Anne was my roommate at Viable Paradise. Between forcing me to eat, telling me to stop over analyzing my writing, and on one special occasion going all drill-sergeant and making me do push-ups, she was the very best roommate a girl could have had. She also bought candy corn, and I sure do love that sugar-flavoured wax.
Anne paints amazing miniatures, breeds Shiloh Shepherds, has many blogs – this is the latest, created for Blazie. In between, she writes brilliant fiction. She’s got some association with theatre that I don’t remember, and thus you may read the words below in a strongly projected voice, because that’s Anne.
As I read this post last night, I was nodding all the way through it. Yep, I’ve done that – I’ve felt that way – yep, this is the life of a writer as I know it. You think you’re the only one?
I’ll do it tomorrow. I’m too busy today.
There are other things that are more urgent.
No way—not tonight. I need a mental health break tonight.
I’m tired. Why don’t I have any energy?
I just don’t have enough willpower to follow through on anything these days.
I’m bad at self-discipline.
Why the hell did I even want to do this? Why did I even sign up when I knew I would just—
That’s right. You know those voices in your head, don’t you? The ones that start all in innocence. There’s always tomorrow, right? Gosh what a day. I just want to go home and sit around and watch a movie. Everyone deserves a break, even me.
Then there’s the guilt: I can’t neglect my kids/husband/girlfriend/cocker spaniel/goldfish. They get so little of my time as it is. It’s not fair for me to take time for this away from them. And I have so many chores to do.
Then there’s depression: Maybe I’m just not cut out for this. My life conspires against me. I never seem to finish anything, why should I be surprised?
And then anger. At yourself. Or at someone else within range.
Because you started—or considered starting—a project that you care about. A project that you’re doing just for you. And the fear sets in.
For a long time I was in denial about the fear. I’m terminally busy and easily distracted and addicted to multi-tasking. I would add things to my plate until I was so stressed that I was ready to scream and then I would cancel them all because not having any free time to work on “my own stuff” was driving me crazy—only to relax for all of a week before committing to something else and beginning the cycle anew.
Why? Because when I had free time I didn’t have any excuses. All the responsibility for getting something done or not getting it done was mine. All that was waiting for me when I came home was the blank page—be it a sketchpad or a word processor screen.
So I sought distractions. Lots of them. And I didn’t even notice what I was doing when I opted to read instead of write, or post on discussion boards instead of getting out the drawing pencils.
I would even give myself a little salve to convince myself that I wasn’t really avoiding my creative work. Like, I would tell myself that I would catch a few minutes to draw on lunch, and I would pack up my drawing pad and all of my pencils. I would feel great hauling that stuff to work, parking it right by my station.
Did those ever come out of the tote bag come noon? Nope.
Same with writing. I would tell myself that I would clock out for a late lunch in the afternoon and do a fifteen-minute writing challenge.
You guessed it. Something—extra work, lunch with friends, lack of inspiration, or just getting distracted—would intrude, and I would end up not writing.
A couple days and I’d start feeling guilty. A few more, and depressed. Then in a couple weeks the anger would set in and I’d sit there trying to figure out why I was in such a bad mood, why I felt like striking out at something.
I think it wasn’t until I read the introduction to Paolo Coehlo’s The Alchemist that I started to get a hint of what I was doing. Paolo writes in that introduction about the obstacles that rise up between us and accomplishing what we really want to do with our lives. Most of them are rooted in fear.
Fear of gambling all this energy and effort in pursuit of something that I might fail at—worse, failing at something that I really cared about. Fear of losing friends or hurting loved ones by prioritizing something for myself ahead of other obligations. Fear of appearing “selfish”. Fear of proving that I really wasn’t capable of succeeding at my dreams. Fear that what I thought was my life’s calling really wasn’t.
It took a while to absorb this after the initial hit. Slowly I chipped away at what I was starting to perceive as a self-destructive cycle. Slowly I became more aware when my brain did that little skip and slide away from sitting down and working on my writing or art.
Then one day when I was in one of those funks (meaning I felt that I’d failed, again, and was tempted to give up, again) I found one of my previous journals. I opened the first page in that journal and I read it.
It shocked the heck out of me. There in front of me was the proof of the cycle. The me that had written that page was feeling exactly the same for the same reasons as the me who was sitting there, moping and angry and reading it.
That was the breakthrough. In that moment the Fear was seized by the scruff of its scrawny neck and dragged out into the light, mewling and hissing. There was no way that it would ever hide from me again. Now I know its face.
So these days, I’m not perfect. I still slack, and I still let myself get distracted when I shouldn’t. But now I’m conscious of what I’m doing. I come back around to my goals faster.
I know that if I avoid, I’m really giving in to the fear. And that usually makes me mad enough that I squash the fear back down into its hole, kick myself in the butt, and get that butt into the chair in front of this computer.
Whether I succeed or fail…it’s the only way I’ll have a shot.
(Author’s note: Anne Becker was afraid that she wouldn’t be able to write about this stuff all that well…but at least she faced up and wrote it.)