This may not be everyone’s experience. But here are a few things that stifle my urge to be creative and my ability to write.
Productivity – There is a constant nagging feeling that whenever I’m writing I should be producing something, that I should be working toward a finished product and ultimately, have something to show for it (publication? fame? money?). Productivity could be a high word count, a serious advancement in the story, a strong dent in the characterization.
There’s some part of me that believes the act of writing must be about the results, otherwise it’s pointless and useless. That I must always be writing something that is going somewhere. (Getting into all the reasons I feel this way would probably take up an entire blog post, and is likely better left for exploring with a professional.)
So, that rules out exploratory writing, whimsical writing, freewriting and writing for fun. Even though I know those things are necessary, that sometimes they are the gateways into the “productive” writing I aim to do. Even though I know writing should — at least on some level, most of the time — be enjoyable in order for me to want to continue to do it. My mind says, “You have x hours to commit to writing today. Don’t waste them on frivolous things.” And so, then, instead of attempting “productive” writing, I…don’t write at all. Or, I attempt productive writing, get stuck, and quit (a bit more bruised and jaded and dismissive than when I came to the page).
Advice — Advice is great. Advice is also horrible. If you are looking to procrastinate from actually writing, the Internet is happy to serve up enough writing advice articles and interviews to keep you occupied for months (possibly years). And if you ever get bored of staring at your screen, you can always start climbing the stacks of paper-and-binding books promising the writing advice that will get your book sold like lemonade on a 95 degree day.
For me, it’s easy to get swept away by advice, and to then start questioning and doubting my abilities and decisions because of it. Did I hit all the character development must-haves such-and-such suggests? Am I making one of the dreaded “5 fatal dialog mistakes”? Should I be using this author’s plot chart, or should I be using this other author’s plot chart? Have I read all the “right” writing advice? What if there’s a fundamental gap in my knowledge/understanding of good writing? How can I actually write well if I don’t even know what I don’t know about writing well?
Perfectionism — If I’m going to bother with it, it has to be perfect. Why else do it? Why waste my time on something that isn’t good (and by good I mean flawless)? What’s the point of that? (See also: Productivity, above).
I know perfectionism hits a lot of creatives hard. That same desire and tenacity that drive us to pore over a single sentence until it’s as good as it can be, also decimate us when we “fail” to find just the right word. Or when we feel like a story is lacking. We want to get it right the first time. All that “forget about getting it right, just get it written” stuff? I just plain forget. It conveniently flits right out of my brain and leaves me hanging from the rafters, with the cobwebs. And I agonize and scrutinize and demonize. And I go very far down the narrow path to Nowhere Good.
Publication — Oh man. Am I going to publish this thing? Is this short story going to go in my collection? No one buys short story collections anymore, though. Would a publisher even want this? Do I have the money/wherewithal to self-publish? It won’t sell. What’s the point?
Aside from those few among us who write solely for our own pleasure/catharsis/therapy, we are all pretty much looking to get published (am I right and am I right?). Hell, some of us are trying to get published before we even write the damn book. I have three early draft chapters of a novel I haven’t fully developed yet, but it’s totally already in the running to become America’s Next Top Novel!
That’s A LOT of pressure I’m putting on myself. When it should be about the writing (the joys and hair-pulling frustrations and revelations and surprises), it’s become about the end result of the writing. The very end result, wayyy down the line. (See also: Productivity, above)
I don’t know the best way to shut these suckers down. So here’s my current plan:
Fuck productivity. I’m going to have fun. If it “goes somewhere”, great!
Avoid advice. I’ll seek that out once specific problems have been identified.
Don’t feed the perfectionism troll. Life’s too short to agonize over something I may not even want to “go anywhere” with in the end.
Forget publication. If I have enough fun with something, care enough about it, feel confident enough in it, I will devote mental energies to the thought of publication.