I have this self-imposed goal of writing every weekday night. It’s Wednesday night at 9:30, which means I should be writing. Instead, I am sitting on my bed researching ski boots while half-watching reruns of Parks and Recreation and texting with a friend. My mind is swimming with Chipotle’s stubborn refusal to compromise on their pork, a tentative list of who might deserve some glitter mail, and the knowledge that the ski boots I’ve had for 14 years are at least a half-size too small for my feet. I’m hip deep in procrastination. Writing is the last thing I want to do right now. Sleeping is the first thing.
Sometimes writing is what keeps me strong by giving me a voice. Sometimes it’s a boulder hanging over my head, and I am slowly gnawing my way through the rope keeping it aloft. Sometimes it’s my confessional, my confidante, my savior. Sometimes it’s a catty seventh grade girl pointing at me while telling everyone what a loser I am. I never know what to expect from day-to-day. I never know how it will go.
Writing would be much easier if every blog could be like an episode of Seinfeld, the show about nothing. I’d never have to worry about making sense, creating flow, delivering something meaningful. I could go with the stream-of-consciousness method. I would write whatever came into my head, no judgment and no self-criticism, and no room for self-aggrandizement. The act of writing can be more important than what is said, right? In my blog about nothing, creative process trumps final outcome.
This is either the most brilliant, brave thing I’ve ever imagined or the best-conceived con job I’ve ever pulled over on myself as a justification for slop. It’s my blog. I’ll just write whatever I want. And as long as the last episode doesn’t find me wearing an orange jumpsuit and sitting in prison, I’ll be just fine. It worked for Jerry Seinfeld.
As the time ticked by this evening and I was watching the Colorado Avalanche lose game 6 of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, I knew that writing tonight would be damn near impossible. I was distracted and I could not think of a thing to say. I’d pretty much resolved to call it a night and put off writing until tomorrow when I came across this little Bunny Buddhism gem in my book:
The wise bunny knows there is no tomorrow, only a string of todays.
Well, crap. That’s a wrinkle in my procrastination plans.
I try to remind myself of life’s fleeting nature. I try not to take anything for granted. I get out of the car every morning at school drop off to give my boys a hug and a kiss. They hate it. On some days, they tear out of the car and I have to chase them across the lawn in front of the building to do it, catching them by their backpacks and kissing them on their heads in front of their teachers and friends and embarrassing the living hell out of them, but I make sure I am never in too much of a rush to miss the opportunity. I may only have today to show them how much I love them. It’s worth the full-scale sprint in my yoga pants in front of the carpool parents because you just never know. I live 6.5 miles from Columbine High School. My heart is engraved with unexpected loss.
I seriously doubt that overnight a full-scale invasion by a malevolent alien race will kill my chances for writing tomorrow. I also doubt that I will die quietly in my sleep (knock on wood), which would certainly render it more difficult for me to compose anything on WordPress tomorrow. (There might be a story idea in there, though, about zombie writers.) In all likelihood, there will be time for me to write later because I will wake up tomorrow, chase my kids down at school, and return home to my laptop refreshed and hopefully with something clever or at least vaguely interesting to say. But, just in case, I will put these words down now as an insurance policy because I understand that no one is guaranteed a tomorrow. If you spend too much time counting on future moments, you fritter away the ones that are happening now. There’s always time in the present. Recognize it’s there and make the most of it. Today is as good as it gets, people. Each day is a pearl on a string. If you’re lucky, one day you’ll have a magnificent strand.
Buttercup (referring to the Fire Swamp): “We’ll never survive.”
Wesley: “Nonsense. You’ve only saying that because no one ever has.”
~The Princess Bride
Someone asked me yesterday where I am with the book I am working on. It was a polite question, meant only to show interest in my progress. I have been dreading this question because, well, the truth is that I am nowhere with the book I am working on because I haven’t really started it. Wait. That’s not totally true. I have two ideas fleshed out and a couple chapters in each story attempt. I also have another story idea that I really kind of like, but it is still flipping over and over in my brain like a rock in a tumbler until I decide it’s shiny enough for me to write. So, I guess I have started writing. I simply haven’t made any real progress on an actual book.
A couple days ago I began analyzing my situation to determine what is causing my writing paralysis. Originally I blamed it on a lack of time. I used my blog as an excuse. Well, I’ve been off my blog more or less for over a month now and I haven’t added one lousy, stinking word to any of my started stories. Not one. I haven’t worked on a character sketch or written an outline. Aside from giving a couple hours’ worth of mental massage to my stories, I haven’t done a thing. I don’t suppose I can blame my blog for my lack of progress anymore. I have time now that the boys are back in school. As I documented the other day, I’ve had enough time to clean out my pantry, hand wash the floors, and dust baseboards. All those housecleaning maneuvers are clearly nothing but the actions of a desperate woman. I’m uncomfortable enough with the idea of having to write something creative that I cleaned out my pantry. I hadn’t done that job properly once in the ten years we’ve been in this house. Interesting that I should decide now is the time to remedy that situation.
Tonight, though, during a conversation with my sister it hit me. I was able to admit what is at the root of my procrastination. It’s fear. I’m afraid I won’t be able to do it. I’m afraid that if I do finish it that it still won’t be worth reading. I’m concerned that perhaps my putting myself forth as a writer was a mistake because if I do this and I’m not successful then I won’t even be able to claim that I am a writer. And, I only just got up the nerve to admit that I’m a writer a little less than a year ago. What if I’m a sham?
I’m a smart gal. I know there are no guarantees. I know that the best things in life come when you take a risk. I know that life is a growth proposition and to make forward progress you actually have to move. I know all these things. So, what the hell is my problem? Why am I being such a scaredy cat? And, how do I get beyond my fear? How do I make it through the Fire Swamp when I don’t see any way to survive?
I’d love to believe I could face the Fire Swamp the way that Wesley did, with optimism, blind faith, and complete confidence that it would all simply somehow work out. But, I don’t work that way, which is what has gotten me into this predicament in the first place. Rather than taking Wesley’s approach, like Inigo Montoya, I think I need to go back to the beginning. I need to make mini-goals that aren’t as scary as the goal of writing an actual book. Perhaps, first I will write a paragraph and see how that goes. Maybe I can do that every day for a week and then gradually, over time, I will find that fiction writing isn’t really as terrifying as I’m imagining? I nearly stalled out on my 80-page Master’s thesis due to this same type of writer’s paralysis, but I survived that Fire Swamp so I’m fairly certain I can negotiate this one. I have to stop telling myself I can’t. There are no flame spurts, lightning sand, or R.O.U.S. here, anyway, so that means my chances of survival are pretty good.