Taking the Pressure Off


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It used to be that I set the timer on the stove to countdown
the number of minutes in my strength training routine. “I pick things up. I put
things down,” is not my idea of fun, no matter how good it is for my body.
Lately, I’ve been using the timer on my smart phone to tick off the minutes I
spend writing, forcing myself to maintain BIC (butt in chair) for a full hour
of fictional writing. When it occurred to me that I was employing the same
technique for my passion as I was my unpleasant necessities, I was a little
alarmed. I momentarily questioned whether I had lost my love of writing, of
telling tales. But I knew that wasn’t the problem. The problem I’m having
writing my next book is that I’ve written a first book, and a second, and I’ve
learned a tremendous amount from both experiences.

Hypothetically, that should make the process easier. In some
ways it does. I have a much better understanding as I’m writing what will need
to be added, what will needed to be clarified, and what will just need to go. I
know the process and steps involved between where I am and a published piece. I
know the amount of work involved after it’s published.

I know too much. 

I’ve written before about how the process of writing a book
has forever changed the way I read. I notice techniques I never would have
noticed and criticize flaws (many of which my own writing mirrors) where I
otherwise would have shrugged them off and just enjoyed the story. It took some
time and still takes a good book, but for the most part I learned to turn this
part of my brain off when I read for enjoyment.

Instead I’ve turned it on as I write. Fantastic. Now every
time I sit down to draft, I have the voices of editors, reviewers, and grammar
police all shouting over one another like those loud relatives at family
dinners. And just like the deafening din at those gatherings, it can drown out
any lucid thought beyond, “where’d the wine go?”

If about now you’re thinking that perhaps I need
anti-hallucinogens rather than vino, fear not. I am aware that the voices in my
head are my own. I’m just not entirely sure how to shut them up. It used to be
that I thought up a scene and wrote it down, just like that. I didn’t evaluate
its worth in my overall plot mapping. I didn’t dissect it at the sentence and
word level. Those were steps for the later in the process. Writing was the
spewing stage. Revising and editing were the mopping it up and garnishing it
like a gourmet meal stages. Now that the steps are all garbled, I find myself choking
out a few chunks of story and instantly declaring it garbage. Sometimes the
words haven’t even made it to the page before I began my chant of “This sucks.
This really sucks.”

And it does. No, not the writing, at least not always. What
sucks is the pressure, once published and more knowledgeable about what good
writing ought to be, to constantly write something of that caliber. Pressure
put on me…by me. And therein lies the rub. In order to return to those blissful
days of writing whatever strange things came into my head, all I really need to
do is get over myself. It’s not like I’m J.K. Rowling who’ll likely never write
another book with as much pull as her first series. I’ve got miles to go in my
journey before I ought to worry about anyone reading a draft (which no one but
my mom and a couple best friends are ever privy to anyway) and saying with a
haughty sigh, “It just doesn’t live up to the standards set by her earlier
volumes.” I mean seriously, where do I get off stifling my own creativity? How
do I think I am? (Okay, on second thought, maybe I ought to look into those
meds after all.)

Talking earlier this afternoon with a close friend and fellow
artist who admitted she’s had similar experiences as she’s become more knowledgeable
(and extremely talented) in her own field, allayed my fear that I’d lost my
passion. It comes down to taking the pressure off oneself. There are always
plenty of volunteers to criticize our work. We don’t need to be one of them, at
least not in the early creating stages. What we do sometimes need, though, is a
best friend to offer sound and frank advice: “Just write that shit. Just write

And to think of the money I’ve spent on writing conferences, when really
it boils down to just that. Write it. Ju
st write it. The rest are
worries for another day.


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