I Can Be So Mean

I have been having trouble eating, sleeping and blogging  lately because I have been so focused on finishing my book (or, “book” really). I have toiled over my “book” and dreamed about the day I  finally complete it for more years now than I care to admit. To keep myself on track, I gave myself an absolutely firm, drop-dead, non-negotiable deadline of the end of March to finish it. I recognize that this is similar to the absolutely firm, drop-dead, non-negotiable deadline of December 31, 2011, that I gave myself last year, except now I really mean it.  Seriously.  And if it’s not finished by the end of March, then definitely by the end of April. Or May. I’m going to have it done by the end of spring, for sure.

I want to blame work, my mortgage, reality television and other commitments for my lack of progress, but I know the problem lies with me.  Sometimes, I just find it hard to write because I find it hard to connect with my myself. The problem with this is: there is no other way to write a book other than writing a book. I believe in discipline and a firm work ethic, in sitting down, focusing and getting the job done. It’s just that, for me, every time I sit down to write, in those precious snippets of time, my inner voice sits down with me, reading over my shoulder. And she’s a total bitch.

Really?” she says, “You’re going to write that?

Who are you kidding? You can’t do this.”

“Everything you write is terrible.”

You’ll never be a writer, never amount to anything. You’re an embarassment.”

“Why don’t you just give up now and cut your losses?”

You should really reconsider the length of your hair.”

And: “You look like Rick Santorum in that sweater vest.”

And on and on and on until I am paralyzed with self-doubt. I will sit over my computer like a statute, hands in position on the keyboard, on the brink of self-actualization but never quite achieving it. There goes another day. There goes February.

I am always interested to know if other writers and artists are plagued with self-doubt, if they have an inner critic that sits on their shoulder like the Great Gazoo spewing venomous dumb-dumbs.  A few summers back I had the honour of studying writing  at the Humber School for Writers with Bruce Jay Friedman, a prolific and successful novelist, playwright, screenwriter and actor who did the New York deli circuit in the sixties with Mario Puzo and other writers who shaped an era. In his 80’s when he taught the class, Bruce still had his finger on the pulse of great writing and was spot on in his critiques. I remember, once, a fellow student asked him what he does when he feels a creative block, how he overcomes the unquiet mind, the uncertainty and the fear that cripples good writing.

The class grew quite. Leaning in closer to him we sat with pens poised ready to record his enlightened advice.

“What do you mean what do I do when I have writer’s block?” asked Bruce, confused, “I just write the next fucking line.” 

His words spoke to me and to date have been the single best piece of advice I have ever recieved. They have been more invaluable than all the self-help books, the writing books, the writing workshops and the cognitive-behavioural therapy combined.

Should my inner critic peep up from behind my shoulder now, I try so hard now not to engage in philosophical debates with her. I try not to engage in her self-reflection and to wallow in the self-pity she leaves in her wake. I’ve realized that when I sit down to write, I don’t have to think about the end of my book, whether I will ever get there and whether it will say what I want it to say or whether it will be rejected. I don’t have to worry if I am ever going to make it as a writer, if I am going to fall short of my dream. I don’t need to book a haircut or think about what awful conservative I’m dressed like. All I have to do is write the next fucking line. That’s it. 

Then, once I’m done that line, I’ll worry about the next.