11.15pm, 25 August 2009
I lie in bed and try to get to sleep, but it’s no use. My mind is swirling. What was I thinking when I decided to completely re-write my 100K novel from third person to first person and cut out several characters? Didn’t I realise how long it would take? I’ve already been working on it for eight months and have barely managed to get through one-fifth. There’s no way I’m going to meet my self-imposed first-draft deadline of the end of the year. And what if I spend all this time on it and the original ends up better than the re-written version?
I order my mind to shut off. Tomorrow is my first day back at work after a holiday and I don’t have time for this. But I didn’t achieve nearly as much over the holiday as I’d hoped. And if I can’t even make good progress while I’m on holiday, there’s no way I’ll be able to do better while working full time. This is pointless, the book will always be crap no matter how much work I put into it, so why am I even trying?
Tears build in my eyes and before I can stop them, they roll down my cheeks. My husband wakes up and looks over.
‘What’s wrong?’ he asks, his voice thick with sleep.
‘It’s my book,’ I tell him, knowing how silly it sounds but unable to stop myself. The words pour out and by the end of the conversation, we’ve agreed that if the novel is causing me so much stress, I should put it aside. Take the learnings and apply them to a new book – maybe.
I stick with this decision for a month. But it gnaws at my heart and lines my stomach with disappointment. I’ve felt like this before – eight years ago, when I turned my back on the uni drama course that I’d been hoping to get into throughout all of high school.
When the going got tough, I gave up. And I haven’t gone back to acting since. Is that what’s happening here? I wonder. Am I giving up on my writing because of one rough patch?
I think about all the time I’ve put into the novel, and into the re-write. Despite my anxiety, I know this version is better than the last. If I give up, the last eight months have been wasted. Two unappealing choices lay before me – persist with the drudgery of the re-write or revert to the original (crappy) version.
But why has the re-write become such drudgery? Writing the first version was exhilarating, so why have things changed so dramatically?
The more I think about it, the more I realise the difference – it’s the weight of great expectation. I’m writing what is essentially a first draft, but I’m expecting it to be as word-perfect as a final draft. Plus I’ve set myself a ridiculous timeframe. And the only person applying this pressure… is me.
So, after much angst and internal debate, I decide to re-open that document. But, before I do, I create a list of rules that must be read each time I sit down to write:
- This is your hobby, so let yourself enjoy the process.
- It desn’t have to be perfect the first time.
- The only deadines are the ones you set yourself.
Slowly but surely, I make progress. And you know what? Somewhere along the way, I start enjoying myself again. And when I reach the final scene, I’m not just enjoying the journey, I’m loving it. This post will attest to that.
So am I glad I didn’t give up? Abso-bloody-lutely. I’m so proud of what I’ve written (even though it needs a major edit), and so proud that I didn’t let my anxiety stop me from doing what I love.
How about you? How do you feel about your writing at the moment? If it’s become painful and arduous, it’s worth asking why. Perhaps you’re letting your expectations, perfectionism or fear overshadow why you started writing in the first place.
If you’re like me, you many not be able to silence that Fear Voice completely. You know, the one whispering (or shouting) that your writing is terrible, that you should give up before you embarrass yourself… But just because that voice is there, doesn’t mean you have to listen to it. Feel free to tell it where to go, and then go about proving it wrong.
“Each time we face our fear, we gain strength, courage, and confidence in the doing.” Unknown
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” Nelson Mandela
“Feel the fear and do it anyway.” Susan Jeffers
“I was always looking outside myself for strength and confidence but it comes from within. It is there all the time.” Anna Freud