Monday, August 11, 2008

Lessons in Self-Sabotage

I've always been my own worst enemy. I was one of those people who wanted to be a writer when I was growing up, and I felt certain I would be. I majored in English and Creative Writing in college, which was also where I learned that in order to be a writer, you have to actually write. Imagine that. You can't just think about it and yearn to do it and conveniently never get around to it. Being tortured and conflicted is so easy. Writing, and writing regularly, is hard. Showing people what you've written takes courage. And the other thing I learned is that there are lots of great writers out there. Lots.

After college, living in DC, I got into music (well, sort of--that sounds more official than it was). I was working in publishing, but then the small literary press I worked for was eaten up by a bigger house in New York, and I was out of work. It was tragic: we were the little guy, we held our authors' hands, we produced beautiful books. There was no one else like us, of that we were sure. We were righteously indignant and betrayed and heartbroken, and it was kind of a great feeling. Unemployed, we drank and smoked the summer away. I had started dating TJ at the end of June, and by August I knew this was the real deal. I started temping in the fall, not knowing what else to do. DC didn't have any other trade book publishers. Eventually I ended up back at a bookstore (and then at a new press, a reconstituted version of the old one, with many of the same loyal authors), but that's another story. Where was I . . . oh, music.

TJ and I had met at this bar on 18th Street where we both went far too often. He ran the open mic there every Tuesday night, and I performed most weeks. (He played and sang too.) I wrote some songs. I decided I'd be a musician. You know, a folky, singer/songwriter type. I wore bandanas in my hair during this time like it was going out of style (I had about a hundred different bandanas because my college librarian had passed her collection down to me) and my favorite shirt was this tight little tee that said "Do Not Touch." Oh, I was tough. Writing songs was slow and torturous, especially because my guitar skills were just barely good enough, but the payoff of finishing a song and playing it was worth it.

The second to last year we lived in DC, TJ recorded a cd and was in a couple of bands, one of which had a busy schedule. It sucked. I was tired of staying out late and tired of him being out late at gigs while I sat at home. We had a lot going on, and my hours at the bookstore, at least for a time, ran counter to his regular work hours. I also realized that the intensity of my stage fright (without the aid of Xanex and alcohol) outweighed the joy I felt playing for people. Oh, and we'd stopped going to the bar after a falling out with the owner, so our open mic options pretty much disappeared anyway.

I never consciously decided to stop playing and writing songs, it just kind of happened (as I'm sure it does for thousands of others). TJ: the same, although he still picks up the guitar now and then.

After we moved to Austin, stuttering really got a grip on me (another very long story), and I ended up in speech therapy at UT. We'd started trying to have a baby the summer before we left DC, and were still in the throes of trying (and failing) our second fall here. Since before moving to Austin, I'd been freelancing from home as a proofreader and copyeditor. The last year or two of that, I was working pretty much exclusively for a big NY publisher, their children's division. I was mainly copyediting YA novels, and I loved the books, but couldn't see myself doing that kind of work for much longer. I missed the camaraderie of an office. Then I got pregnant, and stayed pregnant.

Skip ahead, and I got the biggest gift of my life: Eamon. The biggest joy, the biggest love imaginable. Staying home with him is incredibly fulfilling in many ways, and yet there's a part of myself (the private, autonomous part) that is desperately looking to create and achieve something outside of raising my child. The interesting thing is that this desire is actually more acute now that E is here than it was before, when I theoretically had all the time and space and sleep in the world. I don't know why, although I do know that his existence has made me much more aware of my own.

So now I have this idea to write a YA novel, a genre I'm very familiar with. There's a lot I have yet to figure out, but I've got the characters hashed out, some general plot points, the setting, etc. But I haven't started writing. I haven't told anyone about it (until now) except TJ. I'm afraid. I don't know what I'm doing or if I can do it at all. I might fail at it. I don't know if I have the time or the discipline. I don't know if it'll be very good. I'm not even sure writing is the right art form for me. If it were, wouldn't I just do it, almost as if I had no choice? I doubt I'll ever actually follow through with it, and I think that means I won't. I know that self-doubt is lethal. How do I turn it off?

If I really want to do this, I think I have to commit to writing a certain amount every day (a page, say), and I have to not care whether it sucks or not. I think I also have to give something up in order to have the time. I'm not sure what that should be: no more Us Weekly? Really? Strict limits to email and blogging? I wish there were a writer's group in central or north Austin that I could join. Accountability (not to mention criticism and encouragement) would be so helpful. I heard of one way out in Dripping Springs awhile back, but that's just too far.

I have a long history of shooting myself in the foot. Do I stand a chance of breaking out of that unconscious habit? Do any of you have a similar dream to mine? How do you honor that part of yourself? What works for you?


mama bee said...

Do it!!! I don't have any helpful advice. All I can say is, give it a try. Give it your best effort. And if it doesn't work out this time, try again.

I am an artist. I am an art teacher. I have to force myself to make art, it doesn't just happen. I don't make enough but I'm going to try to do more.

I hope you can find a writers group. I know the fear of putting your work out there. I've been there. I recently had a friend look over my portfolio for me. It was scary as hell. He had some criticisms but he had some really positive feedback as well. It was a great experience.

Heather said...

Thank you so much for this encouragement! I'm glad showing your friend your portfolio was a good experience, and I hope you're able to find time to work on your art.

I'm going to give it my best shot . . .