Procrastination does not stop a project from coming to fruition, what stops us is giving up on an original idea because we have not got to the heart of the reason we are delaying, nor let the true form of our reluctance instruct us in the way ahead.
This quote stopped me in my tracks today. It was offered to me by a dear friend in conjunction with reassurance. You don’t have to write the book. A number of people have told me that, and added that it must be quite a sense of pressure, to have that book hanging over my head, that sense of obligation and expectation. I appreciate that my loves want to ease my anxiety.
But David Whyte has just taken a machete to my spiritual jungle-tangle and laid out, very simply and clearly, a path forward. Get to the heart of the reason you are delaying. Let the true form of your reluctance instruct you in the way ahead.
Okay, then. That feels terrifying. He must be onto something. I realize that if I write about everything that’s holding me back, it might help.
What’s holding me back?
I’m scared I won’t be good enough. This looms large and has its roots far back in my childhood. It’s perfectionism, plainly; it’s a fear that if I don’t get it exactly right, it’s all wrong and worthless. The risk of mediocrity feels more threatening than that of nothingness. I find myself reading other “woman goes on journey to find herself” sorts of books, but bestsellers, like Wild by Cheryl Strayed and Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, and I think to myself, I can’t write like that. My book will be a colossal failure compared to theirs. I try to reason with myself: it probably took them a long time to get to that point of writing a bestseller. They probably wrote a lot of other things along the way, things that were not as good. They might have had other resources to assist them, like publishers, editors, supportive partners. Maybe they weren’t trying to homeschool their kids at the same time. Maybe their lives were more stable at the time that they were writing; maybe they weren’t wondering where they were going to live and with whom and how they would get by.
I want to do justice to so many aspects of my own story, and of others. The reality is, I know that the way to make this book as compelling as possible is NOT to try to stuff everything into it. That would be a mistake. I can’t make this book about my Whole Entire Life. I need to become clear about the central message here. In my Kickstarter campaign, I talked about a number of themes, including home, community, intimacy, impermanence, and life as art—honestly, when I review that list, I think each word is a separate book unto itself. I think I need to tighten it up and have a solid sense about what this book calls for, and trust that if I set certain topics aside, that I can write about them in some other context. I need to return to certain questions: What was I looking for on this journey? What was I moving towards, and away from? which leads me to the next item…
I’m still sorting through all of my thoughts and feelings about this trip and its context in my life. It could take me a lifetime to do this, and that seems fitting. I don’t want it to take me a lifetime to write a book, though. At what point will I feel like I’ve processed enough? I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. It doesn’t help that for much of the fall, I was bewildered, off-kilter, depressed, sometimes finding it very difficult to function, still needing to function for Lily’s sake, at least. Can I allow myself the time it takes to move through such sludge? Can I practice self-compassion? How on earth could I expect myself to write under such circumstances? Could I start with basic self-care, instead? How could I not?
I’m scared of writing intimate things about myself and people I love, afraid of how we will be perceived, afraid of consequences. I have reconciled myself to the knowledge that a thick skin was never included in my DNA. Add to that the fact that my life choices are sometimes significantly at odds with what is considered “normal.” Continually cringing at the thought of who will be next to cut me off or criticize me is not something I want. I want to stand solidly in my own sense of integrity, even if it doesn’t match that of someone else. I think I need to keep letting go of the desire to be understood, even as I pour a great deal of effort into explaining my life and my choices. Still, it’s daunting to reveal myself, even as I seek to be known.
I’m scared of the loneliness of writing. There are times when I might try to set aside time to write, and instead throw myself into writing on Facebook and/or writing to someone I love. In part, I think I’m running away from the isolation of solitary writing, which seems heightened in the context of a book. If I’m writing a status update on Facebook, it’s pretty quick, and I can ordinarily expect some form of response in a short while, sometimes within seconds. If I’m writing a blog post like this one, it’s a bit more drawn out, but it usually doesn’t take me more than a few hours at most, and I can also expect some response fairly soon. But a book? It will require many, many hours of solitary writing, and won’t reach its intended audience until the very end. I had considered doing it differently; I had put out the idea of “publishing as I go” instead of writing and editing and publishing at the end. Upon reflection, that felt unwise, for this project. That leaves me with the prospect of being alone with my thoughts for much, much longer.
I’m a bit nervous about how this could affect Lily. This is not the biggest hurdle, in my eyes; in general, I practice age-appropriate openness with my child. I don’t keep secrets from her, and I’m not terribly worried about her judging me harshly (although, granted, she could do that at some point). I worry more about the perceptions of others and how they might treat Lily as a result. Even though I’m scared of not being a good enough writer, there’s another part of me that says, don’t worry, you’ll never be famous, so Lily will probably not have to endure any stupid stuff associated with that. How many people do I honestly think will read this book, anyway? Was it ever a goal of mine to have it read by more than a few dozen people?
I think I need to stop here for now, and let all of this simmer in my cauldron.