I retaught myself a lesson in perseverance yesterday. For the first time, I wrote a whole article and polished it up in one sitting of about three hours early in the morning. Not a very long article, about 800 words, but the task included quite a bit of googling, reading and making notes, and at the end of the exercise, I was thrilled.
I had done it. I had shown to myself the first definitive, even if limited, success in my efforts to maintain a high level of focus over a sustained period of time. My efforts had been ongoing over the last couple of years. They had slipped and slithered and finally gained some traction over the last year. During this time, I started daily meditation sessions. In recent days, I have been able to consistently wake up and get to work early in the morning. I mean early. More recently, I have started running part of the way on my daily walks, and am learning to eschew excuses for evading. You know, things like that microscopic bump on my big toe where the mosquito fracked last night, which could get inflamed if I go on my walk.
You will pardon me if I feel a bit smug about my own perseverance… just a tiny bit, smaller than that mosquito’s bump. I assure you, it will pass fast, because I still have that big fear to overcome.
You know what I mean. I am talking about the fear that threatens to erode your self-assurance, to dampen your spirits and dilute your efforts. The dread that keeps telling you to just give it up. “You know you can’t do it. You are not all that great a writer. You are better off getting a regular job and earning a regular salary.”
Every time you give it an opportunity, the angst tells you that as a writer, you are worse than a schoolboy faking a parental explanation for skipping classes. It tells you that you couldn’t write a good book if the soul of Shakespeare were to possess you.
Who reads Shakespeare nowadays, anyway?
This disquiet plays with your emotions. It encourages you to put your writing ambitions in cold storage. “Pull out now from this lunacy,” it says, “before you take it so far as to actually write and publish a book that is bound to lay an egg and get you in hot water. It is going to expose you to the world as an incompetent imbecile incapable of inking a complete one-sentence paragraph.”
Your fear will continue: “People will say, I knew it, he’s just another moron who thought he had it in him to write a book. I knew it was all just a sham.”
My funk seems to gather perseverance as my word count gathers numbers. Somewhere around the one-third stage of my book, it has become a demon that sits on my shoulders and whispers every time I give it the slightest bit of attention. “How are you going to end this book?” it wants to know. “It seems to me you are just wandering around blindly and are going to fall off a cliff somewhere.”
I know I am not alone in feeling this fear; I know it is a perception all authors face at some time or the other, and contrarily enough, I get strength from that knowledge. I mean, if Shakespeare can, I can, right?
So I soldier on, trying not to let that darn fear incapacitate me. Every morning, I set at my desk and write. There are days when I get down to it straightaway, and there are days when I have to psyche myself into it. I don’t work in word count quotas, but I generally know when I have done a decent bit of work. Yesterday was the best yet, but it is still not quite the standard I will try to live up to. There are plenty of milestones more to pass.
I need to achieve unbroken concentration over long spells of the type I surprised myself with yesterday. I tend to lose concentration early. When that happens, I often stop the particular task I am engaged with and move to something else, expecting to return to the first task later. Most often I do, sometimes I don’t. I have to get rid of that sometimes bit.
I just did. I wrote this post all in one go, editing and all. That’s twice in two days. And there, that damned smugness.
It is all a matter of perseverance. Just wish God would allow me a few years’ advance on my next birth, though.
You agree with me that all authors probably feel this particular fear? What are your hang-ups and how do you deal with them? I would love to hear from you in the comments.