Saturday, June 19, 2010

On doing what you must

The other day, the wise and wonderful LPC wrote a post called How To Live Boldly When You Are Scared as Heck.

She talked about how she'd always wanted to write. She has done many amazing, bold, seemingly scary, things in her life, but the thing that she wanted to do was write. Finally, the time was right: the children were off at college, her job had been misplaced, and she had the time and the courage to start her ever-enlightening blog.

The post resonated like few others have. I, too, have done some things that might seem to require courage (taking a year off before college to volunteer on a farm,* living in Kathmandu, solo treks), but writing regularly had always been the thing I wanted to do that eluded me.

Then yesterday, Sera's Broken*Saucer showed why I might need to become an Im-perfectionist. Perfectionism is the biggest enemy of writing. I know this intellectually - but emotionally, letting go of the need to "get it right" is tough.

Especially, perhaps, for a professor. We are paid to know the right answer. We reach this pinnacle of academic achievement by knowing the right answers, and convincing others that we are right. And by writing dense tomes, filled with obscure multi-syllabic words addressing serious topics (we'll come back to this in a moment).

The ideas for letting go of perfectionism were good. Even better was the link at the bottom of that page to 11 Irresistible Reasons to Write Everyday. This is stuff I need to know. Reasons that will keep me going.

Especially #1: Writing Creates Order. Writing is how I think and process, how I make sense of my life. I started this blog to do just that, but somehow the inversely related increase in work pressure and decrease in wedding pressure caused me to stop writing.

Now, I really need to let go of perfectionism and write everyday, because next up on my Life List is to write that dense tome that will get me a promotion. Really. In academia these days, you need one, or often two, books to get tenure. Let's just start with one, for now.

I've got ideas, data, 429 pages of my doctoral dissertation - all the raw materials to create a book. But this is honestly the scariest thing I've ever contemplated doing in my life. So scary that I've been reading mountaineering literature to talk myself down: if Ed Viesturs can face freezing, falling, and stinky tentmates on all 14 of the world's 8000 meter peaks, AND write a book about it, surely I can simply write a book. I don't even have to fear frostbite. Or hypoxia.

Finally, I read some concrete ideas on setting up your life to support your writing goals and avoid end-of-summer regret, when you realize that you haven't achieved what you wanted. (Though for writing, many of these suggestions could apply to any large project.)

All these reinforcements squashed the Dragon of Doubt, and unleashed rivers of words, the likes of which I haven't experienced since last summer when I was pounding away on my dissertation.

There you have it, my bloggy friends. I've publicly committed to this goal. I used Writing to Create Order, the by-product of which is a bunch of blog posts waiting in the wings for you.

Here's to a productive summer of doing what we must, perfectionism be damned.
(And if motivation fails, there's always the Professional Nag.)

*The gap year wasn't nearly so common when I was 18.


LPC said...

I am so happy to read this, and to read what is to come. It really is a wonderful thing to be doing.

Ms. Bunny said...

Perfection is always my biggest writers block obstacle. I'm always afraid what I write will suck, and therefore it's hard to get motivated to do it. Remembering that there are revisionary rounds (not necessarily in blogging) in the long-term writing process to create a book or thesis helps.

elizabeth said...

Thanks for the encouragement!

I totally agree that the prospect of revision can be a motivating factor. An engineer friend told me: "fail early" -- just get a prototype (draft) going, and tweak it from there. I'm trying to heed his advice...

A Los Angeles Love said...

I read this last weekend, and didn't really know how to respond to it then. Because I needed to sit and think through it all (and the link to LPC's piece). Because, like you wrote, these ideas speak to me. And blogging, in many ways, has become far more powerful than I ever imagined even if, for now, it's about weddings.

I always wanted to be a writer. I always knew I had a way with words and liked the idea of it. I used to love creative writing classes in college. But I've never been good with process and I'm always afraid and unsure where to begin, as opposed to just doing. And the blog has become all about just doing. For me. On a regular schedule without a class deadline. As a way to process and communicate and nothing more. And it really has shifted things, somehow, in a larger sense.

I, too, made a promise to start writing more this summer. I joined an arts group to help give me motivation. We shall see what comes of it, but I'm trying to focus on process overall. I'm glad you're back and reusing this space, because I really loved your wedding writings and I'm looking forward to the next steps