Anxious Lately?

We’ve always got a thing or two that makes us anxious.

Making the next mortgage payment.
Wondering what your teenager does when she goes out at night.
This damn election coming up in the U.S.

Advising you as a person, I hope you find a measure of peace. Advising you as a writer, I say go straight to that angst and slip it into your stories, because it will make them so much better.   

When I was ten years old, I was representing my class in the school-wide spelling bee, which took place at night in the auditorium, so parents and others could attend. I watched my fellow contestants get easy-peasy words for the first round…then I went to the microphone to get my first word. The word: ANXIETY. I’d never practiced that word, not sure I’d ever seen it before. Trembling with anxiety, I asked for the word repeated.

Time stopped. The whole world stared.

And then, amazingly, I spelled it right.

I went down, though, on the next word, when I was also given a word more difficult than my fellow contestants—all girls I may add. I’m pretty sure that spelling bee was rigged, but that’s another matter.

Here’s the point. It’s a good story because it’s about anxiety. You were probably relating to the little kid bravely fighting his nerves in the spotlight. You’ve all been there, experiencing similar jitters over one thing or another. You were pulled in to the nervousness of the protagonist.

Real emotion is essential for a great story, and anxiety is one of the best. It’s so true, so human, so persistently present.

Identify your personal sources of angst, then work them into your stories, whether you’re writing something true-to-life or made-up. Just like that (finger snap) your readers will be engaged.

Facing an unstable boss every day.
Waiting to hear about a medical report.
Breaking up with your too-nice boyfriend.

Are we hitting a nerve?

If you dare, go really deep into your anxieties, getting to the stuff you dare not speak, maybe to anyone.

Sweating over an impending sexual performance.
Harboring great jealously against your best friend.
Carrying a planned pregnancy, but having second thoughts.

We won’t loathe or laugh at you (or your character) for these things. On the contrary, we’ll be all the more interested, because we, too, have these super-secret sources of angst.

All right, get to work. What makes you toss and turn in bed? What brings the sweat through your shirt? What causes the butterflies in your gut? Any story that brings that anxiety to life in a believable way has got my vote.

Alex Steele

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