My whole life, I’ve tried to adapt myself to what was expected of me, and to be honest, like many people who deal with perfectionism, I struggled for many years with my own expectations of myself. Holding on to these patterns kept me stuck for many years – stuck not writing my story, stuck in linear thinking and in bad habits that kept circling back to bite me.
Somewhere along the way as I was writing this book, I started thinking in spirals. Like DNA spirals, moving forward in time, evolving. And with the nature of writing a memoir, I think the spiral is a perfect metaphor. You revisit old patterns and places, but you move forward into your future. Once I opened up and started thinking of my life in terms of spirals, everything changed with my writing.
My circular thinking stretched out a bit. My self doubts turned into a hopeful “what if?”. I stopped beating myself up for my shortcomings and kept coming back to my inspirations, my purpose for this story. Not to say that I won’t fall back into bad habits or periods of self doubt along the way in my writing life, but once I started replacing my fears with hopes, my tight circles of self-doubt got flabby and I made good progress.
My linear thinking eased up, too, got curvy. I made an outline and did all kinds of plotwork, points A-to-B-to-C, but I haven’t looked at any of it in a good long while. I suspect, though, that my story will cleave pretty close to the outline I created years ago. I felt better doing that work, it seemed necessary and perhaps it was. But, I didn’t use it. I let go of my expectations, let go of deadlines, and gave myself the luxury of creating a story. I gave myself permission to do some of the internal work that writing a memoir requires.
Also, coming to terms with my own truths as a writer: I am not a five-hundred-word-a-day kind of person. I work in fits and spurts. Binge and purge. I require space and solitude and chunks of time. As much as I want to be a machine about my writing, I am not. I think it’s awesome that people can write books in a bunch of 10-minute sessions. I am not one of those people. Not yet, at least. Maybe someday I’ll find that focus and efficiency. I’m a working mom with two school-age kids and a household. There are seasons to life.
As I let go of my own perfectionism, I also eased up and asked for some help and hired a writing coach. As she says, writing is a messy, dirty, outrageous thing. Turns out, I am not an anomoly, I am not doing it wrong, and there are ways for me to make the most of my strengths. With her gentle support, I made amazing progress with the book. Here is what she has to say on the topic: Writing is Messy. That’s Just the Way It Is.
And so, now I think of my creative life as a spiral, moving forward. It will have ups and downs and I’ll have to revisit and examine my old habits from time to time, and moving forward is guided more by intuition than plan – but I am making progress. I have a complete book. Ready for professional eyes and opinions and editing. I have my next book knocking at the back door, ready to enter the kitchen. In real life, I have a hard time following recipes, and I’ve learned to cook intuitively. This is how I write, as well.
Actually, it’s how I do everything. Logical intuition.
And as I face my fears of querying and submitting, I come back to the thought that it’s all just the next phase forward. I’m scared, I’m resisting – but I’ve been here before. I know what work I need to do, even if I don’t have a clear plan. The path will reveal itself. It has every step of the way so far, and then you start to trust it.
You start to build up a muscle memory, too, and you become familiar with the shape of your creative life.
Mine is in the shape of a spiral.
Lauren suggested I follow you – I’m Andy, and an aspiring writer of some kind, as of the past year and a half or so (and I suppose when I emphasized in playwriting as a theater arts major, approximately 100 years ago.)
I can identify with not being a 500-words-per-day person. I definitely go in spurts, with long periods of incubation followed by moments of illumination that precede huge bursts of productivity, seemingly triggered by inspiration. I don’t see very clearly the shape of my writing, however, as you do. It’s impressive and intriguing that you have identified this shape as that of a spiral.
Feel free to follow me if you like. I think my writing has gotten a bit clearer in the past six months or so, me having only been writing intensively for about a year and a half now. I like what you are saying here, and I will continue to follow.
Hi Andy! Thanks for stopping by, and for the kind words. I think the hardest part of “becoming” a writer is to trust your own unique process and finding that internal motivation to keep going no matter what. It looks like you are super-creative, regardless of the status of your current writing projects – just keep going and don’t give up! Thanks for reaching out, and I’m following back! AMO