The Replay Button: Writing and Fear

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I haven’t written seriously on my second draft for an inordinate amount of time. A few days passed, then a week, and now another. And now the guilt is beginning to sink in. It started out with the lie that I was just trying to sort out the ending of the story in my head— that I just needed time to let it sit right. Sometimes, that is what my draft needs. But not this time.

Drowning in distractions left and right, with a new microphone and a trial of a video editing software that I love (and yet am too poor to buy), I haven’t given much thought to why I’ve left my draft high and dry.

I’m approaching the end. I have a relatively solid idea of where I want the story to go. I should be seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I should be hurtling along towards the end like in my first draft. But I’m not. I’m drowning in doubts. It occurred to me, finally, while I was editing my video, what the big issue is. I was nearing the end of the editing process when I was struck with a really familiar feeling— doubt. About 3/4 of the way through, when I should have been proud and happy to be nearing the end, I was frozen. A parade of negative thoughts whirled through my head: It’s not good enough. That cut was lazy— you should go fix it. There isn’t enough flash here. Your transition is bad here. This is dumb anyway— who would watch it? (which might actually be a valid point with this video). Sound familiar? It did to me, anyway. It was the same voice that has somehow ceased any progress I might have been making on my second draft.

It was fear. I’m afraid of failure. I’m afraid that this draft won’t live up to my (too high) expectations. I want to fix things— to make certain parts better, or worth reading. But I can’t yet. The ending is so entirely dependent on set up and what you’ve written before, that there is no turning back at this point. And that’s why I’m frozen, I think.

I want it to be brilliant. I want the story to make people laugh and cry. But I can’t make it better until I finish it. At this point, the best I can hope for is to write the ending to the best of my abilities, and move on from there.

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If you’re a perfectionist (you know who you are), I think we all struggle with this. It’s so hard to let go and enjoy the creative process. We want to fix things, and we want to fix them now. But you can’t fix a story when it isn’t written yet, a difficulty I’m learning firsthand. We have to trust the process— to be messy and turn off the judgmental voice that says it isn’t good enough.

The hardest part? That voice might be right. Few things are ‘good enough’ the first time through, or even the second or third. I know this intellectually, but it’s harder to follow through on an emotional level while I’m worrying about someone being out of character, or a plot point that doesn’t make sense, or pacing issues.

But things can be made ‘good enough’ if we just persevere. The replay button is there for a reason in video editing software. The editing process is there for a reason in the writing world. I think it really just boils down to three things:

Write. Write again. Write some more.

I did finally finish my video, and I feel like it turned out nicely enough, so maybe I should take it as a sign. Maybe no amount of worrying or hair-pulling will make my story great. Maybe the best thing to do is just trust creativity and let things happen the way they’re meant to. Some of my favorite parts of my silly video were complete accidents— I dumped a clip somewhere meaning to do something with it, and it sparked a chain of clips that I love now.

I can’t help but think that writing is the same way. When we struggle, worry, and grind our teeth— when we try to force the story, nothing good ever comes from it. But when we let go of our control, some of our best scenes are written.

Don’t let fear stop you from creating a great story. Turn off the inner judge and make something amazing.

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