We may all have ideas for a great book. We may even have a few chapters down. And we might even have time available to write – or, if not, we have the capacity to make time. But we face an unflappable enemy who stops us from taking it any further: ourselves.
How many times have you wanted to write, had the opportunity to write, but when it’s come right down to it, you’ve procrastinated? Or found something else to do? Oh, the bathroom needs cleaning. Or the lawn needs mowing. They’re perfectly worthwhile things to do, and they do need to be done, but right now? We use them as excuses to not write.
Lots of writers seethe with insecurities. Will our work be good enough? Or perhaps we don’t feel capable of realising some lofty expectation, or translating what’s in our imagination onto the page. What if we sit down and the words aren’t there? Or the phrasing isn’t there? What if we can’t get it right? What if we project ourselves into the future and see ourselves with a finished product, only to be told it’s horrible, or to see it rejected time and time again?
These would seem valid concerns. Seem.
Anxiety sufferers often do something that’s known as catastrophizing – that is, making a catastrophe out of a situation that mightn’t be so bad. They write an entire narrative. Oh no, the car has a flat tyre! The kids will be late to school and will get into trouble, I’ll be late to work, the boss will be angry and will fire me, oh what a horrible day! Why does this always happen to me!? Everything becomes a worst-case scenario, even though those scenarios mightn’t be the outcomes, and nor are they very likely to be the outcomes.
Many writers do the same thing before they sit at the keyboard, thus undermining their confidence and invalidating the worthwhileness of any attempt. They make themselves feel so horrible about the prospect of writing that doing anything else seems a more attractive proposition.
Another issue can be doubt. In the grand scheme of pragmatism, writing is an indulgence (at least until we have that best-seller), and who has the time or luxury to entertain an indulgence when there’s real problems to be addressed? Better to stick to reality, to getting the housework done, to working the longest hours imaginable to make the most money possible, to spiral uncontrollably, if not unthinkingly, into that whirlwind of myopia and materialism that contemporary society has become. That’s not to say these things don’t need to be addressed. They do. But neither should we let them take over our lives, particularly at the expense of our own self-fulfilment and aspirations.
We need to cultivate new attitudes – attitudes that will help us to write and get the best out of ourselves.
These attitudes can be broken into three components:
- We may never have this time again. We mightn’t. Here’s some catastrophizing … Tomorrow, we may learn we have cancer, we may get hit by a car, the house might burn down, the kids might have homework that demands time, our partner might become ill and need taking care of, a meteorite might hit and wipe out our suburb – we just don’t know. We need to take advantage of the time available to us while we have it. Whilst we may not face the catastrophes listed here, life does have a way of eating up time. Kids need lifts. Workloads can grow. Everyday things can threaten to take control. Do the best with the time available to you. And if you do have time available to you, any reason that you don’t use it is just an excuse.
- So what! So what if somebody doesn’t like our work! So what if we get rejected over and over! The most popular example of rejection is Harry Potter, which was rejected umpteen times, before being finally being accepted and becoming a phenomenon. What about Fifty Shades of Grey? It became a success, despite being of dubious quality. Tastes are subjective. We can’t prejudice anything we do (let alone something as subjective as writing) with the expectation of failure.
- Just do it. Doubts may cripple us when we sit at the keyboard, fears we won’t find the right words, that the right words won’t flow into the correct phrasing, that the correct phrasing won’t evolve into the story we want to tell. You know, that all may just be. But we won’t know until we try, and once we try we’ll be able to see what needs fixing and where we need work. You can’t do that with an empty page. You need words on that page. Put the words on that page and go from there.
You can be pessimistic and sabotage yourself, you can invalidate yourself with feelings that what you’re doing isn’t worthy, or you can employ some idealism. There is nothing to lose by trying. A rejection might hurt, somebody not liking our story might disappoint, waiting for responses might frustrate, but these are all transitory states. They can also only affect you if you let them. On the flip side, there are gains – not only professionally and materially, but intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. Even if you don’t find success, you’re doing something you enjoy, that’s fulfilling, and that is enriching you in a way material gains don’t. So, try. Don’t be somebody who wakes up ten years down the track, and thinks about what they could’ve – what they should’ve – done with their time.
If you want to write, then write.
Don’t let anything get in your way.
Don’t let yourself get in the way.