Attempting to set down the can of Raid

In January I wrote 61,547 words. I wrote every day, an average of 1985 words a day.

Every day, that is, except the last. On the 31st of January I didn’t write a single word.

And so on Sunday night the inside of my head became a looping sample of self-hate. “You’re too distractible: you have no ability to stick to a task. This is why you can’t settle down in a job. You can’t write and you’re a fool to pretend you can. There’s a reason hardly anyone read your last story; take a hint, why can’t you? They’ll be laughing at you behind your back; it’s better not to write another story because you’ll only give them more ammunition.”

saint anthony tortured by demons.jpg
When baby demons are working their way up to Saint Anthony-level tormenting, they visit writers after unproductive days (engraving by Martin Schongauer, ca. 1470-1475.)

 

 

I lay awake all night, telling myself what a piece of shit I am, and wondering if this will be the start of an episode like last year, where I went months — hell, most of the year — without writing, too paralyzed to put fingers to keys.

And so, of course, on February 1, I didn’t write anything either.

Last week my super-amazing friend Vivian sent me a list: 10 Challenges an INTJ faces

#10. Constant self-criticism for falling short of perfection.

“The one person that an INTJ expects most from is himself/herself. This may well be the single greatest challenge an INTJ faces (especially as they mature and realize the importance of building good relationships, where they are least natural). Unless an INTJ finds his/her self-worth intrinsically, this perpetual sense of inadequacy may be very destructive in life, whether for the INTJ or for those around them.”

Vivian told me it was my Achilles heel. And she’s right.

Learning to write is hard because to get better writers need feedback. But feedback comes from letting people read what we write, and what I write, is, as a learner, inherently… not so good. It’s goddamn hard letting a piece into the world, because I know how flawed it is. All I can do is learn from it and put it behind me and write something else. But the ‘writing something else’ part brings me to a standstill sometimes. A lot of the time. I’m terrified, because it’s not that I’m afraid what I write won’t be any good, I know it won’t be. It can never be the prose that’s in my head, where it twirls and skips, vibrant and joyous. On the page my words are thin and brown and spiral mindlessly in endless loops until I get the Raid and put them out of their misery. And right now I’m gnawing at my soul just over the number of words on the page in a draft zero, forget worrying about the editing yet.

What I want my writing to be:
What my writing is:

 

I’ve been learning to write for just over two years. I figure I have another five years of apprenticeship left, then three as a journeyman. My hope is somewhere around 2025 I might write a book I’m happy with. The challenge for me is to accept the learning process. Accept that it’s okay to miss a day of writing. And yes, even miss two, without needing to ritually disembowel myself. I don’t feel at all like I can do that right now. I’m angry and upset with myself. I want to be punished. I’d give a lot at the moment for a hefty, sadistic, wanna-be Dom with a cat o’ nine tails, zero clues about BDSM, and no compunction about bruising.

flying baby.jpg
Frankly, a flying baby with a handful of twigs isn’t going to cut it for me, penitence-wise (etching by Jusepe de Ribera, early 17th century.)

 

I wrote 800 words this morning. They’re awful. Not even prose, as much as an outline of a scene and a few scattered fragments of dialogue. But eight hundred words is more than zero words. Which is a start, right? Progress, no matter how slow and small. I’m not sure if they’re going to be enough to hush the scathing voice in my head tonight, but here’s hoping.

Until then I will re-read the email Vivian sent me, and try to believe it.

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