Once upon a time, a person had an ambition to do something new. This new thing, it didn’t seem like a big deal. “Aha!” said the person. “I’ll just tuck that into the corners of what I’m already doing. It will be fine.”
But it was not fine.
The new thing kept getting pushed back on the schedule. There were always a million things that needed to be done, and the new thing, being new, was last on the list. It involved a bit of a stretch, you see, so the person couldn’t just start work on the new thing. There were other moving parts that had to be handled before the new thing could really get rolling. A learning curve was involved.
Because the new thing hadn’t seemed like a big deal, and still didn’t, really, the person had promised to do something with the new thing that had a deadline involved.
And that deadline was fast approaching.
“All right,” said the person, “time to do the new thing. For real this time.”
The person decided that all that was lacking was a little resolve. Everything would still be fine.
Unfortunately, it was not fine. The deadline was blown, people were disappointed. The person may even have suffered a series of illnesses and minor emergencies during this time. The new thing could all still be patched together, but it wasn’t actually fine anymore. It was too late for that.
This time, the person really did dig in and start on the new thing. They didn’t want to fail at something so small. So not a big deal. But as the new thing drained more and more of their time and energy, they realized something: they kind of hated the new thing now, and the only thing keeping them moving forward was just the idea of failing.
In the end, they finished the new thing. Never again, they swore. Or at least, never that foolishly again. The new thing, now that they’d worked out most of the bugs, wasn’t so new. If they just gave themselves a little extra time…
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. I must have done this a hundred times since I started freelancing. I’ll come up with an idea for a project, and it will sound like the easiest thing in the world. Then I’ll try to start working on it.
And even before I can run into actual setbacks, I’ll put everything off. Something about starting doesn’t feel quite right. So I don’t. Until it’s almost too late.
It usually turns out that I’m fighting myself. I’m scared of what I might accomplish if I succeed. I’m scared of people I might piss off if I write the wrong thing. I’m terrified I’ll end up with a hundred one-star reviews, or a book full of typos, or a blog post that someone sneers at in front of me, or a badly-created book cover. There is no end to the nightmare scenarios I can come up with.
I’m not alone, though. I see other people doing this to themselves, too, especially writers who procrastinate to the point of self-sabotage.
I think a lot of writers have big problems with scaling the learning curve on anything that isn’t writing. We spend a lot of time learning how to write. Trying to master another skill is like adding insult to injury, as if being a successful writer means you not only have to learn how to be a brain surgeon, but also a used car salesman. “I just want to write!” is something you hear a lot from writers.
Other people, too, but because I mostly know writers…it seems like we’re the worst.
Everyone resists growth at least a little. It’s hard. But writers seem to be especially good at resisting—possibly because actual growth as a writer almost always involves either heartbreak or hundreds of hours of work, and usually both.
I don’t mean to lecture you as people, readers, or even as writers, saying that you just need to push a little harder, get started a little sooner, and fear success a little less. That’s too exhausting to even think about. Ugh, we’re already good at beating ourselves up. Just no.
My only real point is:
When this happens to you, just remember, it’s completely normal.
My advice is to laugh at yourself a little as you get back up again, apologize to anyone you pissed off, and move on to the next no-big-deal-next-to-impossible project.
Trust me, you won’t be able to resist.
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