A Less Than Stellar Start/Writing a Book is Really Hard

One day after my announcement I sat down at the computer to write my book. This will be just like writing ShrinkTalk. Instead of it being one page, though, I’ll just make it a few hundred. Maybe even a thousand! And it will have a great narrative arc and logical flow and be full of psychological insights and humor. But no cursing. Dad says that’s undignified and it would please him if I toned that down a bit.

When I actually put my hands on the keyboard, my thought process suddenly changed. Where to start? What is it I want to say? What is my goal? I don’t have one. I have no clue what I want to write…I can’t do this…I’ll never be able to produce anything worthwhile…I’m going to fail…

Self-talk is powerful and can generate potent emotions. I became anxious and could feel my heart rate increasing. Now I’m getting anxious…why can’t I just write the damn thing? What’s wrong with me?

As the anxiety increased and I started to perspire I realized the cycle seen in Panic Disorder had started. My thoughts, emotions and physiology were all negatively impacting each other. More specifically, the negative thoughts generated anxiety which caused my Sympathetic Nervous System to become more active. I misinterpreted the increased heart rate as a signal that something was wrong, that perhaps I was in danger. This generated more anxiety and nervous cognitions which just got me more physiologically activated. In other words, a negative feedback loop had begun.

Some argue that panic attacks are a physical problem, but only in certain medical circumstances – such as Mitral Valve Prolapse – is this actually the case. Panic Disorder is usually a psychological condition. It’s essentially a false alarm, an erroneous belief of immediate danger. If I didn’t recognize what was happening I might have continued with the negative thoughts as many others do: am I going crazy? Maybe I’m having a heart attack? Will I faint? This won’t ever end!

Therapy has a very good track record for Panic Disorder *. For some people, simply arming them with the knowledge of what panic attacks are (and aren’t) can be helpful: While extremely unpleasant they are not inherently dangerous. They won’t cause you to faint or go crazy. And they will end for no other reason than the body will simply tire out. Other clients require relaxation training and what is known as Cognitive Restructuring, where they learn how to modify the thought patterns that are misinterpreting the body’s chemistry as a sign of impending doom.

So now I have a small pool of sweat on my desk and seven words typed on the screen, three of which are ‘fuck.’ With talent such as mine it’s only a matter of time that my book is in the front window of Barnes and Noble.

* For more information on this check out the book What You Can Change and What You Can’t by Martin Seligman.

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26 Responses to “A Less Than Stellar Start/Writing a Book is Really Hard”

  1. Vince says:

    Forget all about the book for now, and just put words on paper. Any words will do, so long as they could conceivably go in the book later. You don’t even have to follow that rule, if you don’t mind throwing lots of paper away. Later on, organize it into a book. As you put words to paper, the whole book will start to coalesce in your mind. When that happens, just go with it. Sooner or later you’ll lose it. Then just go back to putting words on paper, until you “get it” again. Sooner or later you’ll have a book.

  2. Yasmin says:

    What about starting by outlining? I approach most major writing projects by outlining what each section will talk about, then break it down from there. Writing 3 pages on “why Rob is a shrink” is probably an easier task than writing 1000 pages on “funny shrink stuff”, right? …Good luck!

  3. Tracie says:

    Well, at least you have the starting point for a nice haiku.

  4. Caitlin says:

    Writing is a long and frustrating process. You’ll end up stopping at least 1000 times and just staring blankly at your computer screen. You’ll go through all the stages of death. At one point you may want to physically hurt your computer. But when it’s all written and done, you’ll feel amazing.

  5. Matt says:

    You’re going to write a book and it will be great. That’s that.

  6. rach says:

    I often find that as I go about my daily life (aka sitting in traffic), I come up with things that work for the book I’ve been working on (for about 5 years now). I keep a small notebook with me (moleskine makes great pocketsized ones!), and jot down ideas quickly OR write something down on a post it note and stick it in my wallet, and then go home and expand on what I started with in front of the computer.
    But I agree with what everyone else said… It’ll happen!

  7. Anonymous says:

    In therapy with Doc Rob, I was a personal fan of his use of douche bag. So maybe you don’t need to drop F-bombs, but could you get a douche bag in there just for me?

  8. Amber says:

    Oh Rob, I’m sorry but this has me laughing to near tears. You sound so pathetic….seriously, it makes me want to wrap you in a hug and write the damn book for you! I think what you’re doing is just making this larger than it is or needs to be. In the end it’s going to be THE BOOK but for now…just try to stay away from that. What you need to do is find a way to just tune everything else out and let it flow. That’s the only way I could ever get any writing done. If you need any help…

  9. Pete says:

    That entry would make a grand introduction to the book, because it illustrates a) what the book is about, and b) your voice. It seems like you have all the pieces already, all over your site. While the book will be new material, your existing work might give you an idea of how to ‘chunk’ the data, and from there, where to start.

  10. Sean says:

    If worse comes to worse, you can always use a modified version of this anecdote to get the ball rolling. If by the end of the book it doesn’t fit — well, that’s what editors are for. Heh.

  11. kate says:

    freud would say that you’re not afraid of failure, you’re afraid of success.  the anxiety you’re experiencing is a signal to your ego that danger is present and you need to flee.  the danger associated with your felt (conscious) anxiety has to do with fear of the loss of a love object–like if you’re successful then you have to repudiate your dependency needs.  i’m guessing it’s an pre-oedipal/oedipal thing, which means either one or both of your parents weren’t supportive of autonomous strivings: 
    http://family.jrank.org/pages/1492/Separation-Individuation-Fathers.html
    the cool thing about analysis is that no matter what i say no one can prove me wrong!

  12. Robin says:

    Could you write some more about panic attacks? It really scared me the first time I had one and I think people would benefit from understanding more about them.
    Thanks!

  13. Aron says:

    Interesting entry, but I’m pretty sure it’s a positive feedback loop.
    stress -> more stress ?
    Dr. Rob Note: I was referring to the “negative” emotional aspect, not the engineering of the loop itself.

  14. Jdh says:

    Jesus rob, you sound like such a fucking pussy. Know what’s a good solution to writers block? Adderall. All the benefits of coke and it lasts up to 6 hours at a time. I’m sure dr. Steve can hook you up.

  15. Mark says:

    Psychologist, heal thyself !!
    however, failing that, just start writing.

  16. The hardest part of writing a book is thinking about writing a book. The worst thing I did was try to make something of my ideas before writing them down. You should keep a document open and jot down random things. Eventually you’ll find some form. If not…at least you have your day job. For now. 😀

  17. Wayland says:

    I’m guessing you actually did give yourself some guidelines to begin writing by as mentioned above, “What do I want to say? What is my goal?”
    That can be your first sentence. Or last…or whatever.
    Keep with it man.

  18. Anonymous says:

    …anyone else notice the dianetics ads on the site, and how ironic/all ten kinds of messed up that is? Just sayin’

  19. marcia says:

    I think you’re putting too much pressure on yourself, and agree with the person who said just write anything for now — even if that means random sentences and paragraphs that you might want to use in different places. Eventually, you’ll be able to structure the bits into something more coherent/cohesive.
    Also, who says you have to begin at the beginning and work in a linear fashion? Write the parts that interest you most right now; worry about the beginning later.
    You can do it, Rob. 🙂

  20. I’m going through the same thing right now. A friend and fellow film critic suggested, after we had both lost out on re-election to the Governing Committee of the Online Film Critics Society, that I be a co-author on his latest film-related book, one that’s guaranteed to be published, as he’s already with a company that’s said so (they’re publishing his latest book about the history of independent film). Being that I’ve had many ideas for books and plays, but not yet the drive to work on any of them, this is perfect for me, also as a dry run for a few ideas I have for biographies, since this book will be research-heavy.
    I’ve Googled many of the figures he wants to feature in the book and I like many of their stories. There are many unknown names in his list, and I relish the thought of bringing many of these people back to life in words. People know Heath Ledger (who’s also going to be featured in the book), but not any of these invisible lives from the silent era with names that are not Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton, say.
    Like you, I am panicking as well. Not as full-blown, but my mind is racing, knowing that any words I type will be in black-and-white print, and wondering how in heck I will be able to write about these people. I try to remember that all I have to do is get into the details of these people’s lives, and then something should spark in my mind to write. But right now, here I am, worrying still about the research, knowing it’s necessary and that the resources are there. But when that’s done, my words will be in this book, analyzing these Hollywood lives. Movies and Hollywood in general (not current Hollywood) are my passion, so this shouldn’t be hopelessly difficult. I just have to get into that mindset that should carry over into future books.
    There’s one actress in my friend’s list whose life started out badly, with poverty and sexual abuse. Then, as a teenager, she won many local beauty contests. How did one lead to the other? Why did she enter those contests? I’ve also been trying to remember, especially with these details, that there are mysteries in these lives that I can delve into.
    Time to start soon, though. No way I’m missing out on being part of a book that will be published.

  21. Joy says:

    Heya Rob, You might try this site as a limbering up exercise…http://onetwofiver.com/write/
    Also, this kind of writing, the real honest you stuff is what I love most about your site. I think as a profession some like to have a veil, the wizard behind a curtain sort of idea, with clients…. Its important to show a different side of that, and I like that you do. So maybe that is another section for you, like “why Dr. Rob is a shrink” you can also have “why shrinks are just like everyone else” (or something to that effect.
    I find with my 15 pages for every class in an 85 credit degree sometimes just writing even if you feel like it is shit will get you there. Start dialoging with yourself. “Why am I stuck?” “What is the point I am trying to make?” yada yada.
    Looking forward to reading whatcha got when ya get it…. even if it becomes a book full of “all work and no play makes jack a dull boy…all work and no play makes….”
    🙂

  22. adam says:

    in fact, sir, what you experienced was a positive feedback loop. a negative feedback loop would have corrected itself. clearly, you’ll never write a great book about the complex details of psychiatry if you make mistakes on basic physiology.

  23. Cassandra says:

    I have complete confidence that I will see you on the book tour that brings you to this literary hot spot of Sacramento. How can THAT not motivate you? Now wipe up that pool of sweat and get back to it.

  24. Way to demonstrate behavior change principles! You’ve got to practice what you preach, right? Telling everyone about a change you’re trying to make is a gutsy and effective strategy.

  25. Rhett says:

    Rob good luck writing this bad boy. It’s going to be awesome and I cannot wait to read it. When you do the book tour you MUST visit the west coast. I need to show you around the town as a small token of thanks for your stories and advice over the last couple of years!

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