The last couple of weeks have been a rollercoaster of emotions for me. I don’t deal well with transitions in my life, usually – and the past couple of months have been one transition after the next. Getting back together with my boyfriend after two and a half years, getting one of my molars pulled, finishing my Masters, realising how emphatically I don’t want to spend the rest of my life being a librarian, realising how much I do want to get serious about my writing, trying to decide whether or not I want to do a PhD in the next few years… the list is practically endless.

My biggest problem is not so much to do with the turmoil and readjustment that comes with change – conversely, I do relish the freshness of a new start – but with the way I over-think things. As soon as a new world of opportunity opens up for me, I start trying to plan it.

Planning is good. Planning can help to alleviate anxiety, can lead to greater productivity, and can even provide motivation and inspiration. Planning the next few weeks, or even the next few months, seems to me to be a generally positive activity. The problems start when you realise that you are trying to plan things that are going to happen in 10 years, 20 years – when you start trying to plan out the rest of your life, and think you can act now in a way that will influence these things directly.

This is my downfall. As soon as I decided I was going to give writing a real go, that I was going to actually start writing a novel, I started to worry that I wouldn’t have enough money in 10 years’ time to settle down and have a family. Not to mention all the worries I had about the 10 years running up to that – whether I should be trying to get a part-time job, how difficult it might be for me to get a job later with a big gap on my already sparse CV, how I was going to keep paying my rent if I wasn’t making any money.

Last Friday, I got turned down for yet another library job, and I decided to partake in National Novel Writing Month this year. I got up the following Monday at 9am (early for me, shame on me, I know I know) and started planning not one, but two novels – I wanted to work on something different for NaNoWriMo in order to avoid the paralysis that might ensue if I tried to work on my “actual” novel. I was excited, enthusiastic, and felt like I had a purpose in life for the first time in a long time.

But meanwhile, every night when I went to bed I started thinking about careers and mortgages and how many words I might be able to write in a day and what I could do part-time on the side of writing and…

By Wednesday I was exhausted. I went to bed early, feeling anxious, and fell asleep almost instantly for an hour – then woke up and couldn’t sleep again until after 4.

Yesterday was not pretty.

I’ve no idea why I didn’t just stay in bed for the day. I turned into a ball of misery and ended up sitting my boyfriend’s flat crying about EVERYTHING.

I knew that my thinking pattern was highly self-destructive, but it just helped to hear him say it. He looked at me and said: “No-one can plan what they’re going to be doing for the rest of their lives. Even if there’s something you really, really want to do, all you can do is try, or just do it as long as you want to or can do it. Sure, what you do now affects what happens in the future, but decisions you make and how you spend your days right now does not have a direct bearing on what you’ll be doing when you’re 40 – not in the way you think it does.”

Wise words. I really hope I’ve learned my lesson on this one. Sometimes you just need to take each day as it comes. I do have to do some thinking about whether I need to look for a part-time job, but beyond that I really should be taking this year to just try things out and see how I enjoy it. See if I can bear sitting down every day knowing I have to write a certain amount. See if I can actually do it.

So I’m taking the rest of today off. And if I have insomnia next week I’ll sleep in as late as I want to!


32 thoughts on “Over-thinking

  1. You’re much younger than I am. Your thought process and emotions that you describe are strikingly similar to mine. We humans are an unusual breed. You are no different than any other person on the street, but what sets you apart – what sets us all apart – is the way our minds work. Whereas you feel that you were an emotional wreck yesterday, someone else in the world with similar circumstances was happy as a lark. The magic is all in the way the mind processes the circumstances. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could simply harness our thought processes so that we could be that calm, steady person with a solid grasp on each challenge with which life presents us? I suspect the real reason that we have the “emotional wrecks”, the “calm & steady” and the wide spectrum of people in between, is because that’s the way God intended it. If we were all the same we wouldn’t have the gamut of personalities, the soul, that drives us to be the individual that we are. You, Áine, are the creative type and with it comes the cumbersome baggage that is attached… the ups, the downs, the happy, the sad, the peace, the turmoil, etc. Fortunately, you’re intelligent enough to have realized this, however, I’m not sure you can – or even want to – change. I think harness would be the appropriate word to use as the suggestion for dealing with new challenges. Because, to alter the emotions would alter your personality – in essence, changing who you are – and we don’t want that. Just harness and channel those annoying emotions into your work – and smile a lot!

    • I love what you say about someone else in the same situation being completely happy – you’re aboslutely right, especially when there’s nothing actually wrong with my situation to begin with! Yes I’ve tried in the past to avoid having these feelings and you’re right – although I think people can change to some degree, some of our personality traits and particularly emotional reactions are very deeply ingrained. Harnessing it and channelling it into my work is probably the best solution!

  2. Sounds like my week–except I’ve been weeping over how to pay the rent next month instead of the mortgage in ten years. I’ve been struggling to find a balance between stable career and literary adventure for the past few years and sympathize with how stressful it can be. I’ll say, though, that getting the bills paid on time makes me feel safe, but it has never made me feel as relaxed and sane as getting my daily writing done does. I find once I’ve got some good work done, there’s not much mental energy left for over-thinking.

    • That’s definitely a blessing! I hope it’ll be the same for me, that things will settle down once I get into the swing of things. My current financial situation hasn’t been too stable either, but I’ve sorted it out for the time being, thankfully.

  3. I love what Eckhard Tolle says about thinking: “80-90% of most people’s thinking is not only repetitive and useless, but because of its dysfunctional and often negative nature, much of it is also harmful. It causes a serious leakage of vital energy.”

  4. I don’t know if the planets are aligned or what, but a lot of people I know are in ‘worry’ mode at the moment (including myself). I think taking each day as it comes is very wise advice.

    The thing I hate most is the lack of sleep – ARGH!

    I really hope things get better for you soon 😉

    • Thanks very much Diane! Yes the lack of sleep just turns me into a crazy person – I’m really only coming around now. Funny that a lot of people are worrying right now – it’s the same with me, many of my friends are in transitional kind of periods and are finding it difficult to adjust.

  5. Best wishes with NaNoWriMo. I am going to take a swing at it, too. It definitely won’t be my ‘actual’ novel. Ha. For the month of November, I will eschew more scholarly work in the interests of pursuing my lifelong dream; to write a bad western novel. Ha.

    1666 words a day. No sweat. Break a leg.

  6. Heartfelt post, and some really nice comments – I agree that creativity demands chaos and disorder – AND discipline and organisation. I am just not sure how much of our ‘planning’ is conditioned by our culture. Man plans, god laughs…what a quote!

    • Thanks, and yes, I’m loving all the responses! Interesting point about being conditioned by our culture… we certainly live in a society where living within a schedule and with fixed goals in mind is viewed as the norm. I guess it’s because we’re so money-oriented – as much as I would love to not have to worry about money, a certain amount is necessary!

  7. In our lives, we need to have both beauty and ugliness, happiness and sadness. You can’t have one without the other. As humans, we like to struggle against ‘bad’ things, things that make us sad, angry, annoyed etc, but what we need to do is embrace them by being aware of them – when they are happening. We are humans precisely because we have these feelings and once we are aware of them, we realize they are not ‘bad’, they just are and the world seems a much better place. The important thing is not to get to wrapped up in this film our mind keeps wanting to produce for us. Good luck with all your decisions. Follow your intuition and trust that if you do everything will work out fine.

    • Very true – I spent a few days recently trying to be “more positive” and then ended up having a horrible sort of negativity-break-down where it all sort of caught up with me.So I realised I just have to deal with them, but as you say, not getting too wrapped up in these problems and anxieties!

  8. Sounds like you have the vocation sorted – that’s the difficult part for most. The thing is to take the time pressure off – you have to make sure that you set up a life for yourself wherein you’d be allowed to write your best work when you’re seventy, and everything you do in between leads into that. So rather than push the practical thoughts away, deal with them – better not to have the distraction!

    • Thanks, that’s an interesting perspective! Over the last few weeks I’ve been accepting that I might have to get a full-time job, but even with that 40 hours a week gone I would still have time to do enough writing once I get into the habit of being more productive with the time I have – but with any luck I can work part time and still pay the bills!

  9. Yes, those are definitely wise words. And life is way too unpredictable that there IS no way to plan everything or know that certain decisions are going to lead to a certain path. I think it’s smart to not just live impulsively, without thinking about repercussions down the line but I also know from experience that living day to day full of stress about where life is heading and how life right now is not at that place can be, as you say, so self-destructive. It’s so easy to let so many years pass in this same kind of mindset and suddenly look at your life and think, how could I have spent this much time just stressed about the future??? That is what I did for a long time and now I know that life is just way too short and precious to waste on that and to not go for what you are passionate about and have always dreamed of doing! 🙂

  10. Oh sweetie pie, I feel your pain. It’s true that writers do tend to over think things from time to time. When your whole writing life is based on thinking, it’s easy to get anxious about it. The only lesson you have to learn is that you don’t have to worry about being good anymore. If all you think about is the work and your pleasure doing it, you jump out of bed in the morning!. Your writing is good. You are still so young and yet you write so well. That’s so cool. I hope you will have a little fun. Work can be so fun. Just think, most of the world is stuck in dead end jobs. You have a dead end job (like all the rest), but then you also have this amazing thought life that is there waiting for you. Don’t waste a second of it second guessing yourself.

    • Thanks so much for the encouragement! Yes, it seems that overthinking is probably inevitable from time to time if you’re a writer. But you’re right, letting go of the anxiety and just doing it, and immersing yourself in the pleasure of it, is the only way to go! I like what you say about everyone being stuck in dead end jobs – makes the whole writing for a living thing seem less ludicrous! Thanks for the advice 🙂

  11. Hi Áine,

    Thinking about life is like thinking about driving. I just do it! I’ve written over 750 blogs now and writing them is becoming automatic like driving! I still think too much though!

  12. “Don’t sacrifice what you want most for what you want now”.
    That is my motto.
    I say go for your writing 🙂 You are really good!
    Don’t sacrifice what you love to do for what you think you need to do now.

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