Have you ever started something and then wondered why?
I’ve been feeling like that about writing. I’m one of those people who loves to have written, but often hates the actual process of writing. The times when writing feels smooth and effortless, when I actually feel happy and satisfied with my writing while actually writing are few and far between. I usually rely on favs, likes, and comments to keep my spirits up.
And there’s always punishment. I’m not Catholic, but sometimes it feels like I “got enough guilt to start my own religion.” It’s not fun, it’s not pretty, and I wish I wasn’t wired that way. I’ve used fear of punishment for failing to drive myself forward for years, and the worst demon is the one inside your head.
Needless to say, this is not the most healthy way to be productive. In fact, it’s becoming counter-productive since my energy levels are dropping and my life is more topsy-turvy than it’s ever been before. Being unsettled means that the delicate schedules I weld into place quickly fracture under life’s pressures, which only acts as further discouragement. I also have a bad habit of taking on too many projects when I’m feeling good, projects that I can’t always handle when I’m depressed, and when I have to cut back or don’t meet those goals, that only fuels the depression.
Right now I’m taking a break from Ravens and Roses to work on a high-octane project: The Dark Crystal. Did any of you watch the 1982 movie The Dark Crystal by Jim Henson and Frank Oz? Well, the Jim Henson Company has opened a contest for someone to write a new YA novel set in that universe. And, being the crazy person that I am, I’ve decided to enter. (Oh my god, this is really exciting! I’m feeling a spurt of enthusiasm just thinking about it!)
I’m using the July edition of Camp NaNoWriMo to get the first rough draft down…and while progress is being made, it’s a real killer. Being exhausted, depressed, and discouraged makes it difficult to churn out 1613 words a day, which is what I need to reach my 50,000-word goal. Now, of course, if I don’t reach that goal, it’s okay because I still have time to work on D.C.P. (short for Dark Crystal Project) even after Camp NaNo ends. But getting behind on your word count is never encouraging. Even though all the pep talks remind you that just trying is the important part, that any amount of writing you do is worthwhile, the site is set up in a very simple success/failure format. You either each the daily count (and thus the final count) or you don’t. As my onii-san David put it: “Even after a really good day – the overall word count would make you feel like you had won the battle but were losing the war.”
And it’s true. Right now I’m 8000 words behind and that thought makes me ill. But at the same time, I also know that if I keep pushing and punishing myself, I won’t get anything done. I need a new system to help me measure and celebrate progress, no matter how small, and try to get out of this cruel debilitating feedback loop of guilt and feelings of failure. Because I am a writer and I can do this. Just maybe not at this same grueling pace. I need to make allowances for life events beyond my control. I need to allow myself to be human, something I’ve been fighting against for the last two decades. Old habits are hard to break, but for the sake of my sanity as well as my writing, I have to try. There are better ways to measure progress.
“…remember that Willpower is strongest and healthiest when it tips towards Hope, and most dangerous when it tips towards Fear.”
— David Greenshell