24 February 2014

Writer's block, part 1 - High expectations

Early last week I started a post about the conditions necessary for creation, which I soon realized was a post about writer's block and all the different ways in which I psych myself out of writing. Soon it became clear that I had so much to say on this subject that it would make more sense as a series of posts. (I'm always excited about series of posts because I don't have to think as hard about what I'm going to write; I can just pick a topic off a list and go.) I felt I had so much to say about writer's block, in fact, that I started joking that writing about not writing might be my calling.

Friday rolled around and I returned to the blog post to chop it up and finalize the first one in the series. Can you guess what happened? I got blocked.

Artwork by Cara Christine Hubbell

"YOU MUST BE BRILLIANT!" screamed a not-so-little voice inside me. "AND EVERY SINGLE WORD OF THIS POST MUST BE 100% PERFECT!!!"

So, yeah, I froze. I mean, how's anybody supposed to create under those circumstances? Creation is about entering the unknown; it's about experimenting and sometimes failing. And I have yet to write a first draft of anything that was perfect, but I only give myself an hour to write a blog post, so I was pretty much doomed to failure right there. On the other hand, this experience gave me more fodder for my series of posts about not writing, so there is a silver lining to this cloud.

As if the expectation that whatever I write has to be a) right the first time and/or b) mind-blowingly brilliant isn't bad enough, it's exacerbated by my awareness of having limited time and energy. I don't want to "waste" any of it by writing something imperfect or less-than-brilliant or that, for any reason, I won't like later. I've written about this before in this post and explained that one way I calm myself down about it is to remind myself that 100 words of crap is better than zero words and to give myself permission to play. Shan Jeniah Burton, a writer, Trekkie and ROW80 sponsor for this round, also wrote this lovely post for the ROW80 blog last week that has more to say on the subject of writing-as-play.

But of course the crux of this cause of writer's block is a larger problem in my life that extends beyond writing. I have this totally unrealistic expectation of myself that that I should never make any mistakes. And if I do make a mistake, there is no coming back from it and I'm a horrible person and everyone will hate me AND THE WORLD WILL END AND IT'LL BE ALL MY FAULT!!!

Okay, so maybe not that last one. Just trying to point out to myself how silly this is. I mean, I don't expect anybody else to always be perfect and never make mistakes, so why the heck would I put that on myself? Do I really think I'm so much better than everyone else? Or is it that I'm afraid I'm so unlovable in the first place that being perfect is the only way other people will be able to stand being around me? Ouch. That's a sad thought.

There's a disconnect here. Intellectually, I know that it's impossible to be perfect and that everyone makes mistakes. Intellectually, I know I want to be kinder to myself. But the emotions don't come from an intellectual place. What I believe and how I act are inconsistent: I believe mistakes are normal and forgivable; I act like they aren't.

So now I'm feeling very vulnerable, like I may have over-shared, but before I run off to hyperventilate in a dark closet, I want to note that encountering writer's block because of high expectations is a great opportunity to remind myself that I'm only human and to practice being kinder to myself. It's a great opportunity to practice acting like the person I want to be.

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