Nearly all of my anxiety dreams take place in high school*. I am unprepared for the final exam. I can’t find my class. I’m not wearing pants. This is pretty standard anxiety fodder.
I recently had the classic neurotic writer version of this dream after spending an evening struggling to revise a challenging scene in my novel-in-progress. In my dream, I was relaxing in a cushy chair on a wood slatted deck, basking in the glow of a late afternoon sun, when I was hit with the realization that I had a story deadline in the morning. I don’t recall if the deadline was for school or work or something else entirely, but I knew that there would be serious repercussions were I to miss it.
The parameters of the piece were almost non-existent; I could focus on any topic I wished, as long as I made a certain word count. The creative world was my oyster, but for the life of me, I couldn’t think of a damn thing to write about.
Time was ticking ticking and every time I looked at the clock, another hour had passed and still I hadn’t come up with a topic. As my stress levels skyrocketed, all rational thought was forced out of my brain, along with any thread of creativity.
I could write about whatever I liked, yet the anxiety of having to choose a topic prevented me from writing anything at all.
I woke up feeling edgy and unrested. This was due in part to the dream, but also to the troubling reminder of how much time I spend avoiding writing even when I’m not sleeping.**
Sometimes, I can barely wait to get home to my laptop. Other times, I start by taking a hard line with myself (I will write for a minimum of two hours tonight) and then negotiate down my own terms (well, after I eat dinner…and take a shower…oh look Project Runway is on…).
Why do I avoid doing something that I love?
Because I also hate it. There, I said it.
Sometimes I hate writing. It’s frustrating, ego crushing, and lonely. I can spend an hour effing around with one or two paragraphs, only to delete them and slouch away in defeat, feeling much worse about myself than if I’d spent the evening with a House Hunters marathon and a box of Samoas.
We’ve all heard the old adage “1% inspiration, 99% perspiration”, which can be applied to just about anything. But if we only write when we are inspired, that means we only write 1% of the time. Settle in, because it’s going to take about 50 years to pen the first draft of that novel. Hope it’s a good one.
So 99% of the time, writing is just damn hard work. This is due not only to the significant challenges of the craft itself; writing also demands that I repeatedly risk my sense of self-worth. And the longer I put it off, the harder it gets. Like going to the gym or filing insurance paperwork.
Doing nothing is easy, but doing too much nothing makes me feel hollow and uneasy. I suppose I could watch three hours of television each evening and save myself the emotional roller coaster that comes with any creative pursuit. But I am confident that I will never experience that glorious, all-over mind and body tingle that comes in the 1% moment of true inspiration while watching Millionaire Matchmaker. I may be able to avoid the low lows, but at the cost of the high highs.
And really, what would life be like without some extremes to help keep the in-between in perspective?
*Anyone who attended high school will not question my subconscious’ reasoning for this.
**Case in Point: I put off writing this here blog post until the night before I was due to publish it. Okay, so it was Valentine’s Day weekend and I was, um, busy with other things. But I’d known what I was going to write about for over a week. I suppose this is why deadlines were invented; without even self-imposed ones, we’d never get anything done.