of November a.k.a NaNoWriMo. Take solace in knowing that come December you will never, ever (truly never) revisit, review, or revise, any of the pages you wrote furiously during NaNoWriMo. And trust us, nobody will ask to read your incomprehensible scribblings. While your abandoned NaNoWriMo project may continue to haunt you for years, that doesn’t mean any of the writing is salvageable. For your own mental health, be like Elsa, and ‘let it go’.
Treatment for GWPD — Embrace Creative Imperfection
While there currently isn’t a cure for GWPD, there are tools to help manage this affliction. By embracing ‘Creative Imperfection,’ also known as SHITTY WRITING, the writer learns to set realistic goals and comes to recognize the value in creating what author Anne Lamott calls ‘the shitty first draft.’ The writer gains awareness that all writing goes through several thousand stages of revision before it is ready to be published.
The writer is eventually desensitized to the point where she gets over the nonsensical idea that she is either a born genius OR an utter piece of shit. In time, the writer realizes — she can be both!
“A shitty first draft, while not a thing of beauty, is a miracle of victory over nothingness, inertia, bad self-esteem. Secret? Butt in chair.” (Anne Lamott)
Tips & Tools
- Write the shitty first draft. And embrace it in all its glorious shittiness.
- Then write the shitty second draft. And third, and fourth, and fifth.
- Understand you will never be satisfied. You will think the 75th draft needs work, and you will agonize over it until the day you die. True story.
- Don’t complain about the millions of hours lost to shitty unpublishable writing. This is your job, your passion, your raison d’etre. It’s not like you’re shoveling shit. So STFU.
- Join writing classes and critique groups. These help you set writing deadlines, and provide feedback from actual writers. Stop asking family for notes. They will not be honest, and frankly, they don’t know shit about good writing.
- A good critique group can also function as a support group. You don’t need other writers pointing out where your writing is shitty. You need them to point out your brilliance. Don’t compete or compare. Put your petty jealousy bullshit aside and watch your writing drastically improve.
- Sometimes wing it. Don’t get bogged down in the minutia of complicated plot points or procrastinate with extensive research. Keep the momentum going. You can fill in all the small bullshit details later.
- Get your butt in the chair and do the work. Stop logging in 800 hours on facebook or Candy Crush. Admit your attention wanders. Put away the shiny objects.
- Write wherever and whenever. Doing prework in your head makes it easier to face the blank page. Work on your story in the shower, or while driving to work, or even while sitting on the crapper.
- When your story wants attention, give it attention. If the muse isn’t showing up, don’t force it. But if the muse wants to play, by all means, drop everything and PLAY with that bitch!
- Spend just as much time with real people as you do imaginary people. Seriously, relationships are essential for your health. A healthier writer is a more productive writer.
- Don’t sacrifice your present happiness with the belief that once you are published, your life will be perfect. It won’t. You will still remain a frustratingly slow work-in-progress, in need of many revisions, just like your next novel.
Repeated application of these Tips & Tools should result in a significant reduction of symptoms as related to Generalized Writer’s Perfectionism Disorder.
If GWPD is diagnosed early, self-sabotage may be contained. See a specialist if symptoms persist for longer than a decade.
Weltschmerz is a condition of melancholic romantic pessimism and should not be confused with Nihilism or Solipsism.
Lizbeth Finn-Arnold is a freelance writer, blogger, and independent filmmaker. She received a degree in Communication at Rutgers University and a Certificate in Film at NYU. A New Jersey native, Liz describes herself as a seeker of truth, an incorrigible writer, Netflix junkie, nature-lover, dog whisperer, mother, healer, teacher, warrior, crone, and explorer.