Sunday, January 19, 2014

Writerly Performance Anxiety

No one is holding
you back but yourself.
I've been in the writing cave all weekend, and I feel like I'm finally making some progress. Mini is out of school tomorrow, so I'm going to stay up late and try to get in another chapter. That's if the words will flow. Then I'll go to bed, get about four hours of sleep, wake up, make coffee, drink too much of it, then try to write some more. So the cycle goes.

I've felt creatively drained lately, like I'm running on empty, and it's hard to keep my buns in the writing chair for more than five minutes at a time. I know what I need to do, and I have an idea of what I want to write. Nevertheless, I end up staring at the page for what feels like hours on end, and the words are just stuck.

I do mean that literally. Stuck. Lodged in there. I know the words are in there, I hear them rattling around like marbles in a coke bottle. But whenever I attempt to write it's like trying to pry those marbles out of the bottle with the end of a paper clip. What an absolute time consuming pain in the rump that is. And because I'm not writing steadily, I feel like I'm slacking, which only stresses me out further and kicks off that stress cycle again.

Lately I've been reading a lot to combat my perilous lack of inspiration. I've been reading novels of all genres - even YA, which I usually avoid. I've been reading help guides, writerly reference books, and people's personal blogs - anything that takes me to a place were words equal emotions. I desperately need some of that (whatever that really is), because it's lacking in me.

I also recently deleted one of my favorite writerly advice resource sites after they shared a word cull list for "strengthening your writing". I get it, already. The streets of hell are paved with passive sentences and -ly adverbs. Yes, yes, it's true that you can cut words out of your writing to make it much stronger. These lists are nothing new. But when you start making lists to cut words: was, were, like, can, could, should, would, as, then, when, know, feel, felt, realized, wondered, etc. etc. etc. It never ends.

There is always someone who, in trying to write stronger, brings more words to be slashed and slaughtered, until what's left is nothing but a bloody hacked up mess of stark, boring sentences. Not only is it creatively stifling, it's really not something anyone should be thinking about when writing a first draft. Words themselves are not the enemy. It's the way they're filtered through the characters to provide meaning and evoke emotion that determines whether or not these cull words are used successfully.

If I want to begin a sentence in my book with "there is", I will damn well do it, because as a real, living breathing person, as a character in my own life story, when I look at a door, I don't think to myself  "A door stands over there". I think, "There's a fucking door over there." And it is perfectly appropriate, and in character, for me to think that way.

I think a lot of my lack of inspiration comes from performance anxiety. I worry about what I'm writing. I worry about my characters. I worry about my readers. I worry that I will write a draft so broken that it can't be fixed. Well, okay. I'm pretty sure drafts that can't be fixed are out there and a dime a dozen, but really, it's time to retire that fear and move on. Yeah, I stand the chance of writing a broke book. So what? If I do, I do. Part of the risk you take when writing is that your book, your beloved baby, will turn out so hideously deformed you'll have to bury it in the back yard so no one will ever, ever know it existed.

Okay, so really, that last part was me rehashing the plot of an episode of the X-Files, but whatever. The point is, all those burdensome lists of cull words... There is a way out, I will find it. I feel pressure, and I will acknowledge it. Yeah, I am 100% done with those.

Alrighty, enough of that. I didn't start writing this blog post in order to rant. Truth told, I'm not even feeling ranty. More or less I'm just tired of dreading what I once loved. Writing has always been my passion, but I've imposed so many rules on myself over the past seven years that I'm now struggling to create anything.

To remedy that, I've decided to take it slow, to take it day by day, and put one word in front of the other. No looking back. No looking at cull lists. It's time to stop worrying about writing and just write.

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