I have writing anxiety. I’m afraid to fail.
It’s been a long-held beautiful dream of mine that is now almost within my grasp: a part-time ‘career’ of self-publishing erotic romance novels. It’s all in my literal, literary grasp (and time isn’t an issue thanks to being diagnosed with a chronic illness), and now I can’t.
I can’t write!
When I was writing for just me, my cute little filthy fictions, I could churn out five thousand excited words a day. But then, there was no pressure if I wanted to bench it and move onto my next project when the whim struck me. It isn’t that I’m blocked, or without inspiration (although I have been), it’s that I’m now so consumed with getting it right (and imagining it being read), I can’t take a step forward. I can’t write more than outlines. I can however write blog articles for days as avoidance. Probably because about three people read them regularly (I know in crushingly precise detail, I have a statistics counter).
I’m 100% certain I’m not alone in this anxiety. Self-doubt is natural, and most normal people have a healthy appetite for procrastination and self-sabotage.
But I’m afraid of failure.
This Book Is Not My Son, This Book Is A Turtle
I had an English professor once describe a book as her ‘baby’, but I thought, that was hardly accurate. Yes, you give it life, and gestate it inside you, but really, it’s a turtle baby. You don’t raise the baby. You birth your book egg in the sand, leave it on the shores of Amazon with a cute cover, return to the sea, and leave your tiny turtle baby to be eaten alive by flying critics, Twitter trolls, and accurate grammar lovers. Your turtle may not find it’s way to the sea of ‘success’.
There’s nothing I can do to save my tiny turtle baby once it has hatched, except give it a fighting chance when it emerges. A tiny map, if you’ll let me extend this appalling metaphor. The tiny map is probably promotions and advertising. A ‘Save The Turtles’ benefit to attract someone who’s interested in protecting it on its journey to the sea. But if my turtle has a bum flipper and he doesn’t look tasty to anyone, all my worst fears will be confirmed: I’m a bad turtle Mum, and I should probably be hit by a boat propeller or choke to death on a plastic bag. Everyone who laughed and said I’d never make a single dollar would be right.
This can be another failure to add to my macramé garland of failures I wear around my neck at every family Christmas.
But I’m so scared just imagining it going wrong, I’m starting to doubt I’ll even have one out there. My personal goal was to have one novel published/prepared to be published by November 30th. It seemed so realistic before. Now I feel as though I’m dry-drowning under the pressure. I can’t work traditional jobs now due to illness, and I’ll probably end up living in my parent’s basement at forty-five with eight cats if I can’t find a way to support myself soon.
I’m not going to write about how to overcome it, because I haven’t overcome mine (yet).
But for me, I think it is about minimizing.
Is the world really going to end if I can’t get this done by November 30th? No.
Is failure really that bad? The only true failure here would be if I gave up before I even published, not because losers have no courage etc, but because I would be a repeating a pattern of self-doubt. I haven’t given myself a chance. I never give myself a chance, and in the process of sabotaging myself, I’ll never have any (tiny) successes. I’ll never have confidence in myself.
And those flying monsters with their gaping maws and beady little eyes screaming ‘caw, caw, this is shit’ might actually teach me something. Why is it shit? What can I do better next time? We’re usually our best self-evaluators too, and I often found I knew precisely what my academic essays were missing once I’d sent them: time-management, proofreading, and occasionally, whole chunks of text. Next time, I can do better.
My Seven-Step Plan To Hatch Better Turtles
Because my problems are to do with failure, self-doubt, and writing in secret, my problem-solving pursuit is thus:
1. Convince a friend (or internet stranger) to be a reader as a kind of less-hostile simulation hatching. I figure the outcome of this is three-fold: encouragement to hatch that turtle now, hatch that turtle after some genetic editing, and if it is truly terrible (highly unlikely) recommend a humane euthanasia and donate the corpse to the laboratory to be studied for the benefit of future turtles. All outcomes are positive.
2. Set aside time to write (actually write text, not outlines) by pursing 20-minute timer techniques or free-writing.
3. Remind myself that imperfect is okay. All the people I admire for their successes work hard. Most of them aren’t natural born geniuses, and even if they are, if they didn’t work hard, they probably wouldn’t be half as good. They go back to their first draft. It’s okay to suck, just as long as you learn from it, and don’t let it discourage you.
4. If I can’t commit to one manuscript all day-every-day (I can’t even commit to a writing prompt), commit to two. This is probably the most tenuous technique, as I’m not sure whether it will engender seriously weird stories or advocate chronic abandonment. But it stops that boredom and block anxietywhile still pursing something that resembles progress. If project A has reached an impasse (for now), do I sit around, or try to make some serious progress on project B in the meantime?
Note: If I find myself unable to complete both projects, seek abandonment help. Chronic incompleteness may be an issue with a need for perfection – nothing (not even death) should stop you from writing a first draft, even if it is the worst first draft ever written. Take heart, it can only get better.
5. Find an editor. I have a degree in the English language, and I’m qualified to critique other people’s works, but even I know I don’t see clearly my own work. I need someone who is detached, a scientific researcher who isn’t afraid to dissect my baby, and can say, this baby might not make it to the ocean unless we do something about it.
6. Be kind to myself. Machines don’t suddenly lose inspiration for how to mince meats, but they do need daily cleaning and care in order to function at their optimum. I must anticipate set-backs, off-days, being tired, loss of inspiration, and television distractions. Each day I need to be kind to my internal machinery, and recognize when it needs a holiday to Barbados/day outside/mental health day/sleep.
7. My (Achievable) Goal: have a first-draft (technically a ‘second’ if it’s a reworking of a story I’ve already prepared) manuscript by the 30th of November, which must be read by two people. As of writing, that’s about nineteen days for me. It is achievable (for me). This is a commitment I’m making aloud (as a hopeful motivator), as well as a way to analyse myself by blogging about it in nineteen days.
What was my daily progress like? What were my set-backs? What would I do differently? Was this goal really achievable? Do I believe in myself?
*Desperately seeking internet stranger to trade stories with, because I’m sure I’m not alone in this.
If you’re worried I’m speaking directly to you, or that unfinished story idea you have on your computer, get in touch for reassurance, commiseration, and a list of development resources I’m still building. I would love critique, criticism, discussion, sexist vitriol, trolling, or even a casual chat – send me an ask or get in contact via email (firstname.lastname@example.org). I also accept hashtag puns on twitter.
*Originally posted on bethcoxlove.tumblr.com on November 10th 2015.