Full of Angst

Don’t sweat it, unless you’re a writer, then the small stuff becomes the devil in the detail. I’ll explain later, first I want to talk about stress. Writers are plagued by doubt and angst. Find me one who isn’t. Writers’ insecurity is magnified by our inability to pinpoint exactly what we’re anxious about. It could be a knotty plot point, or a character who is shy about revealing his true nature. Those worries are on top of the perma-angst of paying the bills or dealing with other real-life stuff. Get off your lazy butt and get a real job? It’s hard to argue against that. Many aspiring writers do it already. As a result, you can add exhaustion to the angst.

All writers ask themselves why their lives are so complicated. Why can’t they have one big, hairy antagonist of a worry like, say, sales targets? I used to be a sales rep. My life was uncomplicated then, driven by the question, Will I make the target or not? The “not” was not an option, which made the goal even clearer. Note I didn’t say less stressful.

Time is Money

Modern society is constructed in such a way that a person has either too much money, or too much time. Only the one per cent has both. Indie authors, mostly, have too much time. Authors with publishing deals possibly have it the other way around, in which case their life is driven by cash and dash. Deadlines, oh, and the question, what else have you got? In one sense, it’s doubly stressful for them because however ninja you are, to produce quality writing takes time. Only the likes of Stephen King can knock out a masterpiece of a novel every year, and sometimes a second, “to wind down”. Every day as an indie creative, something happens to remind you that nobody cares. Really. How to deal with it? Time is money. You are time-rich. Make the most of it. Exploit it to produce your quality stuff. You can deal with the problem of cash-rich later.

The Big Stuff

A friend said to me yesterday not to worry about making it. She believes it will happen for me, as for her, when we are ready. It was such a relief not having to do my own self-help for the day, to have someone else say it, to confirm my instincts, because for a writer, believing you will make it is big stuff, not small stuff, and we do sweat it. “Write for yourself,” they say (whoever “they” are). This seems to ring true. If you don’t write for yourself you run the risk of producing inauthentic output. Nobody wants to do that, unless they’re in PR or politics. You want to write stuff people will want to read, and you want to put it out there, to be validated, but you have to take care not to do it until it’s ready. One Facebook writing group overheated on this topic the other day. Conversely, there’s also the danger that you’ll shove what you wrote into a drawer à la Emily Dickinson and the world will be a poorer place because of it. There are people who love my writing, unfortunately too few of them. I do it because I like to do it.

A Giant Baked Bean

Three years ago, I had a major operation. For the four weeks afterwards, I had been told how to manage the day-to-day detail, what to do and how to avoid calamity and a repeat operation. Thanks to shopping online, getting groceries in was not a problem, and the delivery driver would bring it right into my kitchen and offer to put it away for me. One day I dropped a baked bean on the floor. One baked bean, on my polished wooden floor. Aesthetically displeasing, certainly, but I could do nothing about it (it was too small for the “grabber” device to get hold of). I couldn’t risk bending over and breaking all my stitches (three layers down to the bone) therefore I had to wait until my girl came in the morning to deal with the maverick legume.

It made me realize, most of all, how unimportant in life much of the small stuff is. The cup is out of place, so what? You don’t have the latest smart phone? Who cares? It all ends up in land fill anyway and we’ve lost another forest and all the orang-utans. Focus on the big things, the family you love, the friends who support you, keeping your health and fitness (if you’re lucky enough to have them). So, don’t sweat the small stuff, unless you’re a writer.

The Devilish Detail

Diabolical details, annoying as they are, really matter in writing (and in all creative pursuits). How many times have you been knocked out of the world of a film or TV drama because something made you say, “I’m sure they never had those in 2000,” or “Would he have done it like that? I don’t think so.” All because somebody didn’t check the detail. It’s one reason I admire good production designers so much.

I read a hilarious story once (I wish I could find it now) told by a screenwriter, about how a famous movie director complained that all his problems were the writer’s fault. The story required exotic animals jumping through hoops, a change of location, and goodness knows what. Screenwriter? It’s your fault. It’s always your fault. Everything is your fault. Remember that. It seems the writer obeyed the rule, don’t be boring, so logistical challenges were hardly down to him, but in any case, it doesn’t hurt to include attention to detail in your suit of armour.

The Writer’s Life

So, writer, keep writing and don’t sweat the small stuff, except in your writing, where you have to craft the small and large pieces and fit them together. Be as pernickety as your concept requires.


Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff is a fab and inspirational book by Richard Carlson. It’s a title I live by, and thanks for inspiring this post.

Image:  One of mine. San Jose, Costa Rica, Taller Alfaro (Cereal farmer’s workshop), Countryside, 2016.