One of the truly difficult things about writing is learning to disregard the pressure one feels about writing and having an eventual readership beyond oneself. It’s those times when one realizes that one would like to see one’s work published in some form that one becomes acutely aware of one’s limitations and deficiencies as a writer. Every word seems insufficient. Every metaphor or simile seems too precious and you get the distinct feeling that you’re just spinning your wheels. However, this isn’t always the case. When you’re writing something that you know will never see the light of day, whether it’s a poem or a journal, you don’t hesitate.Instead, the words come at a pace that is almost too much to keep up with. There are suddenly too many ideas. But that is because you are writing for yourself and yourself only. The only person you need to entertain is you and you know what you like. But start thinking that you’d like that bit of writing to find a larger audience and all of a sudden, the fear sets in and sits on your fingers so you can’t write anything.
One of the things about writing is that it is extremely personal. When you write, you are committing your thoughts and fantasies onto a page or into a computer where it will be recorded and visible to others. But only if you wish it to be so. Keeping a dream journal (as I try to do) or a regular journal does not require one to think about what an audience or a publisher wants or expects. I guess you could call these personal written records unbounded writing space. Whatever you’d like to write is fine. There are no expectations and no limits. Be as crazy as you’d like. When you’re writing for yourself, the only one who can judge you is you. It is freeing and refreshing. But it seems that, at least for me, as soon as I decide I’d like something to eventually be intended for an audience, the fear and uncertainty bites down hard. It’s at this moment of becoming aware of my own intentions that I enter bounded writing space, a place you don’t want to get stuck in if you have any intentions of enjoying the writing process.
I think part of the problem is that once you start writing to get published, you stop writing for yourself. Once that happens, the focus shifts from what you want to say and see happen in your story to what you think the publisher wants. I think that resisting this urge to concentrate on publication rather than just writing is one of those skills that one never completely masters. For many of us, getting published is a life-long dream. We want to share our stories with others. We want to connect with others through our work. I think that many of us also want to be accepted and not just accepted for publication. We want to know that people like what we think and what we have to say. Some of us don’t want to have people like what we say and we aim to shock and displease. Whatever the case is, when we write for anyone other than ourselves, it is a form of communication. But to get to that point, we have to pass the gate keepers who are the editors. The thought that we must impress them to get to our audience can be terrifying. To go through all that work then still not be able to project your voice is a frustrating experience. Maybe the best thing to do is to fail.
Yup. Get half-way through a story and realize it’s not working. Send a story to a bunch of publishers and don’t get it accepted. I must be crazy, you are probably thinking. Doesn’t that make it worse? Doesn’t that strip away all hope and expectation… oh. That’s the point. The harder you try, the more you will stifle the creative energy you have in you. When you realize that all attempts have failed you can return to that state before aspirations of being published took over your mind and turned every word you put down a committee meeting in your head. As Tyler Durden said, “It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.” And this is true for writing. One has to learn to stop worrying (not easy for many writers since we do tend to be a very detail oriented lot) and just let the words come to you. The best way to summarize it is to be Zen. Don’t think of what might happen in the future. Don’t worry about whether what you’re working on will turn out well (that is something that can be dealt with in the editing process). Simply concentrate on having fun. Is the story not entertaining you yet? Throw something into it that you think will entertain you then enjoy the hell out of writing about it. If you have passionately written, that vitality will translate to the readers and to the editor. If you can’t have fun with your story, who will? And the thing about having fun is that it isn’t a conscious decision. You can’t say “I’ll have fun now” then just magically have fun. Fun will come when you let go. That is one of the most challenging things I’ve found about writing. Technique and style can be learned and practiced. But being able to let go and simply let your story take on its own life is incredibly difficult because we have to put to rest all of our insecurities and fears and concepts of self. With the ego in the way, writing becomes a set of manacles. You are compelled to write because writers simply have to write. But you are restrained by your ego and all its fears and preconceptions. Therefore, when you feel yourself slipping into bounded space, where it is all about the end result, put your head back and try to think of nothing at all. Or listen to music and slip away. Only after you’ve calmed down, go back to writing. Repeat as often as necessary. But for best results, fall down a few times and learn the difficult lesson that you shouldn’t worry about getting from Point A to Point B but should enjoy dancing in a circle to your own music. In time, others will join you.