At the beginning of this month I resolved to block off three hours (from 9pm to midnight) every night to write without distraction. At first I promised myself those hours would be dedicated to my novel, but then I expanded it to my personal writing – any fiction, short stories, articles, blog entries, whatever. But what most often happens is that I sit down at my system and stare blankly at an empty screen for a few minutes, getting worked up to a panic, then I wander off to “think,” get something to eat, then I come back end up surfing the net. My favourite sites seem to be: Facebook, Slate.com, Tor.com, io9.com and its feminist sister site Jezebel.com.
Not too long ago, I broke out in a cold sweat at the thought of having to write an article for work. I had been given more than enough time and resources to research it, but I still found myself paralyzed in front of a blank screen wishing I could be struck by lightning – anything to get me out of putting words to paper.
I realized that what I have is a real, legitimate fear of writing. Writing isn’t just typing words to paper (though it ultimately comes down to that). It’s having new experiences, it’s reading, researching, revising, submitting, and marketing yourself.
It sucks. And it’s starting to cost me.
I’ve been struggling with this for years. I’ve let down quite a few people because of it and it has really taken a toll on my sense of self. I know part of it is my need for perfection. I am not satisfied with just throwing words together; I want every sentence to sing. I’m also impatient. I don’t want to go through the gruelling tempering period it takes to make a great writer. I don’t want to have scads of manuscripts lying around, I want my first one to be gold and I’ll endlessly write and rewrite it – setting the goal posts ever farther away, to get that.
It would be easy to say that I’m lazy and that I lack discipline, though I’m sure that’s a big part of it. Without a deadline, I’ll dick around forever on a task. It would also be easy to say that that I don’t want it enough. I want to live the writer’s life – chuck it all and just become a freelancer, moving from country to country soaking up life and living by the products of my pen - but my writing has never felt truly legitimate. A part of me feels that being a writer is for chic bohemian types who wear dashikis and live in New York or Paris – it’s a lifestyle, not a job. All these would be true, but that wouldn’t be the whole story.
I know many writers who say they don’t feel quite as alive as when they are writing. Others say that while they find the process difficult, they do it because they feel compelled to it. I don’t. In fact, there is so much anxiety for me around writing that I try to avoid it as much as possible.
Unfortunately, writing is just about the only thing I do well, so when I don’t do it, I feel guilty that I’m wasting my talent. At the same time, when I do try to write I feel guilty that I’m indulging in a frivolous pastime and that I would be better off doing something useful – like cleaning the bathroom.
So writing isn’t fun for me. It’s nerve-wracking, dispiriting and has driven me to the edge of suicide on more than one occasion. I tried giving my writing an aura of legitimacy by doing it under the cover of journalism, but it turns out that reporters are not necessarily writers. They both write, but they have completely different motivations. I’m now trying publishing with an eye toward academia down the line.
I don’t hold out much hope, though. I should probably learn a new trade (dressmaking has always fascinated me) but, with my lack of common sense and people skills, I doubt I’d be any good at that either.