I have been struggling all year with returning to my writing schedule of up-at-five, write-then-run-then-go-to-work.
I miss it.
I miss the quiet hours, the feeling of words spilling out of my fingers, of creating characters and emotions.
Now, I have a pile of raw words that need to be edited into a coherent… what?
Sitting down with a hard copy of my words, which I’ve already scratched all over in color-coded pens, to fill in gaps and make cuts and analyze… well, turns out that is not as much fun as letting the words just come in whatever order they appear, cranking out the “shitty first draft” as Anne Lamott would say.
The shitty first draft wasn’t shitty until I started editing. I gave myself the freedom to just write, without censure and without editing as I went. I knew that, for me, getting the words out was the most important part. The minute I’d start to edit, I knew the words would stop, so I just went. For 70,000 words.
Every day I sat down, I felt like I was making progress, even if it was just 100 words. Something existed in the world that didn’t before, that I made, and that was an amazing feeling. I knew I’d edit later, so off I’d go, pulling words from the ether and putting them into blank space.
Now, as I go back to edit, it’s not as if I’m dramatically crumpling up pages and throwing them in the wastebasket, or even reading something and mentally judging myself in a “how could you ever write THAT?” kind of way. I even did a six-week online critique workshop to hold me accountable and enter into that scary space of… having someone actually read what I’d written.
Now that’s over, and I don’t think I’ve touched my words in a month. Because, editing is not fun.
It doesn’t not evoke the same sense of accomplishment, the same sense of my words clearing the brambles in my brain, the same sense of ethereal creation. It is tedious, it is by nature judgmental, it is cranky and mean. It is a schoolteacher with a ruler on my knuckles, a coach with a whistle timing me doing push-ups, a boss wondering why I’m five minutes late clocking in.
It is, however (perhaps unlike those examples) necessary.
It is necessary if I ever want to move my words from a year-and-a-half-long self-care practice into a piece of art. The kind that other people see. The kind that other people connect with.
The kind that opens myself up to all kinds of vulnerabilities and fears: what if it’s terrible, what if no one reads it, what if I don’t find anyone to help me through the process, what if I can’t edit it so that it’s actually good, what if… what if it doesn’t actually matter?
So, in addition to the fact that editing really isn’t fun, it also is bringing me one step closer to having to face all these fears. No wonder I’m hitting snooze on my alarm, making excuses, finding other things to do. I’m so focused on the “editing is hard and no fun” bit that I forget to provide myself the right tools and mindset to do the harder thing, which is to face the fear.
But if I can acknowledge that I’m not just avoiding editing, that I’m trying to avoid fear, I at least can get to the heart of the matter. Fear never goes away, so I can learn to look it in the eye and proceed, anyway. Acknowledging that the fear is there means I won’t be surprised when it feels hard and heavy to get out of bed—it means there’s more there than just the simple act of getting up and going to my computer, it’s also facing fear and doubt and insecurity, so of course it’s hard!
I think a big part of facing these things is expecting that it will be hard, so that it’s not surprising when it is hard. The difficulty can stop me in my tracks if I’m not prepared for it. And then I get critical of stopping, something like, “Just get out of bed, just make the time, what’s wrong with you, you can’t even do that, it shouldn’t be this hard.”
What if, instead, I could tell myself, “You have some fear and doubt and insecurity, so let’s take it one step at a time and just do what you can today. It will be hard but think of how worth it, what a big challenge this will be to overcome, how proud you’ll be.”
That’s something worth getting out of bed for.