Diving Back In

Today, it’s the ninth of April.

Image: howmanyarethere.netEdvard Munch, The Scream

Image: howmanyarethere.net
Edvard Munch, The Scream

You may remember me saying, some time ago, that I planned to get back into my novel(s) at the start of April, and get at least one of them ready to start doing the rounds of submissions before the end of the month. Well, you’d think I’d have started the process by now, then, wouldn’t you?

I haven’t, though. Partly, this is due to being quite busy so far during April, but mainly it’s due to something else entirely. Something to which I am no stranger.

My old nemesis: Fear.

I opened my computer file for ‘Eldritch’ the other day, and began to get that old familiar thrumming in the chest once more, the dead giveaway that all is not well within. I read through the first few pages and realised that there were 150 more to go, and my vision started to blur. I had to close the file and step away from the computer for a while – so far, ‘a while’ has been ‘a week, nearly’. My gaze fell upon my hard copy of ‘Tider’, complete with all its handwritten, sweated-over notations, yesterday, and I couldn’t bring myself to open up my box-file and just deal with it. I know I have to do this work, and I know (or, at least, I’m *fairly* sure) the stories contained in both these files are worth saving – at least, to me. But all of this logic and reason and sensible-ness tends to go out the window when you’re faced with the unenviable reality of writing: it’s hard work, and it may (and indeed probably will) be hard work which will come to nothing.

I know how it feels to put my heart, soul and kitchen sink into a project and watch it vanish without trace. I know how bad that felt at the time, and how it made me slide into a trough of depression that lasted the best part of a year. I don’t want to go through that again. I have no way of knowing for sure, of course, that the same thing will happen with my creative work, but the old fear is there, lurking, waiting to pounce.

But then, I have to realise that this fear isn’t what it seems. It’s definitely there, skulking about like a wolf in the woods, but it’s not necessarily a fear of failure in the eyes of other people. It’s not even a fear of success, as I’ve talked about before here on Blog Central. I have a feeling it’s more of a fear that I’ll fail myself, that I’ll let myself down, that I won’t do a proper job of this work, that I’ll do it ‘wrong’, that it won’t ever be good enough… Paradoxically, of course, the way this fear manifests itself is to paralyse me from taking positive action, and to stop me from opening up my files and getting stuck in. My fear of not doing the work properly is keeping me from doing the work properly. Analyse that!

Yeah, I don't get it either.Image: blogs.babble.com

Yeah, I don’t get it either.
Image: blogs.babble.com

I may not have said this before, but I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist. Like most people with this tendency, if something isn’t 100% correct and exact the first time it’s done, then it’s very difficult to deal with it.  Part of my brain wants to just shut away all my work, lock up all my files and never look at them again, and close the door on all the words that aren’t good enough, that don’t meet the (self-imposed) ‘required standard’. I also tend to be very impatient with myself, and if I can’t pick up a skill or learn something the first time I try it I often feel like a failure. I don’t necessarily give up trying, but somehow the enjoyment is taken out of it for me. So, once again, I find myself wondering why I’m drawn to the life of a writer, which is the sort of life in which tendencies like these are definitely not helpful. In fact, they are the very things you really need to overcome if you’re going to be able to live peacefully in a life which requires you to write, rewrite, draft, redraft, correct yourself, edit and undo lots of your own work, and learn that you can’t write a book perfectly the first time around.

Writing is rewriting. This I know. I don’t tend to write the sort of first drafts I’ve read about on writing websites, or on other writing blogs, which are basically ‘spews’ of emotion and feeling and characterisation and story without any structure or narrative; my first drafts are careful, tentative, over-written and over-complicated. So, necessarily, they aren’t good enough to be exposed to the world. But it’s almost like I’m trying, even from the first draft, to do my absolute best – to make the work ‘perfect’. But, of course, it never is perfect the first time around. This tends to hurt my head a bit. It’s amazing how you can know something with your rational mind, but your more irrational, emotional, instinctive side can be completely unaware of it. No matter how much I know the books I’m writing can’t be perfect the first time they’re written, I still try to do it. And by doing so, I set myself up for ‘failure’, which locks me into the fear, which means diving back into the work of fixing my words is ten times harder than it needs to be.

God, I am a complicated little person.

Perhaps this is why I want to be a writer. What better way is there to face up to these irrational tendencies and deal with my crippling perfectionism than by forcing myself to work through it? I managed to do it before – ‘Tider’ is in its sixth or seventh draft, let’s not forget, and it’s still not right – but because I’ve left it so long, picking it up again now and starting the work again is like starting from scratch.

It’s going to be difficult. Send me your good vibes. I will need them.

This isn't just an excuse to use a picture of Westley. The point is, I'm attacking my problem. Just in case you were going to accuse me of being gratuitous.Image: cinemagogue.com

This isn’t just an excuse to use a picture of Westley. The point is, I’m attacking my problem. Just in case you were going to accuse me of being gratuitous.
Image: cinemagogue.com

12 thoughts on “Diving Back In

  1. Janet E. Cameron

    Very well put! Sending lots of good vibes. I used to draft each chapter for weeks until I was ready to move on, so went through the fear every morning opening the document, but after a long time I got things the way I wanted them. Don’t know if I’d recommend that approach and it’s not working for me now…

    Reply
    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Maybe it’s something I could try (despite your misgivings), as it’s not how I normally work. I usually do the whole thing in one go, over and over again. Thanks for the idea! And, of course, for your helpful and kind comment. Best of luck with Novel #2 – I hope it starts to behave itself for you very soon. 🙂

      Reply
  2. susanlanigan

    My fear of not doing the work properly is keeping me from doing the work properly. Analyse that!

    No analysis needed. Makes perfect sense, uncomfortably so.

    Reply
  3. Kate Curtis

    OK. You’re procrastinating. The fear of failure is looming and like most fears, it’s completely irrational. You *know* this, but it doesn’t change how you feel. Right? So firstly, don’t beat yourself up for feeling this way. It’s normal to have episodes of doubt and anxiety, acknowledge it, doff your hat and then consider all the skills you have in your arsenal to keep walking. Look at what you have achieved already! And then throw your anxiety a farewell party.

    And then there’s this…
    ‘It gets better over time, is what I’ve discovered. Every story you write makes writing the next one easier; every story you submit makes submitting the next one easier. Taking the first step is terrifying, but after that the path is smooth. You just need to stop telling yourself you can’t do it. I know how hard it is, because I struggle with it every day too. Telling your inner voice to shut up can be done, though.’

    When you *do* get back to your work (and you WILL), it won’t be as bad as you imagine. And there is no such thing as perfection. There’s only trying your best. And I believe in you.

    Reply
    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      You’re a very wise lady, Kate! 🙂

      Thank you for your kind words and your good advice. I’ve actually spent the last hour working on ‘Eldritch’. I’m 40 pages in, and it’s going well. It’s amazing how beneficial writing a blog post can be; it’s like an exorcism, or a cathartic expression, of your fear. Once you’ve expressed it, you can get past it. And, of course, having wonderful people (including yourself) share your helpful words with me is a huge help, too.

      Thank you. Onward! (After I’ve had a cup of tea…)

      Reply
  4. aanderand

    I know how you feel. I was going to get to editing my NaNoWriMo novel, right after the first of the year, even set a date of March 21 when I would have something to present to the world. So, here it is April 9 and I have not even started. It is not a comfort to know that many people write the novel in November and never look at it again. To me, writing the novel was a goal and having a finished product is a goal, so I am fooling no one except myself, if I don’t get back to work on it.
    I suspect that, like me, even though you have not been working on the project, you have been working on the project, it has never been completely off your mind. Ideas have been swirling around and when you do get back to work on it there will be ‘new’ inspiration that will pop up to make it a better piece of work.

    Reply
    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Ah yes, the mark of a true writer – never being able to take a break from your WiP! You’re quite right. I’ve never fully disengaged with the story of any of the WiPs I have swirling about in my head. Though, I have to say, staying away from the actual words for a few months, as I’ve done, has been (so far!) immensely helpful. I’ve bravely opened up my computer file, called up ‘Eldritch Draft 1’, and am working through it.

      Luckily – I still like what I wrote. And, as you suspected, new ideas and improvements are coming to me. So, all in all, I think it’s going to be fine. I hope you manage to get places with your NaNoWriMo novel. Fingers crossed for you. 🙂

      Reply
  5. Lorrie Porter

    We all get the fear, and when it comes it does feel like a wolf in the woods, but wolves can be tamed, or at least muzzled. With me it’s worse during the first draft. Thank you for blogging such an honest post. It helps to know we’re not alone in those woods. Glad you’re making progress with Eldritch. L.

    Reply
    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Thank you for your kind words – it’s good to know the fear is not unique to me! I really appreciate you taking the time to place this comment. 🙂

      Reply

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