Well it’s been 5 days since I started my new regime, end of the first week as it were. I kept to my hour of writing on Wednesday and Thursday, did my two hours yesterday and today I managed… two also, not the three required. I’ve only done half an hour of reading and that was today.
I started this because I wanted to “get serious about my writing.” I’m forty, single and don’t have many interests or close friends – and whilst all that is fine in one way, I guess I felt like I want to do something of some significance other than sit on my couch and watch TV. Anyway when I started to “get serious”, which really started back in October when I re-joined AFO, I had the impression that the major hurdle I had to overcome was lack of discipline. I was moaning the other day, on AFO, about how I never know whether to give up on something that seems not very good, or continue working on it. One of the replies I got was “You’re not lazy you just have a harsh internal critic.” The later may be true (actually I think it is, I think that’s what this post will be about) but the former’s not. I am lazy. I know this about myself.
And if I was lazy back in the good old days of trying to have a daily “quiet time” how much more so when I have, in fact, sat on a couch and watch TV for seven years? No, there’s definitely a problem there and so I expected it to be tough. I wanted to make the effort though and so I was prepared, when the urge came on me to do something more relaxing, to stick it out and keep writing.
I wasn’t prepared for the other thing. How to describe it? This crippling sense of the pointlessness of what I’m doing, the absolute certainty that what I’m producing is rubbish, the feeling of being stuck not able to go forward and not willing to just give up. I know it won’t come across as strongly as I feel it, but it’s almost a sense of panic, or fear. I’m at the end of my first week and I’ve felt it twice so far.
Strangely enough, one of my self-assigned tasks for today was to work through the first chapter of Creative Writing and that had a section on just this with sections called ‘Postpone Perfection’ and ‘Avoid Writer’s Block’. The impression I was left with is that it is normal to feel very down on your own work but that the important thing is to stick with it and improve it when you edit/re-write. That I sort of knew (maybe not how strong the dislike could be). However the section on writer’s block talked about how it could happen even when you’re doing a lot of writing and it could happen to a previously successful writer. The scenario described was of a writer who put himself under pressure because of his wife’s expectations. The end of the section, and the chapter, talked about how the most creative people are those who do it for the intrinsic rewards not the extrinsic ones. In other words writing because you love writing not because it will get you money, fame, applause etc.
That’s a tough one for me. I know I can beat the laziness, it’s just a matter of training myself to do it, sticking to the schedule until it becomes habit. But do I like writing? There’s definitely a large part of me that’s hungry for the approval of others and sees writing as a way to get it. For years I’ve talked myself out of “getting serious” precisely because I believed that if I really loved writing for the sake of writing I’d’ve done a lot more of it by now.
So do I like writing? And do I like it enough?
Well there have definitely been moments where I’ve come up with a phrase, or an idea that I like. And in fact all the things I’ve written that I “hated” I actually really like the idea – but I want the prose on paper to generate the same images I have in my head and it just doesn’t. But that’s fixable. I can improve something that already exists if I have something to work on. Stone soup sort of.
I think part of the problem is I’ve psyched myself out. Precisely because I’ve made it this big deal, this thing I’m doing in 2008, it’s become, well, a big deal. I need to enjoy it more. But I’m not going to quit, not yet. Tonight I confess, half an hour into my second one-and-a-half hour session I gave up. I compromised and read for half an hour instead.
I comfort myself with this: back in my evangelical days, on the way back from a conference I was moaning to a car-full of friends that I didn’t seem to feel the same passion that others felt about God, Christianity etc, and that it frustrated me because I knew I should. When I finally let someone else get a word in, my good friend Kate said, “Have you ever thought that maybe you are passionate, you just don’t show it the way others do? Surely the very fact that you’re frustrated shows you’re passion?”
Maybe my passion for writing is like that.