Recently I looked back at an old writing journal I kept a few years ago. I was using it as a place to brainstorm about what I was writing (I was attempting to start a novel), as well as a dumping ground for emotions, ideas, and anything else I needed to get out onto paper. For example, the journal is dotted with little poems, like this one:
Did you forget, yet again, how I detest mayonnaise?
Like globs of white snot spread across fatty ham —
I’ve told you before how it sogs the bread.
And then when I said, “I won’t eat that,”
You gave me a look like I had stabbed your heart.
There were also bits of prose and character sketches and snippets of writing exercises. There were letters and diary entries written by characters I was considering and descriptions of dreams I had. But mostly the journal was filled with my paralyzing fear.
This was back in the summer of 2012. I had just quit my full-time job, and I was giving myself one year to “make it happen” with my writing career before I would essentially demote writing to the status of hobby and go back to teaching high school math full-time.
I was freaked out by my own ultimatum, plus the fact that I had my MFA in Fiction Writing and had yet to produce a novel I thought was worth showing to people. I was desperate to prove myself…even if it was just to myself.
Here are a few of my entries:
Okay, so I’m terrified. I am now terrified of writing. I am becoming one of these crazy writers who never writes but talks about writing and stresses about writing and gets super neurotic and does all these other things like baking bread or cleaning the house (both of which I did today) instead of writing. What I need to do is go back to is this idea of me as a well-rounded person, and writing is one of the things (not the only thing) that I do, and then maybe I won’t put so much pressure on it.
What I need to do is just think of some interesting characters and put them in an interesting situation and just let it be a type of book I would want to read. Why can’t I seem to do that?
I’m terrified. I’m stuck. I’m absolutely stuck. What should I write about? Tanorexia? The fear of summer? My terrible overwhelming sense of dread? I have to write something. And I will. I need to take a walk.
Today has been a terrible day for writing. I went for a walk. I tried (and failed) to meditate. I read and took notes from a craft book. I am just really humbled by this process. I need to just pick someone and make something happen to him/her, but I know that in order to stick it out for a whole novel, it has to be someone I’m interested in. It has to be something I’m interested in writing about and it has to be written in a style that I can keep up throughout the whole thing. Sigh.
As I read over these emotional entries, I have two thoughts. The first is that I’m so glad that I’m not quite so terrified anymore. Oh sure, I still have doubts all the time about my writing ability, and I still procrastinate and worry and stress (I’m doing some of that right now as I try to get back into writing after a few months of revision), but not nearly to the degree that I was freaking out a few years ago. Since then, I have written a few novels I’m decently pleased with, and I’ve gotten an agent. Those accomplishments don’t take the fear away by any means, but knowing that I’ve been in this scary beginning place before and made it through to the other side is comforting.
My second thought is: gosh, I bet most writers have these same feelings sometimes.
Back then part of the reason my fear was so intense was because I didn’t quite realize that most writers, most creative people in fact, feel this way. I wasn’t the only person in the world agonizing over what to write and how to write it. I wasn’t the only person in the world feeling like I would let people down (including myself) if I didn’t produce something amazing (and produce it right now).
Knowing you’re not the only writer with these struggles doesn’t take the fear away. But it can help to lessen it. It can help to take a little bit of the pressure away.
So today, this is my gift to the writing community: my slightly embarrassing journal entries (and there are many more than the four above!) to let you know that you’re not alone.