It’s 4:22 in the morning. I’ve been on a Netflix binge of Good Eats and No Reservations. I’m bleary-eyed, yawning until my jaws crack, and yet still–here I am. Here we are. I’m chasing the flickering will o’ the wisp that is an idea.
I Did It to Myself!
Most of those who read this are, frankly, other writers. I have a few friends who occasionally visit my blog, but my hat is off to my fellows of the pen. Hence, it is to you that this is directed. I’ve dealt off and on with issues of self doubt, and written about them here to some extent. Lately, I’ve been trying to roust myself out of this rut, trying to make something out of this scribbling habit. I keep hitting a wall. And its not one that’s built by anyone but me. I find that I have intentionally missed deadlines for opportunities or jobs on purpose. That’s right. I knew I was doing it, knew I wanted a chance at the job or the publishing credits. I did it anyway.
Now, before you go off on a “We All Procrastinate” rationalization. I have to tell you that this isn’t your garden variety “I want to watch that movie or spend time with that friend” Procrastination. It’s a shameless form of self harm. I feel like I look into my inner mirror, tell myself it’s time to work on that submission or that cover letter–and my reflection takes on a malevolent consciousness.
“No. You’re going to watch the seconds tick by. You’re going to miss that deadline, because you know you aren’t good enough, not ‘job material.’ Just relax. You wouldn’t have succeeded anyway.”
At this point, it’s hard not to hate myself just a little bit for that. Because I know that, whether I succeed or not–get the job, the check, the publication credit or not–the act of trying, of seeking, of working is crucial to the practice of my Craft. I’ve talked about rejection, and I know it’s part of the game–so, why do I feel like my inner voice is an abusive spouse?
The Two Faces of Creativity
I realized that the same thing that leads me to imagine looking into a mirror and meeting an independently animated, malevolent aspect of myself is the same creative spark that drives what’s good and bright about my writing. The same part of me that picks apart my writing–looks at something I was excited about and sees only mediocre copy–is responsible for the initial excitement and fierce flurries of composition.
It’s this that gives me pause. The monster and the muse are one and the same. Of course, I only realized this duality after having read an article in my late-night Facebook news feed about how to mute that negative narrator. Because, while a good dollop of self-critique is an excellent thing to have, I don’t want to hold myself back anymore. I read the words, “author Michael Singer says people [narrate] to protect themselves from the world. If they narrate it in their mind, then they feel like they have more control of what’s happening, but this is untrue.”
But being in my head isn’t about protecting myself from the world–at least, not all the time. I hear a scrap of conversation or watch an event and my brain starts working. I don’t want that to go away. What I’d like to root out is the part of that behavior that runs ahead and depicts how stupid I’ll look if I submit “this garbage” to a publication. The thing I can’t quite figure out is how to separate the two. I want to not malign genuine laziness by using it to cover my cowardice, my fear of failure of looking stupid or cloddish.
Company on the Threshing Floor
I think what I would like, more than anything else at this late hour, is a little feedback from you. Have you ever felt like this, or faced a similar dilemma? How do you balance your writing and the suite of associated behaviors with moments of self doubt, when you may fall prey to your own luxuriant imagination, cutting dialogue, vivid imagery? How do you separate the kernels of legitimate self-assessment from the inedible hulls of fear, self-doubt, or low self-esteem? I ask because I want to find an effective way to push myself through those moments, to change that pattern of fear-driven procrastination that I have developed.
In closing, perhaps all of this is due to the late hour–or the fact that this week has been studded with projects that I worked on and very nearly left unsubmitted because of that voice that drips sarcasm and derision, that self-critique that is unbalanced and without perspective. It is the voice that agrees with my family that I’m a deluded failure, and I should stop playing around and get a real career. It’s true, I should stop “playing around,” but I don’t want to give up on writing. Another part of me whispers that that’s important, tat this is a role I’m meant to fill. How do I push past procrastination that isn’t laziness, but fear? How does one make a habit of being brave?