We often blame procrastination when it’s our behavioural patterns that stop us doing the things we genuinely want to do. My last post, Recognising Writing Behavioural Patterns, was all about mapping and recognising these patterns as a way to changing them.
‘When you’ve identified a pattern, it can be useful to identify what it’s giving you. Normally, it will be some kind of protection, often a protection from needing to face change, which is uncomfortable initially and sometimes very scary indeed.’
So what was I getting out of sabotaging my efforts to write?
Wolff claims there are Seven Big Fears that cause us to stagnate.
• not being good enough
• revealing too much of yourself
• only having one book in you
• being to old
• overwhelmed by research
You know how you look up a medical text book to find out what’s wrong with you, and by the time you’re finished you’re riddled with illnesses? Well, I have six of Wolff’s fears, and should have become a researcher.
But when I came to one particular fears my chest tightened and I got that awful sinking feeling. I knew then why I accepted every invitation ‘life’ put in my way so I could put off writing. I knew exactly what I was protecting myself from.
Not being good enough, not reaching the high standard of writing I aim to achieve, terrifies me. Somewhere in my twisted subconscious I came to the conclusion that if I didn’t write, then technically, I couldn’t fail to reach those standards. So the pattern of avoidance I set up for myself was doing an amazing job of protecting me from that fear of failure.
I know from mapping my patterns of behaviour that it’s in the last stages of writing everything goes pear shaped. That is, when I allow myself to write. I am never at a loss for ideas. Writer’s block isn’t my problem. I fight my way through first drafts – never a fun period for me – with stoicism, determination and hopeful anticipation. Second drafts are ecstasy. But somewhere between the final edits and the polish I stop writing. I have a hundred stories floating around my computer waiting for a fine sand.
The solution seems obvious now. But no less frightening.
Wolff offers a suggestion.
‘When you have identified what the payoff is, you can generate alternatives for getting the same benefits in more benign ways.’
So I decide to make a pact with myself that has protection built into it.
I’m working on a story now that’s into the exciting second-draft stage. I have made a pact with myself to finish it. Right to ‘read-through-an-editor’s-eyes’ completion. Only then will I decide whether it’s ‘good enough.’ If I’m not sure how reliable my judgement is, I will ask a valued writer friend if she will read it. Her feedback is always constructive, honest and astute, and she does it kindly. After I receive her comments then I’ll decide whether to send my story to a publication. At each step I have control over who reads my story.
I’m already getting an unforseen benefit from this pact. Miraculously, I’m not thinking about whether this story will be ‘good enough.’ I’m writing almost every day for the pleasure and the challenge of it. I’m excited to see how far I can take it towards my ideal. Whether anyone else sees it is my choice. AT EVERY STEP.
This solution seems to be working for me.
Your fears and the negative patterns you’ve developed to protect yourself may be different. The solution you come up with will reflect that difference. You may not come up with the right solution the first time. Treat it as research for ways of working that suit you.
The key point Wolff makes about patterns and payoffs is important.
‘It’s not enough just to change your pattern, you must also change it in a way that also gives you the payoff that was provided by the old pattern.’
I’m eager to hear about your experiences and the solutions you’ve found that change your negative patterns and the payoffs into positive ones. Please drop me a line.