The job of a writer is to translate mental abstractions into concrete words, capable of being read and understood by strangers.
Which makes the problem of mental resistance prevalent among writers.
Often, these resistances, though they seem incredibly personal and specific to the writer experiencing them, fall into a few common categories. Perfectionism, procrastination, self-doubt, lack of focus, and so on.
If I am to create a working writing habit, I need to deal with my own issues and find ways to keep them from disrupting my writing.
And, boy, do I have issues!
Chief among my resistances is that oft bemoaned malady of writers:
As you can see by this post’s date, I procrastinated with my writing this past week.
Because I procrastinated, I lectured myself about not writing…
Because I lectured myself, I stressed out about writing…
Which made me procrastinate more, because when I finally sat down to write…
I couldn’t think of what to write because I was so stressed about it…
So I convinced myself I needed to do something else to de-stress…
Talk about a vicious cycle!
Clearly, procrastination needs to go. The sooner, the better.
But how to do that? Intentions are easy, but doing something now rather than “later” isn’t so easy when I’m faced with half a dozen options for what to do now — and procrastination becomes the choice between doing the urgent, the enjoyable, or the important.
A simple solution is likely the best one. (After all, adding more complexity would just make me procrastinate more!)
The simplest option would be to make writing one of the first things I do each day, no matter what.
I’m no morning person, though — I could easily procrastinate with my writing because I don’t feel “awake enough” for the task. Or, worse, end up writing irrelevant nonsense and losing any shred of confidence I might otherwise have had in my scant ability as a writer, which would then make me procrastinate more.
With some effort and preparation, though, I could make it work.
I know I can’t write when I first open my eyes in the morning, and I can’t start the day with prewriting, since I’d be more likely to use that as a form of procrastination.
However, I can write mid-morning, and if I do my prewriting the day before and have it easily accessible, I could move on to drafting right away. It would help limit my opportunity for writer procrastination, at least.
But if I am to successfully deal with my procrastination problem, I need to address the reason, not just the symptom.
What might that reason be? Well, at the root of most procrastination is an element of…
Two of the most common fears leading to procrastination for writers are fear of failure and fear of being “found out” — otherwise known as “imposter syndrome.”
I suffer from both of these fears, each to their own extent. And though the fear itself wouldn’t be a significant problem if I handled it better, my knee-jerk “flight” response is.
Address the fear, and maybe procrastination will be easier to overcome.
That’s my hope.
Unfortunately, hope isn’t going to cut it. But how else can I possibly overcome these psychological hurdles of mine?
One step at a time.
Fear of Failure
Failure is a problematic thing to fear, because one learns best as a result of failure — it’s just bloody hard to accept!
Recognizing the fear in the moment — rather than telling myself “I just don’t feel like writing” — is probably a necessary first step to deal with it. However, thoughts aren’t easily quantified, and I’d like a quantifiable plan for tackling this.
I suppose the simplest way to overcome a fear of failure is to face it repeatedly, without running from it.
First, in what ways does a writer fear he might fail when it comes to writing?
That he’ll fail to write well.That he’ll fail to write stuff others like.That he’ll fail to get published.
Then if my goal is to face failure repeatedly, I need to write badly, write stuff others hate, and get rejected for publication. Repeatedly.
Not quite. Close, though.
The immediate failure would be “writing badly,” which is more likely to spark my procrastination. I need to face that somehow — but to move beyond the fear, I should also prove to myself that the “failure” is fixable with editing, each time.
So I have my answer.
Whenever I sit to write, I’ll start by writing the worst sentence I can think of, then rewrite it into the best sentence I can while keeping both versions. I’ll leave this exercise at the top of the page during the entire writing session as a reminder that bad writing isn’t permanent failure — and shouldn’t make me too afraid to try.
It’s a small thing, but it might help me.
As for the other “failures,” I can address them as they come.
Imposter syndrome is essentially a derivative of the fear of failure, with the distinction that you feel any success you experience is or will be “false” and once it passes, you will receive your failure — often magnified by humiliation.
The problem with this is that writing, being a particularly subjective skill, can take a lifetime to master.
Fear of being “found out” is counterproductive, since it is based on one’s ego, not on becoming a better writer.
Which would mean that the simplest solution for dealing with this fear would be to recognize that my ego is standing in the way of my writing, and to proceed without it.
But, again, that answer is not quantifiable. What answer would be?
How about this: if ever I find this fear tormenting me, I’ll write something along the lines of, “Ego is a villain. Writing is a practice.” That’s simple enough, right?
Plus, I’d get a laugh out of it.
- Prewrite/Plan the day before.
- Write as soon possible each day — mid-morning.
- Bad Sentence/Better Rewrite Exercise — each writing session.
- Banish Ego Exercise — when afraid of false success.
Psychology is a complex matter. (And I’m no psychologist!) My quaint solutions to a select few of my mental resistances certainly won’t solve all my issues.
However, I now have somewhere to start my long battle against the parts of my psyche that will hold me back from pursuing my dream of being a writer. The next step is using this to move forward with the rest of my plan.
Until next week.