About a week ago I was asked by a mother to talk to her daughter who was in the midst of determining her career path. I didn’t get much information outside of there being a question of whether or not she should go for a creative writing program.
When I actually talked to the daughter, I, well, first of all, I found that this young lady had a much better head on her shoulders regarding her career prospects than I have even today. But secondly, I ended up getting into a conversation regarding writer’s block. She had set a goal for herself her freshman year to finish a book by the time she graduated. With her senior year already in full swing, she was beginning to believe this would never occur, simply because she just kept getting blocked on how to move forward.
I offered my standard advice of just writing until something that makes sense comes out (a very simplified version of my “just do it already” speech) and, although I feared I may have scared her off of writing altogether, she came back to me the next day with a note saying my advice worked.
Because of course it did 🙂
But here’s the thing. At the same time, I was in the midst of my own version of writer’s block…which, to be fair to those who get stumped creatively, is not really your standard version of writer’s block…as I found out when attempting to commiserate with some fellow authors.
So, I’ve come to designate it as Creative Anxiety.
You see, every time I finish a project, I am absolutely incapable of starting my next one, even if I am fully aware of what it is and am completely inspired on how to put it together.
I actually become creatively paralyzed (so to speak), in that whenever I sit down to attempt to get myself to work on the next project, I just sit there, catatonic almost (although, more often than not, I’m actually finding methods of procrastination such as facebook and random internet searches…this time I got a watch!).
You see, I become absolutely terrified about starting a new project. So terrified, I can’t do it without a great deal of willpower-induced effort.
My brain goes into this terrible cycle of fear of failure, fear of rejection, and fear of just absolutely sucking as a creative.
And this has happened for as long as I can remember.
I attempted to write my first book in second grade. It didn’t live up to the hype I had given myself about it, so I didn’t write again for years. I don’t actually remember trying to write anything again until 6th grade.
When I wrote, directed, and starred in my first movie, I finished it feeling rather disappointed in my own work in the effort, recognizing all of the things I could have done way better, and hated myself for it. It would be over 3 years before I would begin writing my second feature.
When I finished my second feature and absolutely hated what came out of it (not due to anyone’s efforts but my own…my actors, directors, and everyone else did fantastic jobs…I just hated the story, the editing, and, well, you know…the fact that I had cast myself as a lead). This one took me so far down that it was another 3 years before I’d actually be able to move forward on another project.
Which brings me to The Legend of Buddy Hero.
I finished the first book in the series about 7 years ago. And released it to the wild…And then realized it was terrible (this is the original version you can’t find anymore…the current version is actually quite good, I assure you…but I’ll get to that more in a moment). I was devastated in how far from what I had envisioned actually ended up on the page. Stopped the presses completely and shut down again for nearly another 3 years.
Then I came back to it. I realized I had the opportunity here to actually correct my mistakes. And I did. And I made a wholly better book (after I took time away to write a completely different book first).
But here’s where things don’t make sense to me.
You see, I went into a pit of despair and fear of failing again because I absolutely despised, felt embarrassed, knew I should have done better on those previous projects. When I finally finished Buddy (as well as Agora and all of my projects to follow), I actually found myself feeling proud of my work. Feeling, for the first time, like I had actually succeeded…
But the fear remained. Still today, even if the book/project I just finished is something I consider absolutely spectacular, I fall into this funk where I can’t believe that anything I do will ever be worthwhile.
And I can’t move forward.
I become so absolutely anxious regarding my own creative abilities, that even though I have a project I’m eager to get started on (I ALWAYS have a project I’m eager to get started on), I can’t.
Until I finally force myself out of the funk and move forward.
And this is where I was when I was talking to the young lady who was suffering from a case of writer’s block.
I was in this shell where I didn’t want anyone to even note I had ever written anything ever. This was mere days after receiving over a dozen love notes from kids who had beta read Chippewa Chao and the Marvelous Macaroon Mission for me. This was after being offered free editing and free translation services from folks who read the beta version and fell in love.
This was AFTER I had the opportunity to sit and chat with a bunch of kids about how I AM an author and it’s really kind of an awesome job, even if it doesn’t always keep the lights on.
I was petrified. Utterly.
The worst part about all this was that I had just begun the early work on a completely new project I was (and still am) incredibly excited to begin work on. Quite possibly more excited than I’ve ever been about a project. It’s going to be intricate, it’s going to be mysterious, and it’s going to be quite a lot different from anything I’ve done before, while still keeping to the adventure vibe I like to use as my trademark.
So I would sit in front of a computer screen for hours at a time, wanting to put in the work, staying awake to put in the work, but completely unable to do so simply because I was certain it would be nothing more than crap.
Because no matter how proud I am of my own work, no matter how many accolades I get from readers, I’m still certain that I’m capable of nothing more than drivel, than illiterate blech…than crap.
I’m out of the funk now, actually capable of moving forward on new and existing projects once again. But that feeling is still there. It’s always there, really. This feeling that I just don’t have *it*.
What’s most amusing about that feeling is that I really don’t care. I mean, ultimately, although I love for readers to enjoy my work, I don’t write for them. I write for me. To get these stories and ideas out of my brain so my brain doesn’t explode. And to give me something to strive to be better on.
Because that last point is what is most important to me…and why I’m actually kind of okay with this creative anxiety I face on a daily basis.
I’m never satisfied with just doing what I’ve done before. I don’t want to just pump out books for the sake of pumping out books. I want to challenge myself. I want to be more than just an author. I want to be the best author ever to have existed…whether or not anyone ever reads a single word I’ve written.
But it’s not a competitive thing for me. I don’t really care to be the best author as compared to other authors as much as I want to be the best author I can possibly be. To achieve literary perfection.
To write the world’s most perfect story… (that may seem a little hyperbolic, but I assure you, I spend a great deal of time attempting to come up with such a story…knowing its a rather impossible feat).
This creative anxiety I feel, it’s what pushes me forward. It may be what paralyses me to do things, but it also powers the fear which keeps me coming back, which keeps me struggling to do better, which keeps me working instead of just writing.
I hate this paralysis/fear I feel. But I honestly believe it’s the number one reason I keep being able to feel more and more proud about the things I’ve written. Each of my books is, in my opinion, far superior to the previous. And I aim to continue that pattern for as long as I’m able to force myself to write.
Because that’s my dream. My goal.
And that’s just a small amount of insight into the crazed brain of this particular author…but if you’d like another piece of quick insight:
All of the above, it really makes it seem like writing is one of the most terrible things for me. That I must absolutely hate it.
But I don’t. Outside of my family and friends, it is my greatest pleasure. To sit and create. To develop characters and worlds and stories. To put all these things to the page and watch as a story unfurls…it’s [expletive deleted] incredible. It’s like bringing a baby into the world, but instead of dealing with dirty diapers for the next few years, you get bad reviews.
I love writing. That, and the fact that it’s one of the few things which keeps me sane in this world, is why I do it. And why I will continue to do it…well past the point in which I probably should.
And that, my friends, is why I force myself past the terror of creation. To get to the blessings of it.
Have fun out there!