It is astonishing, amusing and aggravating to see the extent to which I put the onus for my productivity as a Writer on whether or not I feel like doing it. Today, for instance, I revised chapter 7 of Tallulah. This involved copy-pasting half of what is currently chapter 6 into a new document, saving that document, and … nothing else whatsoever.
And yet I felt the exact same kind of stuffy, claustrophobic hesitation to get it done as I would have felt if I’d required myself to write new stuff. Which, in terms of looking at the work that is to be done, is absolutely ridiculous. It seems beyond irrational to be so reluctant to do something so abysmally simple. I think it might possibly have taken me a full minute to do, and now I’ve got a chapter ‘done’.
Is there something wrong with me?
No, I don’t think so. I think part of what my reluctance to do this revision is tied up in is the fact that it’s so simple, that this isn’t actually the real work – the real work is going to be going over and looking at what I’ve done with these chapters and then seeing what I can do with that as a base.
It’s also the fact that this is a habit more than anything; the ‘I don’t want to’ state of mind is a deeply-ingrained habit of mine, and my theory is that it just happens, my mind just flicks it on like a lazy parent sitting their children in front of the TV (probably an iPad nowadays) as a default setting to conserve energy. It’s not actually that I don’t want to do it; it’s that I’m wired to be reluctant to do anything that I know requires my attention. It’s a physiological operation that my brain carries out automatically.
Alternatively it’s because I’m really unfulfilled in some way that I’m not paying attention to. I should take care of that so that I can write.
There’s the problem.
‘Living life’, as they are wont to say, is important. Our desires, our fears, our anxieties, our wishes – these are all things that demand attention on their own merit, irrespective of anything else. The idea that we, as writers, as artists, as people in general, should be doing things like paying attention to our feelings so that we can ‘get it out of the way’ in order to move on and do the ‘important stuff that needs to be done’ – that’s the problem. That attitude is the problem.
Why not get the really important work that needs to be done out of the way so that we can pay attention to ourselves?
Or – don’t? Just pay attention to ourselves? And maybe not write every single day like some kind of machine?
I think for those of us who are accustomed to not having much of a social life in particular are susceptible to this kind of thinking. We don’t expect much out of ‘the world’, and so we invest ourselves in our ‘thing’ – in my case, writing – to compensate, put all of our eggs in that one for-sure basket. But, as I repeatedly discover, that doesn’t work. That doesn’t make anything better; it’s not a substitute that works, and it makes me resent my writing for not being everything that I want out of life, and it makes me resent myself for not going for those other things that I do want that aren’t ‘to write’. All of these other things that I deny that I want, and so when it gets too much and I don’t want to write, not because I want to no longer be a writer but because I want something other than the same old song every single day, I cling to the insistence that this is all about writing and call it writer’s block, call it me being stubborn or lazy or not committed enough, when it’s actually life-block, when it is me being stubborn, but only because I’m fed up with my own crap and I just don’t want to deal with where that train of thought inevitably leads – that I want to be doing other things, other things that I’m afraid to get wrong, that I think I can only get wrong if I try to do them. It is another habit of mine, another default mode that at least I’m becoming more frequently aware of as I continue to write and continue to update this blog, giving me a chance to reflect upon it.
I wonder how useful this blog is.
I don’t give writing advice – or I try not to anyway – because there are plenty of other writing advice blogs out there already. And lots of them are great, and I follow a few of them. I am operating under the assumption that, by chronicling my thoughts and experiences of Being a Writer, I can at least serve as a cautionary tale, or as a source of subjective evidence for other writers to use in order to get a sense of where they are with their own work, rather than telling people what to do, sort of like having a reviewer that you’re familiar with – if you know their tastes and they say X about a film, then judging based on what you know about them and what they’re like, you can make an informed decision about whether you might go and see that film that goes beyond merely what they’re saying – it’s what they’re saying that gives you the real information.
So I wonder how useful this blog is as a chronicle of lived experience, as a resource for other writers or artists. I wonder what it would be like to go back and read all of my posts, what kind of picture it would paint, whether it’s coherent, what patterns would emerge – what I might learn from it. If I’d be able to identify certain tropes, certain tell-tale signs of when certain things happen and how to predict them, and even how to stop them from happening or re-create their effects.
I wonder if it would help me get past my current roster of habits, to find a break in the cycle and step ashore, and be in a better position to try something new.
I honestly don’t think this can be any sort of publicity platform. I wanted it to be, in a very vague sort of way, kind of how I ‘want’ to be the next American Idol. I don’t really want that. And this blog – this is where I process my process, where I deconstruct my overworked thoughts and assumptions and conflicts and try to get something clear and coherent out of it. And I like it like that. I like that being its function. I’m happy with it not being anything ‘more’.
I guess this is my life-draft.
Ah, the life-draft. I never really did get around to doing that. It seemed like such a good idea at the time. Maybe it still is. Maybe I’m in a different place now.
I do think that it’s partly habit that keeps me coming back to this point of not wanting to write. But part of that habit has to do with being afraid to expect very much of the world, to hope for certain things. Things that I’m in a place now where they actually seem to be available, and the ball is in my court as to whether or not I’m going to pursue them and see if anything comes of it. I’m not used to that being the case. If it ever wasn’t the case. I’m used to seeing the world in such a way where it isn’t the case.
Habits die hard. Old or new. Habits die hard because we are made of them. They don’t work in terms of abstract logic; they work in terms of cause-and-effect, by the logic of ‘if something happens often enough, you get used to it’. Right and wrong, healthy and unhealthy – that’s not the kind of logic that habits operate by.
I have a habit of not wanting to do things. Writing is one of them. Taking chances on things I’m excited by the prospect of but afraid of backfiring is another. Sometimes they’re the same thing.
I have to think that somehow, I can use my habits to my advantage, that there’s some way to turn them against themselves, or divert them down a different path, apply them to a different scenario where they’ll actually be helpful and transformative rather than suffocating and restrictive. Which was the point of the life-draft.
I wonder how helpful this post is. To anyone.
Maybe I don’t want to write.
Maybe I want to wonder.
Maybe that’s all it is.
But at the end of the day, I know one thing for certain: I got that chapter revised, even though I didn’t want to, and that means I win.