By Eleanor Shelton
I come by it, naturally. My aunt was always dying of something horrible (she actually did die of something terrible). My grandmother was convinced she had cancer (she never had cancer). If I have a headache, an ache, a pain, I’m sure I have COVID, an autoimmune disease, or malignant tumors. Just for the record, I’ve never had anything more severe than periodic high blood pressure. Talking myself into an early grave doesn’t do me any good.
Persuading myself that what I write is no good, no one will like it, the work is actually drivel can be crippling.
Hypochondria is defined as anyone anxious about their health. Literary hypochondria is anyone worried that their writing isn’t good enough. Most hypochondriacs understand in their brains that they are absurd, that every little sniffle isn’t pneumonia. But our hearts tell us otherwise, and each ache near our kidneys is reason to begin our farewell tour.
I’m going to suggest that at one time or another, all writers have experienced literary hypochondria. Your story is a work of genius until you send it to your beta readers. Every word in your opening scene is spectacular until you’re reading a few pages at an open mic in front of 50 strangers.
The problem with literary hypochondria is the imagined illness can slither into your writing like the dreaded and venomous editor snake.
But as with all ailments, there is a treatment protocol.
- Weekly: Talk about your insecurities with other writers at conferences, courses, critique groups, and other places where writers convene.
- Daily: A spoonful of inspirational writing quotes from well-known writers who have also experienced this fictional sickness. Corny but effective.
- Nightly: Pick up a collection of terrific short stories or poetry to get an IV of excellent language right into your writer’s veins.
- Yearly: Make a pilgrimage somewhere where you can immerse yourself in your writing and let it take over your world for a short period.
Taking this kind of literary medicine can do wonders at keeping literary hypochondria at bay. Besides, according to Jane Austen, hypochondriacs make the best storytellers.