I fumbled the A to Z Challenge. Again.
But rather than asking myself why I even bother to jump into things that I obviously can't handle I'm going to stick to telling myself, "It's better to have strived and failed than never to have striven at all."
Still, I think I've learned something important about myself. (Something more than "Oh God, remind me never to try the A to Z again.") Or at least finally managed to get it through my thick skull:
I can't handle hard deadlines or schedules.
Now, let me clarify. I've tried deadlines and schedules. I've tried them in abundance. I've tried participating in the excellent A Round of Words in 80 Days, which is about as lenient a writing challenge as you can get, and I even signed up for NaNoWriMo last year, a much stricter challenge, and gave that a shot. I've tried setting my own goals somewhere in between. I've tried telling myself "just write something, anything, even if it's only one sentence of fiction, everyday." I've tried various daily word count goals. I've tried every type of goal I can think of.
But here's the thing... (and when you read that, I want you to hear it in the voice of Tony Shalhoub as Monk, because I always do.) Here's the thing... I become hopelessly anxious at the thought of deadlines. And it doesn't matter what word you use. Call it a goal, call it a challenge, call it whatever you want. My inner demons aren't fooled. If I'm supposed to accomplish a specific task by a specific time/date then I can't handle it.
Trivia: in my senior year of high school I was supposed to write a 10 page paper for my English class. I couldn't handle the deadline for this paper. It passed by and I hadn't even read the book I was supposed to be analyzing. (I never actually did read the whole thing. It was an awful book, but there was a list of books we were supposed to choose from and I was sick that day so when I came back to school I had to choose from the dregs.) Weeks passed. My teacher finally cornered me and made it clear that my grade would be shot if I didn't turn in that paper. Filled with anxiety, I forced myself to write 10 pages of, what I thought of as, drivel. (Have I mentioned that I hate literary criticism? Which is basically what we were supposed to do.) Well, I must have simulated what my teacher wanted well enough because despite taking off 20 points for being late, I scraped a grade of 77.
What's the point of that story? There's a part of me that knows perfectly well that I can do the tasks that are set for me. I'm a smart, competent person and even a decent writer and part of me knows it. The other part is thoroughly convinced that I'm a failure at everything I do and that I can't write worth crap. The second part of me is usually in charge. And fighting against that part of me, even thinking about going against it, causes terrible anxiety EVEN WHEN I KNOW, LOGICALLY, THAT THAT PART OF ME IS WRONG. I've talked a bit about my anxiety before. Anxiety is painful in a very physical as well as mental way and it's exhausting to struggle with it. And people, like me, with real anxiety problems (I take medication, but it only helps so much) have no control over how our minds and bodies react to it.
I can't handle deadlines. They give me panic attacks. They paralyze my mind and body.
So what can I do?
I think the key to why deadlines give me such anxiety is that they are in the future. During all the time between NOW and THEN my mind has ample opportunity to play on my insecurities. (And it has a rip roaring time, let me tell you.) I usually start out well. But as time passes everything becomes more and more difficult for me to face. Perhaps, then, I should eliminate that time factor. But how?
I'm also the type of person who needs to feel prepared when I sit down to write. Otherwise uncertainty creeps in and that leads to more anxiety. I need to have my research done, my notes to hand, and at least a rough outline of what I want to accomplish with my story in mind. Right now I don't feel prepared. So I'm going to focus on preparation, because the thought of research and outlining doesn't freak me out like the thought of actually writing the story does. And I think if I'm better prepared then the thought of writing the story will freak me out less.
So my goal is to finish all of my research and worldbuilding notes and outlines by the end of the summer. (By that I mean the end of summer vacation.) Right now I've got 5 kids, 2 of which are in school. In September my middle child will be starting kindergarten. That will mean only the two little ones home and they both take good naps during the day. So if I can manage to finish everything I need to feel prepared over the summer, I'm going to try to discipline myself to sit down and write during nap time. I'm not going to set wordcount goals or anything, I'm not event going to set myself the goal of writing everyday. I'm just going to try to set up a correlation in my mind: nap time>write. I won't guilt myself if I miss a day or if I can only get a sentence down before the boys wake up. I will try to empty my mind of all pressures associated with writing. It will simply be nap time>write.
I will just have to wait and see whether this method will be helpful to me. Every writer needs to find their own method, their own positive habits, what works for them. I'm still searching. Perhaps once I have begun to find it I will feel that I can begin to call myself a real writer. Stay tuned.