Thursday, January 17, 2008

Fear of Falling

I’m going to take some time today to talk about writer’s writing problems, because I have them and I strongly suspect I’m not the only one. The community at large acknowledges writer’s block, etc., but the answer is universally, “well, you just sit down and write and all will be fine.” But I’m not convinced that’s all there is to it. Sometimes, I think we need a little more support than the keyboard and the ever-hungry cursor.So here are my issues, and hopefully you will share your own and we can ger through them all together.

Writing has always been difficult for me, though well worthwhile, but over the last year, it’s gotten more and more painful, to the point where I’m pretty sure it’s caused a few minor stress-related physical issues. I think there are a number of causes for this. Liketa here they go--

1) Minor success puts the pressure on: I’ve sold a few stories, I’ve gotten some decent, if spartan, reviews from them, and though they haven't got much recognition, I really think that I can make a name for myself if I press on. And that puts the stress on the writing, which has always been painful, but never impossible. It’s like trying to pee while everyone is watching you. Maybe a better man than I can throw back his head, laugh, and let loose a mighty stream, but for a me, a drop is all I seem to be able to muster.

Feel free to use that analogy in casual conversation.

2) Major success puts the pressure on: This one’s probably relatively unique to me, though it might well apply to a number of you with writing partners who do well. I never thought I was intimidated by Carrie’s astonishing and well-deserved success, and honestly I was surprised by how not-jealous I was. But I realized yesterday that I really am intimidated by it, on a subconscious level. Maybe "intimidated" is the wrong word... I don't know. The funny thing is that we have this Ten Year Plan, and with the exception of recent writing frustrations, I am on track with where I wanted to be right now. But seeing her shoot to the top, I feel like I need to be there too, or else I’m just a hanger-on. I know this is ridiculous, but it’s the truth. Not sure how to deal with it, though. Of course, Carrie has worked a lot harder than me to get where she is, and she’s amazingly talented, and I chose a different medium to work in which doesn’t give you that same level of reward (see this post on my thoughts about that). But still, it is what it is, and it makes each time I sit down to write seem like it needs to be magical.

3) Flat-out fear that I suck: Self-esteem. I’m worried that the stories that I think are so great, every one else will dislike. Flat-out fear that you’re not as good as you think you are. I suspect many (most?) of us have or have had this issue at one point. And given the nature of the business, I’m not sure how to deal with it, other than just being persistent, keep throwing things out there, and see what works. Maybe I just need to give myself permission to write crap, as they say, but I'm not sure I know how.

4) I don’t read enough: This one I can remedy, and I am. I read a fair amount of short fiction last year, but only about 2 novels. This year, I’m changing that. I’m a slow reader, and already I’m 1.5 books into the year (with the .5 being the first half of the 580-page American Gods), and I plan to keep that up. Already, I can feel some of the ideas percolating in my head, which is nice, but they’re a long way from ready yet.

5) Inability to commit: I suspect this is a symptom of some of the others, but I have difficult sticking with an idea, out of worry that the one I choose will suck. This was made worse by the fact that I really pushed myself to put words to page during NaSto, and I thought the result was, well, pretty crappy.

So there’s a short laundry list of my issues right now. I’m fortunate, in the fact that I do know the one most key ingredient to getting through them, and that’s to not give up. And so I won’t. I may shift focus, shift frame, but I won’t give up, and I give that same advice to anyone who’s with me on this journey. Beyond that, I think there is a little more to the answer than “Just sit down and write and all will be well,” but what, I don’t know. So what are your anxieties? How do you work through them? And if you’re like me, and you’re stuck in a rut trying to make it through, let me know-- let’s work through them together.


At 11:28 AM, Blogger E.K. Hornbeck said...

I'm not sure about the writing, but I can tell you that I have the world's most obnoxious case of "bashful kidneys." No peeing for me if there is anyone around unless I've had a lot to drink.

My guess is that you are going to need to quit your job and just write full-time. Hang out at cafes and bars; let your hair grow out; stop shaving for a while; ignore your own personal hygiene. You need a total transformation (I'm talking along the lines of Siddhartha or maybe even Mitt Romney). You need to find that part of you in which the true writer resides and let it become you.

Naturally your family and friends will wonder what has happened to you. Just leave behind a Post-it™ note with my phone number on it and I'll explain it to them when they call.

Your girlfriend will probably leave you for another man who doesn't resemble Australopithecus afarensis, but she'll regret that later when you become famous and every time she happens to overhear someone say "Penguin Classics" she'll know she made a HUGE mistake.

For what it's worth, the stories of yours that I have read definitely do not suck. I have enjoyed them immensely. There definitely is a great deal of writing out there right now that really does suck, but mercifully, you are not among those writers.

What does your 10-year plan include? Does that pertain only to writing? Why ten years? (Recall that Keats asked for 10 more years within which to accomplish something artistically because he feared (and justifiably so) an early death. He was truly motivated by this prospect and accomplished a great deal.) Perhaps you could contract tuberculosis and this would give you motivation to write.

Would you do anything differently if you knew you had 10 years to live? What about 3 years?

The point is that you are probably procrastinating, you bastard. Stop thinking so much and start writing.

At 9:23 PM, Blogger Jp said...

Hm, all good advice, but unfortunately letting the hair grow and stopping shaving wouldn't be much of a transformation at all. Maybe I should get it cut and shave. Then I could start hanging out at opera houses and country clubs. Regretfully, I would still lose the GF, as she seems to have a thing for austrolopithecines.

I'm glad you've enjoyed the stories-- it's always helps to hear someone who doesn't have a vested interest (genetics, cash, having hooked the romantic star to the wrong wagon and realizing it's too far down the road to turn back without looking silly). I'm definitely going to keep on writing them. Hopefully more. And I am procrastinating, but when you have a talent like my ability to procrastinate, it really is waste to let it go unused.

The Ten Year Plan (bum-BAH-bum) is the plan that Carrie and I made to be at a comfortable point with our writing, i.e., wildly successful, in ten years (starting two years ago). I think the good thing aobut the plan is that it doesn't put a rush on. It's a perfectly reasonable amount of time to accomplish what we want to accomplish (of course, Carrie had to go and get it done in year 2, but nevermind that) while still being young enough to appreciate it when we're there.

Funny you should mention Keats-- he was always an idol of mine. I remember being 15 and standing in the front yard of my house, staring at the sky, and dreaming about being as successful as Keats before I died tragically of consumption at 26. So far, none of that dream has come true, and it turns out I'm okay with that.


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