personal update, freakout, apology, open thread

I have been asked to write the final report for my portion of the research project that I've been working on this summer. There's a strict deadline - the grant ends on July 23 - and many, many loose threads to tie up. It's a great challenge.

In keeping with my writing process, right now I'm a bundle of anxiety. I'm telling myself (as I always do), "This is the part where I freak out. This is the part where I think I can't do it."

I adopted this method many, many years ago. At some point I realized that it was not down to experience, that these feelings would never go away. Much like an actor who has "stage fright" (that is, anxiety) before every single performance, no matter how much I write, no matter how many deadlines I meet, there will never come a time when I won't experience this anxiety.

Once I understood this, I embraced the process. I don't deny the feelings, but I don't give in to them either. I feel them, but I also observe them from a slight distance.

"This is the part where I freak out."

"This is part where I feel I can't do it, I won't do it, I will fail."

Right now, this blog and the many, many topics I want to write about weigh on me as one more area of my life I must neglect. Thus the apology part of the post title.

In comments, John F said that wmtc readers could use a forum to post stuff they want to share with other readers. So here you have it: an open thread. I will post a bunch of stuff that's been sitting in my inbox from James, Allan, and other readers. If anyone else has anything they want to post, feel free, unless you are one of our trolls, then be a good chap and fuck off.

I'll be quietly freaking out and hopefully getting a lot of work done at the same time.


John F said...

Don't worry about us right now. Concentrate your energy where it's needed, and we'll talk amongst ourselves for a while.

johngoldfine said...

Yeah, Laura, what John F. said.

FWIW, I have the same feelings of anxiety and self-doubt at the start of each semester (and to some extent before each and every class all semester....) And this is my 40th year teaching.

laura k said...

Thank you, John F and John GF. :)

John Goldfine, I remember your saying that in relation to other anxiety on other threads. Perhaps you, too, embrace your process. :)

johngoldfine said...

Two things are my rocks: first, I taught three years at Job Corps, which means I can handle anything. Anything. And have!

Second, I always remember how Ted Williams psyched himself for an AB: "I'm Ted Fucking Williams!" And I'm John Fucking Goldfine, I remind myself....

One reason I get anxious is because I'm never quite sure what I'm going to do or say in class, and that is a conscious pedagogical choice, the same choice a writer makes who does not work off an outline or notes, a willingness to be there and trust to the moment.

So, keeping loose has its hidden costs, but I hope it's made me a better teacher. Yes, I embrace my process.

Stanley Edgar Hyman, talking about class prep, said something like, "I always take a piss, wash my hands, check my fly, and step into the classroom. For a moment I wish I were dead. Then I begin."

allan said...

"Ted Fucking Williams"

laura k said...

the same choice a writer makes who does not work off an outline or notes, a willingness to be there and trust to the moment.

Your process sounds fascinating, and I can appreciate how it keeps the moment fresh. But I take exception with the idea that a writer who works with notes or an outline is somehow not trusting the moment.

An outline doesn't mean one must stick slavishly to a pre-determined plan, and is not thinking and feeling one's way through, in the moment. It's simply a way of organizing one's thoughts.

My writing ideas come to me at odd times throughout the day. Long ago, I got tired of losing what seemed like interesting ideas, so I learned to always carry pen and paper with me, to try to capture those thoughts until I have time and space to sit down and flesh them out. (Recently I used the voice notes function on my Blackberry to record an idea.)

In my case, and I'm guessing I'm not alone, it's not a choice of plan vs not-plan, it's just a tool of external memory.

johngoldfine said...

For writers of fiction, the world is divided into those who know how it ends when they type 'Once upon a time...' and those who let the characters work it out.

I didn't mean to sound quite so categorical though. I have used notes in writing and in teaching, but mostly to give myself confidence that I was not going to come up dry. When it comes to the actual work, the notes seem to be dispensable.

But there's no disputing taste and no disputing process. Whatever gets you to '...and they lived happily ever after' is a good plan.

laura k said...

For writers of fiction, the world is divided into those who know how it ends when they type 'Once upon a time...' and those who let the characters work it out.

I guess you mean for you the writing world is divided into those categories.

I wrote fiction for most of my life. I wouldn't say the writing world is divided into these or any other categories. I would say for 1,000 writers, there are 1,000 different processes.

johngoldfine said...

Jean is always reminding me (still after 50 years) to say, 'In my opinion...'--as "In my opinion, for writers of fiction the world is divided...."

laura k said...

I'm sorry, I didn't mean to nitpick. Of course you meant in your opinion.

I just find those "there are two kinds of ..." dichotomies reductionist to the point of useless. For me, the creative process too complex, individual and mysterious to shoehorn into such categories.

impudent strumpet said...

There are two kinds of people in the world: those who think there are two kinds of people in the world, and those who do not.

johngoldfine said...

I agree: reductive!

Here's probably the least reductive author in literary history, laying out the character of his protagonist:

He was on his guard against generalizations which might be hasty; but he had arrived at two or three.... One of them was to the effect that the simplest division it is possible to make of the human race is into the people who take things hard and the people who take them easy."

'The Bostonians,' Henry James

Of course, his point might be that the kind of protagonist who thinks in terms like this is in for a rough ride, which he proceeds to give him over the next 400 pages.

When I first read those lines, I was too young to know in which division I stood. Now I do know, but I ain't telling.

Amy said...

Anxiety? What''s that? :)

I still feel that way also after teaching for almost 30 years and with every article I write. That moment of panic, of insecurity. With my writing, I always reach a point where I feel like what I have written is ridiculous, pointless, unoriginal, useless, etc. But I write it and someone publishes it, and I am done. Even if no one ever reads it, I am done.

You know that someone really does care about this project and will read it. I am not sure whether that helps right now, but in the end I hope it makes this part of the process worthwhile.

Hang in there. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. You know that on July 24, you will be done.

Amy said...

(I don't understand the open thread notion---are we supposed to post off topic stuff? I always do that anyway!)

Like...how is Tala?

laura k said...

Thanks, Amy. My anxiety takes a different form. I am nervous at the beginning of a project - only. Once I actually start writing, the anxiety disappears.

As I'm getting organized and doing the pre-writing thinking, that's where I feel anxious: I won't have enough time, I don't know how to do this, it's beyond me... If the anxiety gets bad enough, it prevents me from doing the one thing that will alleviate it, which is writing!

But once I start writing, I'm fine. This time, I had more distractions than usual and had to delay and delay my start. So I got more and more nervous...

Then finally, on Tuesday, after posting this, I made a good start, and was immediately fine.

laura k said...

By open thread, I meant people could chat or post links if they want. I have dozens of links that I'll never get to write about, I thought I could post them here. But the idea of the open thread is that I wouldn't be in it!

Tala is doing well, I don't think she's in pain anymore, thank goddess. She's able to put weight on the leg, and is walking really well. However... that's because she's not allowed to do anything but take short, slow walks and lie around.

We have a consult with a specialist next week, at the same animal hospital that treated Cody's cancer. I'll definitely post updates about that, here and on FB.

Thank you for asking. :)

Amy said...

Glad to hear you are past that hump then!

It is funny how we human beings are different about our neuroses. I sometimes have that paralysis before I write the first word down, but for me it is usually closer to the end of writing when I am filled with the dread that I have said nothing worthwhile. I think I get so wrapped up in the research and the process of writing that I start thinking that I have added nothing new by my own words.

Good luck finishing it up now that you have it started!

Amy said...

That's great that she is doing so much better. Hopefully she won't do what so many of us do---feel a little better and just assume we can get back to the old routine immediately before we are really all better. (In her case, I guess you have some control over that.)

laura k said...

Thanks! I have a long way to go and will need every minute of the time available to me.

As I tried to say in this post, what you are calling "neuroses", I think of as part of the creative process. It feels negative when it's happening, but I accept and embrace it as part of my creative self.

And now I'm back to work, see you later!

laura k said...

Re Tala, she certainly would do that if she could! But we won't let her. We have to continue on the exercise restriction, at the very least until our appointment with the orthopedist, but probably much longer. It makes me sad, but it has to be done.

Jere said...

"There are two kinds of people in the world: those who think there are two kinds of people in the world, and those who do not."

There are two kinds of people in the world. The kind who spend a lifetime trying to come up with the ultimate "there are two types of people..." quote, and...damn, I've failed again! Back to the drawing board.

laura k said...

I wonder if anyone can get a layer over that one. :)