Saturday, July 17, 2010

Personal Liberty? Auto-Liberation.

I think I'm going to lay off the publishing industry related news for a little while. I had something of an epiphany yesterday - one that, in retrospect, was long coming. A little more than a month ago when I was recovering from Deathly Virus of Death, the time my immune system demanded to have off writing put a little chink in my confidence. Working breathtaking amounts of overtime the few weeks after that gave the chink time to fill and freeze and split, but it took me a while to notice my armor was in pieces. Stepping back from my work gave me all kinds of time to start doubting it, and myself. Especially because the (usually exact wrong) self-flagellating response of a perfectionist writer to the lengthy lamentations of literary agents and editors about the state of things and slush kicked into full gear. But it seemed perfectly natural - if the publishing industry can worry about these things near constantly, certainly my own work deserved at least equal scrutiny.

I admit that over the past month and a half or so I've spent more by far thinking worrying about writing than actually writing. At all. Worrying about the quality of my writing, the quantity, the subject, characters, theme, genre, and overall place in the publishing world, and the reading world. Things that my google reader and twitter accounts chock full of agents and writers across the spectrum post at length about on a daily basis. Things which, dear readers, are like Web MDing "itchy big toe." Five minutes of scanning or three hours of compulsive reading will leave you equally panicked and convinced that you have gangrene, frostbite, gout, and the bubonic plague all at once, when really probably your toe just itches.

There's a wealth of good advice on the internet, but I've realized that when I'm not actively writing, I approach publishing news with the same quivering heart palpitations as when I google "dizzy headache" - I can tell myself I'm looking to find out the cause of my malaise and a solution to it as much as I want, but I realized, yesterday afternoon, that I was doing nothing but feeding my fear that something was really drastically and unbearably wrong. Because "scalp pain?" and all other similar queries all eventually link to "Cancer, imminent death," I've been finding more and more excuses to fear for my writerly life and... you've got it, not write.

Then I saw this. That's right, a YA author's terrible Ke$ha parody about procrastination (if you didn't click, do - it's better than you think, and basically exactly word for word captures what I go through on bad days, minus the dancing). And it hit me - it doesn't matter if vampires are out and minotaurs are in; doesn't matter if steampunk beats cyberpunk; if post apocalyptic is the new contemporary romance. It doesn't matter because if I'm not writing something I'm passionate about - or, worse, not writing at all, it doesn't matter who's buying or reading what, because I won't ever have anything to sell - or anything to say.

So yesterday, I closed down twitter, shut off my email, put away my google reader, opened up a nice clean word document, and started writing something that's been dancing around in my head the whole time I've been skittering scared. And you know what? It was the most productive day by far that Ive had since I started seriously dedicating myself to the craft. I wrote straight through until 3:30 in the morning, and I could have written until dawn if I didn't have an early rise ahead of me. And everything flowed, and my writing was better for it, because I wasn't worrying about the ultimate publishability of what I was writing, or how long it would take me to get from blank page to fin, I just wrote. It was refreshing, because I think realize now that I've been putting entirely too much pressure on myself to perform, without really any good reason.

And of course I'll still be keeping an eye on Janet Reid's ever changing query requirements, but I think I'll spend less time thinking about what the machine thinks it wants for dinner. Because even if no one ever sees a single word I write, I think it finally hit me that it's important to me, at least, that I write it. And I'd like to think that's where the best writing comes from, anyway. I suppose we'll see.

What do you think? Not just in writing, but in life - does thinking too hard and worrying about what other people think get you down, or does it challenge you to improve?