Writing through Commitment Phobia

Below the cut is probably the best self-analysis and positive strategizing I’ve done on this blog. But it’s also long and navel-gazing and probably boring and annoying to anyone who’s not me, so I put it below a cut to spare any passersby. More than anything, this blog is a self-chronicle of my journey and process, and believe me, if I ever actually (by a miracle of the universe) write a book, I will want to read this post and remember where I’ve been. This could even be the turning point. 🙂 (It never is.)

But I’m also going to double post today and add a writing article, because I do want to go back to doing that more. I have lots of little guides and opinionated articles I’ve written for myself, and while they obviously haven’t done much for me, maybe they could help someone else. Or maybe they might just be interesting and spark someone else to write their own guides. Or maybe they’ll be ignored and just sit on the internet in anonymous perpetuity. Whatever… it’s fun and I have them and why not?

I truly wish everyone a happy New Year. Fire up those resolutions—finish that novel, write every day! I’m sending all wannabe writers and artists out there love and support and encouragement, because we all love stories and words and imagination, and there’s always room for more of that in the world. So go out there and create! This is your year! 😀

Writing through Commitment Phobia

The core of my lack of commitment is the insidious thought: “You could do better.” Sometimes it’s a generic negative thought, like “this idea sucks for X reason, and you could do better.” And sometimes it’s a specific ‘positive’ thought, like “that idea is definitely better than this one for X reason.” But they are both versions of the same idea: “You could do better.” Call it perfectionism, call it high standards, call it commitment phobia, whatever… the core of my doubt, the core of my inability to stick to one project through the end, through all the doubts along the way, is that one simple idea.

Where does it come from? One theory is that it emerges from the subconscious as the perfect technique to keep me from change, risk, and possible failure. Because if my subconscious just came out and said, “Don’t do that, it might be scary,” I’d say, “Fuck that, I’m doing it anyway, I’m better than my fear” (or at least I’d try to say that). So it sidles up to me and doesn’t say don’t do it at all, it says, “Okay, do it, but you could do better. I can help you do better. Stop and do this instead, and you will be better.” Because the subconscious is saying, to itself and to me, “If you’re better, you won’t have anything to fear.” And both me and my subconscious think that sounds pretty good, sounds about right. And I’m thinking, “Yeah, better. Who doesn’t want to be better? Why would I settle for crap when I could be better? I’ll be happier if I’m better. I’ll listen to that voice that says I could be better, I’ll do what it says, and I’ll be better. What could go wrong?”

But “better” doesn’t exist. Even now, a voice in my head is shouting: “Yes it does! Of course ‘better’ exists, better than this crap. This idea sucks for X, Y, and Z reasons, and those are real legit reasons for sucking. There is definitely something better than this. You just have to find it.” See, the trickiest thing is that those reasons for sucking are true. And when I look at some other idea that doesn’t share those reasons for sucking, it is—in a quantifiable, measurable, definite way—better. But then when I change to that idea, it has its own X, Y, and Z reasons for sucking (see my multiple personalities for the contradictory places different reasons/doubts come from). And then some other idea is quantifiably better than that one, so I switch again. Maybe I even switch back. And then again. And again. And… forever.

We’ve been here before. We’ve realized this before. All doubt is the subconscious’ fear. So I should just grit my teeth and willpower past the doubts, right? But then… I… don’t. I change my mind. I give up. I find a doubt and it worms its way inside me and I think, “I could do better,” so I change my mind again.

And even when I say, “Better doesn’t exist,” I still believe that it does somewhere deep inside. The subconscious keeps that little voice alive, the voice that says, “You could do better.” I can’t fight it, can’t ignore it, can’t work past it. I have to if I ever want to finish anything, but I can’t. I’ve been trying for years. How can I silence it—or ignore it—or work with it?

How do you learn to settle? (Now the voice is screaming: “Settling is for losers! For bored housewives who stick their heads in ovens! Don’t settle! NEVER SETTLE!”) How do you learn to say, “This idea is not perfect, is not better, not great, probably not even good, maybe even really, really bad. But I’m going to finish writing it anyway.”

Because the argument against settling basically goes like this: “This idea has legitimate X, Y, and Z reasons why I should not write it. Why I should stop and never let it see the light of day. If I finish it, and show it to anyone, they will point out X, Y, and Z reasons why I shouldn’t have written it, and they will be right. They will judge me, mock me, hate me, belittle me, and not pay me anything. I might be unhappy writing it, too, and then what will I have for all that willpower and effort? Nothing. Worse than nothing—I will get pain, shame, humiliation, fatigue, unhappiness. That’s much worse than what I have now. So I’ll wait, do nothing, stay in stasis… until I can do better.”

So why not walk away? Why not give up and end this cycle of fear and doubt? There’s no law that says I have to try and be a writer. I can walk away, and live a life. I won’t say a happy life, or an easy life, because it might not be either of those things. But the writing life sure isn’t shaping up to be anything. A big part of my “Evolution of a Dream” revelation was the point that the writing life might be just as unhappy and uneasy as any other life, and my idealized dream of being an author was just an emotional crutch. So why not walk away?

Honestly, I don’t know. All I know is that I can’t stop wanting to create and share. I get goose bumps when I think of people loving my books, of cheering crowds at Comic-Con (I have ridiculous dreams, I know). Actual, tingling, goofy-grin goose bumps (even while it scares the crap out of me). I love imagining movie trailers for my stories, or positive reviews, or fanart. My subconscious knows that putting a book out there means criticism, rejection, humiliation, negativity, and is afraid of all of that. But my dream is of the positivity and fandom and love that can come with publishing a book. And the lifestyle of just writing and creating all day, the business/job/career of running my own life, my own hours, my own creativity—I want it. Even when I’m deathly afraid of it, I want it. I can’t want anything else, because all I’ve ever wanted, even before I knew what it was, is this. Is writing. I can’t explain it, but I also can’t rid myself of it.

So why can’t I do it? You hear stories sometimes, of people who had desperate dreams—but they were horribly injured, or had twelve kids, or kept getting rejected by publishers, and they persevered through it and were triumphant, and isn’t that great? But if someone asked me why, when I have so much desire, I’m not a writer—why I don’t even write—I have no answer. Well, I have this whole blog as an answer, but it isn’t much of one. My only answer is, “I keep changing my mind. I mean, I have ideas, lots of ideas, but I can’t pick one and finish it. Most of the time I can’t even start it… So, that’s why I don’t write.” And, rightly so, they just kind of stare at me. And then they say, “Maybe you’re not really meant to be a writer. Maybe you don’t really want to write.”

Or maybe that’s just what I say to myself. What I’ve been saying to myself for the last ten years.

But then I still feel the want. Is it just years of ingrained thought patterns refusing to die? Maybe. But it feels like a real, burning, painful desire. Painful because it’s unfulfilled. Even more so because I have every possible ability to fulfill it—time, equipment, basic skills, ideas—and still nothing. Still the fear. Still apathy and a blank screen. Still “You could do better.”

Okay, I’ve become very good at diagnosing the problem. Now… how do I fix it?

***Strategy One***

Commit for one week (to start).

At a certain time on a certain date, I set a challenge for myself—commit to the ‘current’ idea for one week. I don’t have to commit to writing it, I don’t have to commit to it being “the one,” but I have to stay with this one idea for the entire week. Every time I have a doubt about this idea and want to change it, I work to re-commit… just for the rest of the week. During this week, I have to work on developing it and moving it towards production, but I only have to stay committed for one week. It’s a mind game thing, and it should be simple and easy, and already it has helped to fight off doubts because I just say—“one week, just one week.” So far, it’s been interesting and helpful. But it’s only day two.

***Strategy Two***

Everything’s a learning experience.

Instead of thinking of each idea and project as “the one,” the “big debut,” think of it as a chance to experiment and learn through writing—but only by finishing it. A big part of my overall (horrible) strategy is to pre-emptively avoid negative consequences and ‘save time’ by changing my idea before writing it, but the problem with this (besides the obvious one of falling into an infinite loop of doubt and stasis) is that I never really learn anything about writing. Instead of imagining the results of different choices, from reception to personal response, experience them by actually writing and FINISHING each project, getting the actual response, and then responding with another FINISHED project. Yes, this will take more time because I will be forced to write out entire projects before responding to my doubts about them, but I have several answers to that. First, I have already spent years ‘saving time’ with preemptive responses, so it obviously isn’t the faster path. Second, I will learn so much more about what the actual consequences feel like, as well as developing my writing skills in a way that just thinking about writing never could. And third, I could still publish my ‘experiments’ and learn from that process as well, even if it’s not the big rock star debut I claim to want; it would at least be a little money (possibly, if it’s even publishable at all), and I would learn about being an author by being one, and when I did reach the point in my experiments where I was doing great things, I would be more ready than ever to, well, do it.

The point of this is when I have a thought about how that’s not the best choice, or that character could be more developed, or these parallel storylines are too repetitive, or do I even want to write in this world—I go ahead and write it anyway. Even the worst dreck of my ideas, the absolutely, objectively, not-just-middle-of-the-draft-but-actually-a-horrible-idea worst writing ever stuff, should STILL BE WRITTEN AND FINISHED. And then I learn from it—from actually writing it, not just thinking about it—and move on. But in the meantime, I have a finished project (that I might even be able to publish), I have learned from actually writing, and if nothing else, I have learned how to finish a project. Trust me, that’s worth everything to me right now.

Both of these strategies are simple, obvious, probably very natural to most wannabe writers out there. To me they are revelations, evolutions… hope. As I stare ahead into the new year, into yet another resolution that “this is the year,” as I look back at yet another year gone with only a blank screen to show for it… I still have hope. I still have a dream.

Now I have to make it come true. 🙂


About J. Sevick

Just write.
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