writing recap 2018: w44

This week was rather eventful on the writing front.

I finished out my October flash fiction challenge. Overall, I felt like it was a success. Upon reflection, it helped me establish a few helpful patterns of thought and behavior. I learned to stop shooting down my own ideas and to follow them down their little paths instead. I got better at thinking through plot points and being a bit more agile instead of throwing up my hands and self-flagellating.

I’ve been using the technique of “meditating productively” (from Deep Work by Cal Newport) — while I’m doing something that occupies me physically (dishes, vacuuming, walking, etc.), I’ve been deliberately focusing my attention on figuring out plot for whichever piece I’m working on. I mostly use this technique in the shower now. And by the end of the month, I didn’t have to redirect my attention nearly as much. I would just get in the shower, and my brain would think “Oh, I guess it’s time to spitball ideas about where this story is going,” and away we would go. This means that I have many podcasts that are still unlistened to, but a bunch of pieces of fiction that I think have potential. I’m more than happy with that trade off.

The other major writing event was the kick-off of NaNoWriMo, of course.

My mindset this year feels very different than last. Last year, I was full of nervous excited energy and not sure that I could write so many words in a month. This year, after some initial nerves, I’m feeling pretty calm and measured about it. I mean, once I decided I was going to do it (not try to do it). Once you just accept the truth of your success or failure, there’s no more agonizing. Like, ho hum, this is just part of my routine right now.

My plan is to write around 2000 words a day, while taking Sundays off and accounting for some lost days around Thanksgiving. I should still come in nicely at goal even with those allowances.

I still have doubts. The two loudest ones are “what if I’m not good enough to write this story yet?” and “what if I don’t have the endurance to stick with this story through the end?”. When the first comes up, I mostly shrug. How would I know if I’m “good enough” (whatever that means) to write this story if I don’t try to write the story? So although that doubt still sits with me, there’s not really anything I can do about it.

The second doubt is a slightly more interesting one. Because if you think of endurance/willpower/the-ability-to-do-deep-work as a muscle that needs exercising, then the only solution is to just do it (the Nike slogan applies everywhere).

But the deeper fear underlying both is that it’s going to be hard. That it won’t feel easy and simple all the time. That it’ll feel terrible and difficult and frustrating. And, well, yeah. I mean, it will. (That’s why one of my morning page daily “affirmation” things is “It’s supposed to be hard.”) And not only is that okay, but it’s expected, and I’m going to fucking do it anyway.

(Buckle up. I get a little rant-y from here.)

I’m not good at being bad at things. I know that sounds like a weird brag, but I think it’s something that’s true for pretty much everyone, adults and children alike. We’re not routinely taught that it’s okay to “fail” and to suck at something. We gravitate to the things we are good at and tend to drop (with whatever justifications we need to tell ourselves and others) the things that we don’t immediately take to. This is a universal human tendency that requires deliberate work to overcome. No one wants to feel like they are bad at something, even though usually you have to be bad at it before you can be good at it.

I think this is why a lot of people don’t want to learn something new.

Learning a new thing is uncomfortable — it forces you to confront the fact that you aren’t good at everything. That maybe there is something you suck at. It shakes your perception of self. People are more willing to jump through hoops and do mental contortions and bend over backwards than they’re willing to leave the certainty of perceived mastery for the uncertainty of something novel. Even if it’s to their detriment.

We all become entrenched in habits because they are familiar. Whether or not they feel good or are optimal or even just helpful doesn’t matter. They are familiar. That’s one of the main reasons why it’s so hard to break out of habit loops and automatic behavior. There is comfort in confidence. Growth requires sitting in discomfort. Living in it. Coming to terms with it.

All that to say, go be bad at something. Go fail at something over and over again until you get better. Don’t let your jerkbrain stop you.

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