Today, it’s the ninth of April.
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!
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.