Fear?

I’ve been told I’m afraid of success, but I’m not certain how true that is. My mother considered herself an overachiever, and I’d say I follow in her footsteps. Or I did.

All through school, I worked my tail off to make A’s. I made a B one quarter in PE in 7th or 8th grade, and it still irks me that it was due to a new writing requirement. The day they told the classes about this, I–and a huge number of other band geeks–had to miss class for concert practice. Next day, we suddenly had to write an essay on a subject I didn’t know that well (they’d told the classes they could bring dictionaries). I made a C on the paper, dropping my A to a B–for something that had nothing to do with PHYSICAL EDUCATION.

During high school, I went to a private school where it was easy to be a big fish in a small pond. I had no social life. The school was on the other side of town and, due to my mother’s teaching schedule, we often didn’t get home until quite late (for most students). That’s not to say the work came easy–especially to a procrastinator–but I wouldn’t let myself fall below my own expectations.

That changed senior year. The private school…imploded…and I went back to public school. Unbeknownst to me, I was also dealing with a health issue. Long story short, I stopped caring (as much as an overachiever can stop caring). I even made a D on my precalc final. I was told if I’d made 1 less B, I might have been in the running for valedictorian. What did I know? My credits hadn’t transferred properly from the private school (my weighted GPA was only a smidgen above my regular one since they didn’t differentiate honors courses), so I didn’t think I’d had a chance anyway. It just didn’t seem to matter anymore.

That was the year I discovered all that hard work only got me into college. Well, it did provide a great scholarship, too. Beyond that, I learned that I’d erred on the side of academics. Balance is not taught in schools.

I don’t think I’ve ever recovered from the disillusionment. Here I am, still working on a story I technically began in 2004. It’s been rewritten and smoothed beyond an inch of its life – and I still am not happy with the results. It doesn’t look or sound like a professional work. My husband and I started over (again) rereading it to get it ready for a copy edit. We got–I got–to Chapter 10 before I began banging my head against a wall again. He’s working on Chapter 11.

How the editing is coming…

I love the story – I hate the words. It’s sparse. It’s choppy. The words read too fast. There’s no meat on the bones. And he says its just my writing voice. I say it’s called amateur writing. And I don’t know how to fix it.

I’ve been angry about this story, about the editing, since I came home from the conference and realized I was indeed rewriting the entire thing. I’m losing steam. I’m losing heart. And I’m definitely losing time while I try to sort this all out. My perfectionist nature doesn’t want to put out a product that can be ridiculed.

I need someone to come alongside and lift my wings. To tell me–with true wisdom gained from experience, preferably–here’s how you get from where you are to where you want to be.

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2 thoughts on “Fear?

  1. Iris Timm says:

    Jen, I hear you. I’ve been there many times with both of my longer projects (the first one was started in 2004 also) and although I have no easy answers, I can offer the comfort of company… you are not alone. Perfectionism is a trait that I’ve struggled with for all my adult life. I didn’t really have it as a child (blessings to be counted there!) but it started in college. The need to avoid mistakes can be so daunting that I admit there are times I choose inaction over the risk of getting it wrong – even internal ridicule can be a deterrent. In fact, it can be the most powerful deterrent, turning me against myself.

    Like you, my re-writing is slow because I dread the inevitable judgement – particularly in the case of technique because it is (in my perfectionist brain) apparently avoidable.

    I counter that fear with the knowledge that even my favorite authors make mistakes now and again. Even the most “successful” professional authors have their critics. It helps me to acknowledge that NOTHING is beyond the reach of ridicule in this day of the Amazon reviewer and the ever accessible internet opinion. When I feel mired in the maw of perfectionism, I try to remember the “real” goal is not to avoid ridicule… it is something else… it might be to have fun, or to make progress, or it might be just telling the freakin story !!

    I’ve been weighing the pain of not creating with the pain of being less than perfect… so far the pain of stagnation hurts more and I’m still writing. When the scale tips the other direction, I’ll reach for the comfort of a good book and discover that I’m in good company… huh, go figure, nobody’s perfect. Somehow, it inspires me to write again.

  2. I so needed this, Iris!

    “The need to avoid mistakes can be so daunting that I admit there are times I choose inaction over the risk of getting it wrong”

    I can claim that, too. I almost didn’t even go to the conference because of this. I’m so glad I have my husband there to push me beyond my comfort zone, beyond my inactivity and keep me moving. I think I’m beginning to see that “getting it wrong” isn’t as bad as I think it might be.

    “even internal ridicule can be a deterrent. In fact, it can be the most powerful deterrent, turning me against myself.”

    I’m pretty sure this is my biggest problem. No one has told me that it isn’t bad, but even the little “this could be better”‘s I’ve had during the course of writing this have hurt. (“What? I’m not as perfect a writer as I thought I was?”) God bless Joe for his patience and continuous words of affirmation. If I hear them often enough, I might start to believe him.

    It helps, too, to hear my brother tell me of a published author who wrote that his second book was harder until he let go of his doubts and finished the work. That’s pretty much what I’ve decided to do. We have begun reading Self Editing for Fiction Writer’s again and I added some more detail to Chapter 1, which I think helps.

    Detail seems to be the hardest thing for me. A lot of it is stuff I glaze over when reading for fun myself, so putting it in my own work doesn’t come easy. I haven’t been able to fully answer the question: Is this necessary? Is there a better way to write this?
    So far, all I can tell is that it depends who you ask. 🙂

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