Overcoming Writing Anxiety

As I write more news stories,  I’m struggling with this hurdle: anxiety.

There’s no rational basis: I haven’t received any negative feedback. 

It’s not writer’s block– this is different. It’s about pervasive insecurity. Journalism is important- thousands of people read it. Every story needs to be detailed and correct. If you misspell someone’s name or worst– get something wrong– it’s brutal. You will be judged not just by your editor, but by your peers and the community. 

You build trust as a reporter by consistently getting it right. Exhibiting tenacity. Quoting people accurately. Treating your interview subjects well. Remaining unbiased. You’re better off double or triple checking your facts and quotes. But at the same time, you have deadlines. So you do your best to be fair, accurate and quick. And hope it’s enough.

Also, inevitably there will be opposite opinions on your work: some love it, some are haters. That’s just the nature of the business. So you can’t worry about approval of your sources, subjects or the public. You listen to your editors and peers, who give you constructive  criticism about an angle you might have missed or a compliment when you nail it and write a great lead.

You aim to be honest above all. 

The motto of The Daily Eastern News, my college newspaper, is “Tell the truth and don’t be afraid.”

I’m working on it. I’m persisting. 

I have to psych myself up for interviews before I make contact to schedule them.

I don’t know why this is happening now– I was never like this 15 years ago as a journalism major and then cub reporter.

I suppose it’s because I’m coming up on 40 and I HAVE been away 15 years. Luckily right now I’m a stringer, which means I’m not on a daily deadline like a staff writer. My editors give me freedom to take a little longer to write my stories. But the surprise has been that during this COVID-19 chaos, journalism has been the most steady work.

I’m like a singer who can only sing with her eyes closed. Afraid to play an actual venue, though I know I’m good.

All the feedback has been good. I was even told for my current and last assignments to write what I need and not worry about word count. That demonstrates trust in my abilities and professional judgement. That is a win for me, however you look at it. But I never realized this until a friend pointed it out to me today, a bestie. A sister who always reminds me who I am when I feel inadequate or frustrated with myself. I worry that my stories are merely average, that it could have been done better.

I fret about my assignments precisely because my writing is sacred to me.

I want it to be excellent, remarkable, creative. Above all, accurate and objective.

I feel I need to pray over this. Ask Jesus for focus, confidence, decisiveness.

Maybe pray to St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers.

Lord, bless me with insight, objectivity, courage to ask the right questions and resolve to write the best article possible. Grant me power and speed so that I can write more stories quicker, and make more money in doing so.

I ask this as your humble child,



About People

That’s what prayer is, for me.

My favorite way to pray is connected with others in a group. Of course I pray alone. But the power is undeniable when you’re surrounded by others and you’re all in it together.

Today I’ve been blessed to stand connected hand-to-hand with others in prayer, twice. First at Mass. And just now with a small group of friends. I was stressed, and I mentioned this– not expecting anything. One friend went out of their way to assemble a few people together to pray with me over the situation that was worrying me.

And just that small act of faith alone reassured me.

If these people were willing to take time out of their day to pray over me, and one by one say a quick intention on my behalf, I have nothing to fear.

On Turning 34, Lauren Bacall, and Feminine Power

I turned 34-years-amazing on November 4.

Originally, I had planned to drive a nature preserve out of town and spend some time alone.

Instead I chose to stay local so that I could vote, enjoy my community, and see people I care about.

My first idea seemed cool. Except that I already am a bit of a loner, so the more challenging thing was to get out there and mingle for a change.

And I’m happy with my choice. I decided to put on something that made me feel glamorous and powerful: a suit.

I used separate pieces– a new maroon blazer I bought myself, along with a pencil skirt and my favorite boots. The blazer has sleeves that roll up with a pinstripe pattern, and two buttons. The night before I had gone shopping and decided I’ve been putting my money mostly toward necessities for so long: gas, food, bills. I can’t remember the last time I bought a new outfit or accessories. Usually what I do buy for myself has nothing to do with fashion or beauty: books and journals. I’ve become so intellectual and contemplative I’ve largely neglected my appearance for the past year.

In my younger days, every year I’d splurge and buy myself a fabulous birthday ensemble. I’d get my hair blown out, my nails done, I’d buy myself a sophisticated dress and some cute costume jewelry to match and probably some new shoes. I’d plan a big party for myself and take tons of pictures with my friends.

I used to love to go out! I still love to dance. I really enjoyed dressing up back then. The past few years, I’ve considered it tedious and a waste of money.

I don’t have the cash to treat myself this year the way I did back then. But I’ve still got style.

But sometimes it just really feels GOOD to spend money on yourself. And why shouldn’t I? I’m not supporting anyone besides myself.

I treated myself to mascara from Lancome, for the first time ever. Even the tube is beautiful.

And I put myself together, with a gold theme. My dangly earrings and bracelet were costume, but that’s fine by me. They’re still fabulous! I didn’t wear a jacket.

I stopped by the library cafe. I saw a business man, who looked at me and was impressed. He complimented my earrings. He asked if he could buy me lunch and I told him I’d already ordered, but he could sit with me. Normally I would have probably declined and sat alone.

And we had a lovely conversation. It wasn’t flirting– it was just two people having a respectful, delightful conversation. He’s traveled all over the world and done a lot of work for peace. We talked about faith. He gave me his card and asked for mine. I felt like an equal– not intimidated at all.

Why *shouldn’t* I have a card? I did as a reporter. I loved it.

Maybe it’s time to design my own.

Then I voted. On a political day, I felt like I fit in, dressed professionally.

I enjoyed dinner with my parents at a nice restaurant out of town, a victory! I got them to break routine.

I drank Voss sparkling water and adored it.

And after, my friend Kaela and I met at a local combination movie/dinner venue to see a classic: “To Have or Have Not,” with Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart. I wasn’t aware it was their first picture together, nor Bacall’s first film. She was only 19 in it.

The attendant lead us into an elevator, upstairs and down a hallway lined with movie poster memorabilia. We went into a small room with black leather couches! The movie was showing black and white, as well.

I was mesmerized. I am such a dork that I took two pictures of the movie with my phone. They came out great.

For such a young age, Bacall exudes poise. That unmistakable and unique Forties glamour– conservative. Unapologetically stylish. Her voice doesn’t have much cadence– she’s very still. You rarely see many facial expressions, except for a smirk. What’s riveting is her absence of action.

I’ve never seen a woman embody “playing it cool,” the way she did. WOW.

And I thought, “THAT is what I need to emulate.” The woman is a BOSS.

There is tremendous power in being quiet. In choosing your thoughts. In cultivating understated.

When you don’t demand attention, people are drawn in. I’ll pass on the smoking, however!

My friend had never seen the film either, and we marveled equally.

Afterward, we goofed around in the lobby, posing with movie posters and taking a few pictures of each other.

It was just a day where I felt in command of my femininity. Energized by it.

There’s something about taking yourself seriously– you command respect.

I’m glad I didn’t just throw on jeans and tromp into the woods on my 34th birthday. I can do that anytime.

Instead, I celebrated myself. I didn’t have a big party, but made plans to do things I really wanted. My birthday was on a Tuesday and I celebrated it that day. I spent time with my parents and one of my closest friends for the past four years.

I felt beautiful, strong, in control.

I’m glad I wore that suit to see this movie.

I’m going to rebuild a wardrobe of beautiful clothes that I love.

I’m going to take myself more seriously.

I’m going to own my beauty without apologizing.

And channel Bacall like a boss.

Open Heart, Healing Energy

Lately it seems as if my mind is just opening in tandem with my heart.

I’m feeling an inviting, giving energy.

There is so much more to life beyond Christianity. Beyond Catholicism. Beyond the confines of what defines religion.

Spirituality is a gift, anyway you find it.

We don’t have to choose a side.

We can coexist. I hate this tradition of one belief having to nullify others.

I’m re-connecting with my artistic friends, inviting truth and positivity into my life. Forgiveness, reconciliation.

I don’t want to judge. I think about that ASTROLOGER I criticized, and she’s just a woman trying to make a living.

She’s a small business owner. She lives in Chicago, and it’s a tough world there. She pays rent to work there.

That IS an honest living. Maybe she does possess some power, and has tried making a living “the regular way.”

What caused me to judge was my knee-jerk reaction, knowing that Christianity labels her business as dangerous.

Alone I

Read poems, out loud.

To an audience of me– purring each line, worshiping each stanza. Glorious, the outlaw spirit. The pride taken in vulnerability, mistakes, sexuality. All the desperate humanity, every loss and victory commemorated. THIS. Threw my head back and laughed, the delight of just reciting empowering stories and important language. 

If it was this much fun saying words of someone else… oh, the electricity possible in my own. 

Mine. My words. Next time, mine. 

And then, with others– not alone.


Schmendrick is with you: The Exasperating Truth about Writers

Writers are assumed to be gifted with communication, but that’s not the case.

We possess an intuition for language, and a compulsion to direct our emotions to the page. There, our thoughts wake up and flourish.  Then can speak in our native language, in which we aren’t always fluent with others around.

But the truth is, writers and artists often have difficulty expressing their feelings toward others in a direct, useful way. The majority of us are introverted by nature — that’ s the stereotype. But many of us have outgoing personalities, and even appear verbose and chatty. We can be excellent public speakers, even skilled in debating others into submission when a topic of our interest and passion comes up.

But people assume that just because we can shape words in those contexts, that we have them at our command at all times. That like magic, we can summon the right words to convey our meaning when most needed.

I’m great at writing e-mails, notes in a card, and letters. But saying what I truly feel in a heated conversation, when it really matters?

At those moments, my vocabulary fails me.

One of my favorite books is “The Last Unicorn,” by Peter S. Beagle. I identify with the cursed Schmendrick the Magician– who spends most of the book a bumbling fool. A master wizard, Nikos, mentored Schmendrick as a young man. But Nikos observed that Schmendrick’s power was not yet manifesting– and decreed thus:

It must be that you are meant to find your own way to reach your power in time; but frankly, you should live so long as that will take you. Therefore I grant it that you shall not age from this day forth, but will travel the world round and round, eternally inefficient, until at last you come to yourself and know what you are. Don’t thank me. I tremble at your doom.

Us writers are like Schmendrick– cursed and gifted simultaneously with a power we do not understand. As long as we deny our nature– as writers– we are stuck. Only when we embrace, and commit– to our identity and mastering our craft– do we truly mature and achieve.

He can conjure up cheap carnival tricks,  and recite songs and poems verbatim to distract and please the masses. Yet, he is not in control of his powers. When he tries to cast a genuine spell –of his own words– he screws it up. The words he says at that moment betray him, and the spell ends up going awry and even making things worse.

“I must have gotten the accent wrong,” he said hoarsely. He hid his hands in his cloak and tried to make his voice light. “It comes and goes.” 

Like Schmendrick, us writers may falter at the crucial moment.

We’ve experienced many times when the words we let go in haste backfired, and tumbled out all wrong. We said too much– and it was blathering anyway.

That’s the reason we need to write, why it’s the most consistent aspect of our lives– why we make sacrifices in our schedules and personal relationships to hole up alone with our keyboards or pens. We’re not trying to be neglectful or self-absorbed– it’s the only we we identify our feelings. They are a raw state until we transmit them to the page, where we recognize their true form.

And then, we may contact you. But sometimes by then, it may appear out of context, or too late. Please be patient– we’re trying. And it’s worth listening to us when we’re ready– because that is when we can actually communicate the truths that eluded us previously.

Sometimes, we’re hoping that you’ll contact us first. And if you don’t, it takes us a bit to get the courage to do it ourselves.

We may want to speak directly, if we feel very confident. But we may begin the conversation in a written form.

It may first come in a text message, or an e-mail. A letter.

For me, text messages are the worst. The medium makes me awkward, and it takes so long on my phone to type. I have to re-do it multiple times, to get the correct word or spelling– stupid auto correct! If I can’t talk in person, I’d rather talk on the phone or over a chat service than text.

But for others, text is their primary way to communicating. I have a hard time with these people, because our communication styles clash.

And when TWO writers are trying to have difficult, honest conversation? Whoa! It’s frustrating indeed.

It’ s not that we don’t have full conviction and sincerity when speaking to others. Sometimes,  we muster the perfect alchemy of  conveying exactly what is needed, in the best words, immediately.  But those moments are rare.

Especially when I feel overwhelmed, I tend to refrain from comment in real time. If I’m happy, I can show that.  If I’m angry, confused, or hurt, I will most likely not say anything at all. People may feel I’m ignoring them or shutting them out– but it’s not because I don’t want to talk to them.

Quite opposite, I’m often struggling with all my might to speak.

But sometimes, the words must come to me first before I can share them with the person who needs to hear them.

What words the magic spoke this second time, he never knew surely. They left him like eagles, and he let them go.; and when the last one was away, the emptiness rushed back with a thunderclap that threw him on his face. It happened as quickly as that. This time he knew before he picked himself up that the power had been and gone.” 

Don’t despair,  us writers are not hopeless communicators!!

It gets easier.

It helps significantly if we fully trust the person. Then we may be more likely to risk uttering words that may not be everything we want to say– because they are more likely to intuit what’s not said. Because they know us, sometimes they can fill in the blanks. It helps if it’s in- person, and there are other clues to encourage us. If we can see the person’s facial expression, body language, look into their eyes– and find reassurance that they are trying to understand us.

It helps if we write regularly, if that person we are speaking to has read our writing and expresses that they care about it.

But the more we practice, the stronger our powers grow. That’s why every professional writer mandates creating a routine for writing.

The more committed we become to the mundane practice of writing, the more likely we’ll get the words right. In the meantime, we speak words that aren’t enough and write through the awkwardness.

At the novel’s end, Schmendrick’s power surges through him, and at last, he is a true magician.

Most writers spend their lives desperate to harness that power, and some never do.

But regardless, I’ll never abandon my quest to find the true magic within my words.