From the Bottom Up

This morning, for the first time in perhaps eight months, if not longer, I went for a run. It felt good to have the wind on my face, sun on my arms, and fire in my chest – for all of ten minutes until my breathing gave out and my legs began to cramp. I stopped just short of reaching the quarry in town – one of my favorite landmarks to run past – hands on knees, sweat visibly dripping from underneath the brim of my cap onto the pavement below.


Half-a-mile. I had run only half of a mile.


And I felt like death, my legs numbing, my breath ragged, but it felt good. It felt good getting back out there, even if realistically I hadn’t accomplished much. It was a step (or several) in the right direction.


This is obviously a metaphor for other things in my life, most obviously my writing. I’m not really sure what exactly has been holding me back from finishing any piece of meaningful work, but I’m sure fear of failure is among the multitude of reasons. In fact, that fear has probably been the number one contributing factor to the formation of The Block.


It has gotten to the point where I can barely write a single passage, a single page, a single paragraph without self-critiquing it to the point of hatred for the piece and, ultimately, the shelving or outright deleting of it. It’s like, I’m trying so hard to mold my writing to fit into a place it hasn’t even reached yet – like I’m killing myself to get in shape for a marathon when I can’t even do a 5k yet.


So…let’s start from the bottom again. Let’s pretend I don’t really know what I’m doing – because honestly I don’t. Even if at some point I did, it’s clear I’ve let my abilities deteriorate and fester. So now it’s time to be humble, allow myself to fall flat on my face, and get a good look at the world from the bottom up – and see just how far and high I have yet to climb.


Writing at the Speed of Sloth

I’ll admit I’ve been struck more than once by the awful sting of jealousy upon seeing another author post their daily/monthly word count onto social media. So casually do they drop numbers in the thousands, tens of thousands, appearing as literal fountains of raw literature. It is enough to cause one to harbor intense feelings of inadequacy…at least if one is an underachieving, unmotivated (read: lazy) writer.

To be blunt, I am a bit slow. Slow learner, slow reader, slow walker, slow video game completionist, and above all, a slow writer. While most all of the preceding is forgivable, there really is no excuse for being slow at what is supposedly one of my passions in life. What’s worse, speed isn’t even the main concern. I’d be perfectly fine with a slow and steady trickle of words if indeed steady was actually in the equation. In truth, the trickle is really a dried up river bed, only occasionally moistened by sporadic rain showers that provide only enough liquid for a sputtering, let alone babbling, brook – briefly at that.

So the title of this post is misleading, (it was the best I could come up with, being so lazy a writer), and in reality should read something more like: Not Writing Very Much at All But When I Do I Find Myself Crippled By Self-Critique and Overthinking so Hardly Anything Actually Gets Written Down. But that’s not very catchy or clickbait-y for that matter. Getting back to jealousy though, it really does burn me up to see other writers merrily quip about enormous and exhausting amounts of spilt ink (or bits or whatever). And it’s not at all a feeling of hatred for them so much as it is a feeling of loathing for myself. Like, what is their secret, what are they doing that I’m not?

But I know the answer, I’ve known it for a long time.

“Don’t try to polish the turd before it has been fully shat out.” Not a direct quote and I have no idea who said that but it certainly rings true for me. My problem is that I do indeed try to polish every centimeter of that steaming log as its in media res, to put it poetically. To the point where, and I’m sorry to continue with this metaphor but it works, I end up holding more in than I let out, leading to what can only be described as a sort of creative constipation. It’s almost as if I’m afraid of my own excrement, or rather, afraid of what others will think of it, even though everybody does it.

Because everyone does write shit. Everybody. Writing is such an unnatural form of communication, such an unwieldy art form, that no one can expect to get it right in one go for anything more complex than casual conversation. Writing an article, penning an academic essay, crafting a work of fiction – these all take serious considerations that go beyond spelling, grammar, and sentence structure. The writer must take into account the perspective of the potential reader, readability of language used, relevancy to the topic or the overall theme, use of believable dialect and authentic scene setting…

See, there I go. This is the process that runs behind every word written during my first draft. Never mind basic plot points, characterization, or, you know, finishing anything – I’m too worried about whether or not these three words really work together in this line of prose.

I need an intervention.