Friday, October 26, 2012

Fear and the Art of Procrastination

When I finished the first draft of my current project, I realized I had a problem--my subplots ate my main plot. It was more than fixable; I mapped out the scenes and information that need to be added, then wrote another 20,000 words or so. My current draft is a completely different story from that first version. It wasn't easy, though. It was demoralizing to write 'The End' and then realize I had another 20k to go.  And more than that, switching from editing back to writing is hard. I got stuck in this hyper-critical place.

So instead of writing, I fell into the hole of not writing. I went to the library and checked out ten books I've been meaning to read. I lived on Twitter. I daydreamed about taking naps. I even poked at my query letter, hoping that if I worked on it bit by snarling bit, it wouldn't be this huge task when I finally NEED to write it. Like Melinda Mae, if I start at the tail and tackle it bite by bite, eventually I'll eat an entire whale. (Hopefully it won't take me 89 years...)

But none of that helped my novel.  (Well, except maybe the whale bit. That's some good advice, Shel Silverstein...)

My book lingered in limbo. Because my brain was stuck. Because I was tired. Because I was scared.

My trip to the library was actually the thing that got me back on track. I read a fantastic book and it fired me up to finish mine. The prose was beautiful, the foreshadowing and world building subtle. It made me realize just how far I had to go in beating my WIP into submission, but it reminded me why I'm doing this. I love my story. I believe in it and want to give others the same emotional high I got reading that book.

It's easy to fall into the trap of 'I'm not a real writer, so what's the point? Everyone is going to realize I'm a fraud. Why did I think I could write a book?' But this is how artists think. (Well… some artists. Some think they're the next J.K. Rowling.) I'm the same way about my photographs, always expecting someone to call me out as getting lucky shots instead of having skill. On the suggestion of one of my photography instructors, I read the book Art &Fear. It was like someone snatched all the insecurities out of my head and laid them bare in paper and ink. (Go read it if you haven't. Writer/painter/animator/composer/photographer/sculptor, it'll resonate. Trust me.)

Making art is intensely personal. We pour out our very souls and put ourselves out there, naked and vulnerable, to be judged. It's hard. But we're hardest on ourselves. Much easier to bury myself in a mountain of books or play on Twitter or nap. Or even shuffle words around and pretend to work.

At the end of the day, the only person I'm cheating when I procrastinate is myself.  I don't have an agent or an editor to put the fear of deadlines into me.  I have to be self-motivated. If I trunk this novel and never write again, no one will know. But the stories in my head aren't going to go away by ignoring them. The only way to quiet the voices is to write them. It can be painful and difficult, but most times it's invigorating and FUN. It's a natural high when things come together just so, when some small, arbitrary decision ends up blindsiding the plot 200 pages later. I LOVE that feeling. It might be my favorite part of writing. (Brain's are so cool!)

( used to have this totally sweet pin. And now they don't. Sadness.)

If it was easy it wouldn't be rewarding. So from now on, instead of procrastinating I'm going to give myself permission to suck. Maybe today I'll write a bunch of lousy lines that I won't be able to use. Tomorrow, though, maybe I'll be back in that wonderful place where I can hardly type fast enough to get the words all down. I'll never reach that joyful creation space if I don't first confront the blinking cursor and perhaps weep a few bitter writer tear droplets.

I don't know what I'm so afraid of anyhow. That's what revisions are for, right?