Performance Anxiety

There’s always a period of time before I start a project where I’m afraid of what I’m about to do. I’ll have everything planned out– unless it’s one of those woah where’d you come from, let’s get you over with quickly then, ideas– and I’ll be excited to get to work so I can see my quiet thoughts live and in colour in front of me. Except, the closer I get to my start date, the more I balk.

I feel like anyone who’s serious about writing doubts their ability; I have days where I’m like, psh, I’m so good at this, I was born to do this, why did I ever want to do anything else? Those are the rare days, if I’m speaking honestly; the other ninety percent of the time I’m left scrutinizing ideas or already written works and thinking about how hard this stuff is. For every good sentence I write, there’s about sixteen more awful ones, and if I’m not tearing my hair out at that point, there’s likely a screw loose. But then I suppose every author has felt like that before they really got going, and continued to deal with that apprehension after they discovered that they could make a living from their scribbles.

I know that with enough elbow (knuckle?) grease I can write good stories, ones that people will read and talk about. It’s just that it’s easier to imagine success than it is to actively achieve it, and that scares the hell out of me. I’m not afraid of the work, believe it or not. There’s nothing I love more than a good heavy writing session (editing is a completely different story; editing is a process Satan himself invented, I’m sure). I also revel in the rush I get when I finish a large project. (Again, editing excluded. Because that is like pulling teeth.)

What I’m scared of is starting. Because once you start, anything can happen. Once you start, there’s a possibility that you can get thinking about what crap the whole thing is and give up before you’re done. Or you can reach the end and cut off all the rough bits and slap a fresh coat of paint on your piece and send it out into the world with a bow in its hair only to be ridiculed by all who see it. Once you start, you can fail, and doesn’t that just scare you to bits?

It doesn’t always happen that way, I know. There are books on the market and short stories in magazines to prove that. But in the beginning, at that place where everything is rusty, and getting anything out is a whole lot like trying to get the first few sips of a chocolate milkshake through a plastic straw, it always feels like you’re headed straight down the not-so-nice and difficult path. I find myself thinking about quitting more in those beginning stages than I do at any other part of the project.

scared

It’s probably not even that bad; I’m a total wuss.

I guess in that way, writing–like starting a workout plan or committing to piano lessons– is very much a test of faith in yourself. Nothing good ever comes easy, but whether you finish– regardless of the outcome– comes right down to how bad you want to get to the end. And because of how bad I always seem to want to get to the end, I push through the terror I feel at the beginning, right through the muck of the first few paragraphs, and then, once I’m up to a good clip, I keep going, because that’s what I was born to do.

But don’t you dare mention the word editing, yet. That shouldn’t come in until it is absolutely necessary. Before that point it is a forbidden swear, and until then, the project is beautiful and everything is perfect and don’t you ruin it, you little wretch.

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3 thoughts on “Performance Anxiety

  1. “I feel like anyone who’s serious about writing doubts their ability,” I completely agree. People that don’t write think is easy, and is so damn hard! I feel sometimes I am building a Cathedral, and the untrained eye see it as a hut with no roof. And many times the other way around, I read my work and think a five year old could have done it, and then someone comes and tells me they are crying or excited or laughing and I surprise myself.

  2. I can relate with this too. But, once you start all the magic starts to happen. It’s an amazing, fun journey. Then you get to the end of your first draft, and you make the same face as Kuzco. Fortunately, it’s all worth it!

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