Tuesday, June 26, 2012

That Lack of Ink

I have this thing about self-sabotage.

After I was settled in here, and my desk was set up, I set myself a daily goal of how much money I would make so I could get back on track. I decided to meet that goal seven days a week until I felt comfortable (or, preferably, overwhelmed) (ha) with the amount of money in my bank account. I also decided that if I couldn't meet the goal on any given day, I'd make up for it by working more on another day.

My failure was epic. Meeting my daily goal seemed impossible, and in fact I found myself working less capably than I had before the move (i.e. making less money per day), and dreading it and procrastinating against it more. My makeup goals became more and more laughable until, finally, I gave up.

It was a humbling experience. Trying to meet difficult daily goals didn't feel like a challenge; it felt like a wall someone had asked me to climb. All I could do was stare at it and be annoyed that someone had asked me to climb it. I felt lazy and undutiful and sucky.

So at the beginning of last week I set, instead, a goal that I knew I could reach, that seemed easy. All last week, I was easily able to meet and break and then double that goal. I worked effortlessly and cheerfully and, at one point, reached the "impossible" goal I'd set without even breaking a sweat. Mentally, the goal is still the small amount, because then if I'm having a hard or brainless day or if I have other things to do, I can always just work the minimum and walk away.

I also took the whole weekend off this past weekend, which I pretty much never did before the move. I still feel a bit guilty about it, but I'm looking at my tallies and I've worked every day since June 8th, so I don't think a whole weekend was a bad idea at this point. I was tuckered out. So I visited Fred Astaire's resting place and went to Matt's company picnic, and felt better, fresher for Monday.

I'm explaining all this because the same thing happens to me before I begin a writing project. It's the thing that's happening for my KUFC project. I'm getting that itchy feeling under the skin of my brain that means it's time to read over my notes and open a fresh new .doc and put my fingers to the keys. The song embedded above matches my character's state of mind in what's likely going to be a prologue, and I can't get that song out of my mental space. I know what I want to say in that prologue, and I want to write it.

But there's always a good reason not to. More to do for the apartment, more administrative junk involved in moving states (going to the DMV tomorrow morning, WOOOOOOOO), more paid work to catch up on, more correspondence to catch up on, more meals to cook or shopping to do. I went clothes shopping yesterday morning for two hours (frustrating the HELL out of myself in the process), even though I really can't afford it right now (although I genuinely do need clothes), because I knew if I worked as efficiently as I did last week, I'd be done by early afternoon with nothing to do and I'd have no reason not to write.

I'm so intimidated. I'm so worried I won't meet my goals for the project. I'm looking back at my last two books, and although I'm proud of my accomplishments with them, I fear that neither of them came out in a way that will appeal to a broad audience. Which means they're unsellable. I want to have learned from my mistakes and to write a terrific piece of work this time, one that only needs two or three drafts, not ten. I want to keep it light, action-y, kickass, and not get so into emotional and thoughtful shit like I did with the time book or so into character development (ultimately inadequate character development, to boot) like I did with the Greenland book.

Then I get to thinking about the kind of book I really want to write, and no, I want my books to be deep and thoughtful and stylistically particular. Even if it takes me ten more years to find an agent or a publisher or an audience. I admire transparent writers, but I'm not one of them, and I would flounder and sink if I tried to write that way.

Getting all knotted up in this stuff means that nothing is getting written. I thought I had moved somewhat beyond the ugly, inefficient, emotionally crippling perfectionism that defined my teens and the first half of my twenties, but here it is again, rearing up in a different way. Whether in paid work or the important work, if I set big giant goals, I can't even get started. Which was why, much as I wanted to participate in this (that gal is a very cool writer I found randomly), I knew I would just screw the pooch and maybe the book, too, if I tried.

It helps to forgive myself for my weaknesses. When, on Saturday morning, I said to myself "You can take the weekend off, Kat, it's okay", my brain sighed in relief. When every night I go to bed without writing that prologue, and I say sincerely "it's all right, you can try again tomorrow", it helps to keep self-hatred at bay.

But still nothing gets written. No words go on the page. And no amount of contentment is worth that lack of ink.


Lindsay Smith said...

Hi Katharine! Believe me, I know all about the crippling paralysis that perfectionism can bring on. Lately, I've been listening to a podcast called iProcrastinate that addresses all sorts of root causes of procrastination, including perfectionism, and it's helped me at least get started on tackling it. Might be worth checking out!

Best of luck getting everything sorted out, and I hope you'll give B22K a shot later on. :)

Katharine Coldiron said...

Hi Lindsay! Thanks for stopping by. I believe you when you say that iProcrastinate is helpful at NOT procrastinating, but the name made me giggle at the idea that it's FOR procrastination. I mean, if you're listening to a podcast, you're not writing, right?

I'll have to check it out, though. FWIW, I wrote 2K last night, so maybe I'll just meander along with you instead of actually keeping up.