With three deaths in the family over the past few months, not to mention holiday visits with family, my regular writing schedule has unquestionably taken a hit. There have been days and even weeks of interruptions. Each time, as I’ve gotten back to my writing, I’ve noticed a definite pattern:
- Paralyzing fear about starting back again. I make dire predictions to my husband who refuses to take me seriously. I say stuff like: “I’ve lost the muse.” “I don’t think I can write anymore.” “Whatever made me think I could do this?”
- The Search to Take on Anything Other Than Writing (otherwise known as acute procrastination and avoidance). This involves figuring out ingenious reasons why I can’t possibly write that day. My office needs shoveling, I really need to check my email, and oh, what about my taxes?
- The Beating Myself Up Stage. I chastise myself for not writing. What kind of lazy good-for-nothing am I? I decide I need to get a grip. Time to make a writing schedule and practice the only thing that’s ever worked for me to get back on track: Butt-in-Chair.
- Day #1 of Butt-in-Chair— Feeling acutely anxious and resistant, I plop myself down on my office chair, force myself to open up my manuscript, and read over what I’ve got so far. Hmm… not as awful as I thought. I make some edits and then decide I have to move on. I remind myself of my favorite quote from grad school: “You can’t fix a blank page,” and tentatively begin. I barely survive the morning and get only a few hundred words written.
- Day # 2 of Butt-in-Chair—I re-read what I’ve done the day before and pick up where I left off. It feels a smidgeon easier, and I lose track of time as I’m working. My word count shoots up to my daily goal of 1,000. I start to feel better about myself.
- Day #3 and Beyond of Butt-in-Chair- I can’t believe it! I’m writing again. It feels good. I write 1400 words. I’m on a roll—well, mostly. There are still those days when the words don’t come easily, but mostly, I’m immersed in my fictional world and moving forward with my story.
Of course, the next time there’s any major interruption, I’m back to #1. My poor husband has to listen to my laments all over again.
It turns out that I’m hardly alone in being dogged by self-doubts and anxiety about writing. In her classic craft book, Writing Fiction, Janet Burroway comments: “It helps to know that most writers share the paradox of least wanting to do what we most want to do.” She goes on to say that whenever she talks to writers about what they find the hardest, they tell her that “they feel they aren’t good enough, that the empty page intimidates them, that they are in some way afraid.”
All I can say is, Janet Burroway has never met me, but boy, has she nailed how I feel! And for me, there’s only one thing that works to overcome my fear: put my butt in the chair and get to work. It’s the only prescription I find myself needing to refill again and again.