Empty toilet paper roll with the words don't panic on it to illustrate the feeling of end-of-year angst many writers feel at this time of year.

The Best Way to Deal With End-of-Year Angst

Two weeks ago, a client and I had a frank discussion about the end-of-year angst that crops up when we realize the gap between what we wanted to accomplish and what we’ve actually completed is wider than expected. 

After a fall spent caring for a sick parent, I didn’t just relate to what she was saying, I felt it in my bones.

I’ve spent more time than I’d like adjusting and readjusting my goals and expectations. Every time I think I’ve figured it out, I face another obstacle.

Ever had that happen?

Learning to roll with what life brings, and finding ways to pivot, are essential skills all writers need to master, because we don’t have the luxury of writing in a vacuum. We create in the midst of our daily chaos.

These skills are especially helpful for trauma survivors who might have a habit of being hard on themselves.

But how do you know if you’re simply accepting life on life’s terms, living from an old, unhelpful tape, or using your circumstances to justify unhelpful procrastination and lapses in your motivation?

Here’s an exercise that can help you address your end-of-year angst.

First, make a list of what you hoped to accomplish. As you do this, ask yourself if this feels realistic. Then check in with your body to see if it agrees. That’s because the mind is great at setting aggressive—and sometimes impossible—goals the body knows can’t be accomplished.  If you experience tightness in the gut, jaw, or neck muscles, and a desire to justify why certain goals must be achieved every time you think about them, it’s likely you chose something that’s unrealistic. 

Next, record what you accomplished on a quarter-by-quarter basis. What do you notice? Are there big gaps in what you got done? Were certain seasons more productive than others? As you note any patterns, refrain from judgment, and instead get curious about what you discover.

Finally, identify any obstacles that got in your way, including illnesses, trips, family visits, or work obligations. After recording the stuff that feels both legit and outside your control, note the things that might have affected your motivation.

For example, if summer rolled around and you didn’t feel like writing, admit it. If you know you spent the fall doom scrolling through social media or traded writing time for email administration, don’t feel bad, simply note it.

Some of you will complete this exercise and realize the cause of your end-of-year angst was faulty expectations—something that frequently happens when we transition from drafting to revising, which tends to take three to five times longer than those early drafts.

Others will discover how much you accomplished and uncover a problem of perspective, because you’re focusing so much on a future result, you’ve failed to appreciate all you’ve achieved.

Then there will be those of you who realize the season is to blame for your end-of-year-angst. As writers, we’re fed the myth that writers always write, or that it all comes down to motivation. Let me debunk that for you.

Accomplished writers work consistently, but not necessarily every day or even every week (or month). They also realize that during some seasons in our lives, our job is to acquire more material by being present to all that is and having faith that when the time is right, we’ll get back to our projects. When this happens, showing up to a journal or a shortened morning pages practice can help you feel like a writer even if you don’t have the time or headspace to nurture your creations.

But sometimes the issue is procrastination. If you found yourself in the trap of productive procrastination, where you’re focusing on getting email out of the way, spending too much time on social media, going down research rabbit holes, or focusing too much on other people’s business  (or writing projects), don’t be too hard on yourself. Instead, explore the reason you might have chosen these activities. 

Were you stuck, afraid of failing, not ready to deal with the emotions around a specific piece, or anticipating the grief you might feel when letting your characters go? 

Whatever it is, attend to your feelings and any unmet needs. Then journal about what you learned. The wisdom you acquire from doing this might surprise you.

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