Hello all my wonderful debuts! Today, we're talking about a thing that is, as far as I can tell, ubiquitous for debut authors (and maybe all authors forever):
The dreaded Debut Anxiety. It takes you over, makes you think nothing but spiraling, negative thoughts, and ruins all the good feelings you SHOULD be having. Like "yay, I wrote a book and it's getting published!" Instead you'll think, "What if everyone hates my book? What if it gets the lowest star rating on Goodreads? What if Kirkus says it sucks?"
And around and around you go, until you're lying face-down on your floor in the dark, scrolling through tumblrs full of sad kittens.
So what can we do about the dreaded Debut Anxiety? Well, some simple stuff. Obviously, if you already have a diagnosed anxiety or depressive disorder, this is something you should be talking to your IRL therapist about. But in the event that you are without a preexisting diagnosis and you have situational anxiety that's making you miserable, I have a technique that just might help you out!
Okie dokie friends, first we're going to talk about thought errors (aka cognitive distortions, if we're being FaNcY). What are thought errors? Exactly what they sound like. Thought errors are erroneous ways of thinking that can make you spiral into anxiety and/or depression. They're called errors because they are INCORRECT and UNTRUE! They're lies your brain tells itself because your brain is a masochist and loves to torment itself.
Here is a list of ten thought errors. There are more than ten, but these are the most common (links at the bottom of this post), and a lot (if not all) of them are going to be things you've caught yourself thinking before.
All-Or-Nothing Thinking (aka Polarized Thinking): Life exists in only black and white. There are no shades of gray. Something is either good or bad. A NYT bestselling success or an abysmal failure, nothing in between.
Overgeneralization This one small incident happens, and now I'm going to apply this to everything. I got one two-star review, which means everyone is going to think my book is terrible and they'll hate it.
Filtering These negative things? Yeah, that's all I'm going to focus on. I'm going to gather up these negative things, I'm going to glue rhinestones and sparkles to them, I'm going to put them on a pedestal within the Louvre of my mind and just keep walking circles around them, taking pictures and ooh-ing.
Mind-Reading (aka Jumping to Conclusions) I emailed my editor about something, and she didn't email me back yet. It's been 24 entire hours. She hates me. I know she does. She hates me and she's talking about how annoying I am to the entire publicity team right now.
Fortune-Telling (aka Jumping to Even More Conclusions) If I ask my editor to send me to a convention, the answer is going to be no, so I might as well not even ask at all.
Fairness Fallacy My book is so layered and deep and the prose is tight and it's amazing. Meanwhile, Shelly McWritesalot's book isn't even that good but her deal is bigger than mine. How is that fair??
Labeling I forgot to send my publicity team a thank-you gift for my book's launch, so I'm a horrible, thoughtless person.
Catastrophizing (aka Magnification) IF THIS BOOK DOESN'T HIT LIST I'M NEVER GOING TO BE ABLE TO SELL ANOTHER BOOK TO ANYONE BECAUSE EVERYONE WILL THINK I'M A BAD WRITER AND I'LL HAVE TO GET A JOB FLOSSING CROCODILE TEETH AT THE ZOO.
Personalization Someone subtweeted something. I know it's about me. I'm not going to ask them or say anything, though. I'm just going to sit over here and stew in my bad feelings.
Unreal Ideal (aka Shoulda Woulda Coulda) I write YA fantasy, and so does Bob Writesenstein, but he puts out two books a year I struggle to do one. I should be able to write faster, like Bob.
Do any of those sound familiar? OF COURSE THEY DO! You can also see how some of these could be easily justified by an anxious brain, and how some of them go hand-in-hand with others, and how they are all nasty and don't help at all.
So what can we do?
I'm glad you asked!
We're going to be lawyers now.
Specifically, we're going to be defense attorneys now. And as a defense attorney, you're defending your client, the Thought Error, from an impartial judge. You have to make an argument why the Thought Error is real, and do it well enough to be able to convince a third party that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that totally makes sense.
Let's do an example. Your client, Unreal Ideal, has told you that they are POSITIVE they should be able to write at least two books a year because a guy they follow on Twitter, Bob Writesenstein, writes two books a year. The conversation will go something like this:
You: Your Honor, my client, Unreal Ideal, should absolutely be able to write two books a year. Their contemporary, Mr. Bob Writesenstein, publishes two books a year easily, and Unreal Ideal should be able to do that, too.
Judge: Why tho.
You: Because writing two books a year is doable if they manage their time appropriately!
Judge: Doesn't your client work full time?
You: Yes but they have free time after work.
Judge: Doesn't your client have a family?
You: Yes but . . . they could just . . . neglect them.
Judge: That doesn't sound reasonable. What about your client's health?
You: They don't NEED to exercise or eat good food to survive, you know.
Judge: None of this sounds reasonable.
You: How about waking up five hours before work to smash out some words in the wee hours of the morning?
It's ridiculous to expect to be able to write as much as a peer if you have a non-writing schedule that's more full than theirs (although this is not the ONLY reason to not compare yourself to others!), but this is a trap writers definitely fall into.
Now we're going the other way... prosecutor!
You: Your Honor, the defendant, Unreal Ideal, is not a realistic thought, and I will prove that here today!
Judge: Calm down and just tell me the facts.
You: Yes'm. First of all, Unreal Ideal did not take into consideration Mr. Writesenstein's schedule. I have evidence here that Mr. Writesenstein is a full-time author who has grown children who no longer rely on him! He has a lot more time with which to write.
Judge: Good point, continue.
You: Mr. Writesenstein also writes shorter books on average.
Defense attorney: OBJECTION! Book length doesn't matter!
Judge: Overruled, depending upon the length differences of the books, it could take significantly less time to not only write the book but also to edit and revise it.
You: Mr. Writesenstein also writes all of his books in the same universe, so he spends less time world building.
Defense attorney: ...
And so on.
Now sometimes, that defense attorney is really convincing and nasty, and the prosecutor is kind of meek and doesn't have great arguments. But as that prosecutor, you can't give up!
If it helps, write these things down. Your Thought Error goes on the top, then make two columns under it: For and Against. Go through your back-and-forth courtroom drama and see just how hard it is to justify that Thought Error to your impartial judge.
Okay! I hope that made sense! Take a look at those thought errors below and get familiar with them, then catch yourself thinking them as you're going through your debut journey!
What's my most annoying thought error? Well, I picked Unreal Ideal up there for a reason. I'm so hard on myself for everything, and it's not healthy! It's taken me a long time to be able to take it easy on myself, but now I'm better at it, and way happier for it!
Have a great day, and don't let those thought errors put down roots in your brain!
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P.S. Thought Errors and being your own lawyer are definitely not the only ways to handle anxiety! There are tons and tons of ways, some which work better for some people more so than others. If this technique doesn't work for you, that's okay! It just means there's something else out there that's an even better fit. Don't give up looking for a management tool for your anxiety. There's something out there for you! <3