I love to plot. Brainstorming a story problem gets me excited. I also love to edit. Tinkering and tweaking previously written words makes me happy. It’s the stuff that comes between brainstorming and tinkering that sometimes makes me want to tear out my hair and rend my garments. You know, the actual writing of all those words.
We can analyze the psychology of it all until the cows come home, but it basically boils down to this: self-doubt, leading to fears that paralyze my mind and fingers. And there are really only two big fears here. Ironically, they’re on the opposite ends of the spectrum.
Fear of failure. What if I finish and it sucks. I’ll never be as good as I want to be. People will realize I’m a fraud, that I can’t really write. I’ll be criticized and ridiculed and will have to change my name and drift away from all my writing friends.
Fear of success. What if I finish and it doesn’t suck? What if someone actually wants to publish it? Then I’ll have to write another one, similar to this one because that’s what readers expect. And it has to be at least as good as this one or everyone will say that one sucks. I’ll have to deal with editors, agents, deadlines. I’ll have to learn about edits, covers, marketing. What if I make a wrong choice along the way? What if my long hours of writing become mandatory instead of voluntary? What if I lose the joy? The passion? What if I can’t keep doing it all? (See fear of failure, above.)
These two fears then lend themselves to a truly amazing array of self-sabotaging behaviors.
Procrastination. The baseboards suddenly need to be dusted. That box of twelve-year-old tax papers must be shredded now. The newsletter article I’ve been putting off has to be written before I work on my book!
Avoidance. I deserve to watch that Netflix show everyone’s been raving about but I haven’t seen yet because I’ve been so busy writing, poor pitiful me. I also deserve to spend more time reading books, lunching with friends, playing with my dog. I shouldn’t have to give up everything I love to do in order to write, should I?
Perfection Complex. I sit my butt in that chair, I put my hands on that keyboard, and I start writing. But the word I just typed isn’t quite right. There’s a better one, but I can’t think of it. So I pull up Google on my other screen and do a quick synonym search to find the perfect word.
A couple paragraphs later, I’m not sure which imaginary river should flow into the imaginary lake in my story. I made up the lake, for God’s sake. I should be able to make up the river, right? But what if that state has no rivers that flow into natural lakes? I don’t have a dam on my lake. Should I? Back to Google, for never-ending research.
As writers, we all know that what we write will never be perfect. But that doesn’t stop some of us from striving for it. It’s not just in our writing – it applies to other areas of our lives. Again, I won’t get into all the psychological mumbo jumbo of it, but it’s a thing. Unfortunately, when we inevitably fall short, we beat ourselves up, call ourselves failures and say “I can’t do this.”
And…we’ve come full circle. Fear of not being perfect. Fear of failure.
I’ve come up with a few creative ways to deal with these self-sabotaging behaviors. I reward myself with a show or a book when I meet writing goals. I throw my dog’s ball close to the wall when we’re playing fetch, and she dusts the baseboards as she slides by. And instead of Googling as I write, I type one particular word in caps when I get stuck. Later, when I get to do the fun editing stuff, I do a search for that word and Google to my heart’s content.
I know in my heart that I can accomplish any goal I set for myself. I just need to get out of my own way.