I place a lot of pressure on myself, especially when writing. Anyone interested in the craft does so, but I’ve reached a point where it nearly encumbers 100% of my efforts. Blame anxiety, hidden beneath the cheap guise of “writer’s block.” Blame the stooge (that’s me) unable to overcome.
I’ve known for some time that my habit of procrastination wasn’t the norm, yet never could admit to myself such difficulty as a possible condition. Until recently. Labeling something a “condition” may sound dramatic, and it is, but I truly believe at this point I suffer an abnormal amount of anxiety when faced with the process of writing. Over the past year, I’ve consistently taken easy assignments (reviews, features and fluff) and changed them into two/three week productions concluding only in first drafts – which is extreme on its own. Yet what tops it is the idea that, while putting off such pieces, I’ve still thought about them over the total course of said time, telling myself “today’s the day,” instead to just fall asleep each night, reviewing a 24-hour cycle full of unnecessary walks, apartment cleanings and conversations – a repeatable occurrence that only contributes to the overall stress and guilt I feel.
There’s something chronic about this, so I’ve easily chartered a pattern, rolling from one project to the next enlisting said procedure, and I truly believe, at this point, it’s hindered the development of my writing and postponed professional advancement through possible new assignments and working relationships – not to mention hitting deadlines. Which is sickening to consider, so I try hard not to.
It’s probably clear to most who have followed me over the years that I possess a bad habit of proclaiming great excitement for a new venture to then only dissipate shortly after. A great example of this would be The Chemical Box, a podcast I co-host with Joey Aulisio. At this point, there exist more “hiatus – we’re back” episodes of the show worth counting, and while on each comeback installment Joey and I assure our absence is due to “busy schedules,” I should retract those statements. Maybe Joey’s been preoccupied by life events, but it’s wrong to claim the same excuse on my end. Yeah, I’m a student, yeah I work … but I could read comics. I could easily squeeze an hour and chat. It’s the same case with writing. The time and want exist, yet hesitation commands.
And why does it? I obviously enjoy these things, and I’m fairly certain at this point writing is the only thing I’d like to do with my life. I should be, at every fucking second, behind the keyboard, pushing the pen, yet, ironically, the thing I love the most grants me incredible discomfort, so I sprint away rather than embrace. And I believe I finally know why: the fear of limitation.
Writing subsists on the judgement of its quality, and writing, no matter who you are, depends on the reading part of the process, in which the judgment occurs. This freaks me out. I’ve never handled criticism well – whether social or professional – and I’ve found, over the years, that I need approval from external forces, otherwise I’m clueless as to where I stand (a juvenile quality, undoubtedly).
With this comes the obvious determination to impress, and for the most part I’ve managed to do so in multiple forms (academics, work ethic, etc.). Writing, though, I stand on uneven ground. As hard as I try, as hard as I want, I still see my own work as average, claiming the same gripes, ripping off the same sentence structures, and it’s more and more a truth with every word committed to a tangible surface. Suddenly, it’s not about a given home run with every attempt, but rather a public trial of small successes and gigantic blunders.
My anxiety originates here, feeding back until the distortion sounds so ripe I believe it best not to even try. Because, without my words externalized, I can still pretend they say more than they may actually. I’m backing into THAT corner; a place where a label means more than real product. Imagine the following conversation:
me: “yes, I’m a writer.”
stranger at a party: “well, what have you written?”
me: “well, this one article two years ago …”
It’s a point at which a person identifies themselves without actually doing anything to earn the identifier. Like naming your band before learning a G chord. And I’m about there, selling the USA Today brand hard even though I’ve barely written anything in two months, let alone for them.
The goods news comes, though, in the form of my recognition. It’s slowly becoming clear where I stand, and what’s more promising, is that even in the face of this conflict, I still hold a passionate interest in writing. I just need to do it. More than I ever have, pushing out whatever bad, ill-formed thoughts and phrases stand within me until I grow conformable with this unkind process, hopefully to one day contribute at least one thing worthwhile.
But, fuck, man, that’s daunting. I’ve psyched myself out, already, just thinking about it. But that there is my problem. I think too much. I think about whether or not what I’m writing matters. I think about who is reading. I think about how I should edit. I think about how it all sounds. And I think these are all good thoughts, important to anyone writing, but it’s also clear such thoughts have blocked me, keeping all sensors on. Allowing that internal editor full command.
A few weeks ago, I had lunch with a writer-friend, and he gave me a solid piece of advice: “submit to the process.” That neatly-packaged line clung to me because it’s exactly the action I should commit. I’m at a point where, yes, nearly 99% of what I craft will suck beyond any belief – causing all sorts of readers to smirk, jeer and taunt, or better yet ignore – but without the plunge that 1% of potential will shrivel, gasp and die. It should get a chance, and while it’s likely it’ll never blossom the way I’d love it too, it may still grow into 5 or 10%. I mean, not to gloat, but with the few accomplishments I hold at 21, it does seem I have some sort of talent for this thing. How many kids write for USA Today, anyway?
It’s one thing to know it and another to perform it, so let’s not consider this another “comeback” piece. Those are far too many. Let’s just consider this a letter of acknowledgment, typed out against my gut. Written in the form of exercise.
That’s enough for now.