Starting something is often the hardest part. Even something as simple as this blog post had four different openers that I started, stopped, deleted. For a moment, the laptop almost got closed. But as nice as quitting feels - and let’s be honest, it does feel sort of lovely - it doesn’t achieve anything. And now look - once we’ve started, that momentum flows and carries us through all the way to the next paragraph.
Wow. Look how easy that was. But then a fork in the road appears. Where next? Down one path, fabulous success and party hats. The other path leads to clear ruin; you’ll probably lose your shoes, end up with wet socks, and miss the last bus home. The problem is we have no idea which is which. When we pick the left path, and come to a swamp, do we power through it, or turn around and head back? What if there are more forks in the road? What if there’s a bear, or someone trying to sell us crack cocaine at rip-off prices? This is all getting a bit scary, isn’t it? Maybe we should just go home, or curl up in a ball and stay here a while. It’s not so bad on the ground, is it?
So, little secret - I went the wrong way earlier. Took a wrong turn. Wrote out a whole paragraph about apple trees and cinnamon, decided against it, put it to one side, circled back and took a different path. And here I am. Sure, there’s a distinct lack of party hats, but I’ve still got my shoes and my socks are dry as a bone. The main point of my ramblings about paths, directions and Class-A drugs is that if you never know which way is the right way, then there is only one important thing to do - keep moving. As long as you keep moving, your chances of reaching the good path increase. When there are swamps, we go around them. When there are bears, we run.
One of the hardest parts of writing (and life, in many ways) is self-doubt. What if this isn’t good enough, what if nobody ‘gets it’, what if I’m not actually good at this, what if I’ve wasted my time, what if I can do this a better way, nobody is going to read this anyway… and so on, and so on, always in new and exciting ways. Self-doubt has a vast wardrobe of different costumes and a penchant for the theatrical. And what self-doubt wants more than anything is for us to stop.
“If we don’t try, we can’t fail!” - Self-Doubt, 2020
Give up and eat crisps. That’s what self-doubt wants. And the problem is, it sounds nice. It’s what our lazy human brain and body wants. Easy Street. But no great human achievement was ever forged on Easy Street, and if you spend too long there, it gets harder and harder to move away or do anything.
I’ll pause here, before I start sounding like a self-help book. I’m talking about this because it’s something I struggle with at times. Imposter syndrome and perfectionist tendencies. Exploring an idea and then erasing all progress. Giving up before I’ve started. These are all things I’ve done and bubble to the surface again from time to time. And a recent case-in-point happened one sunday last month. For the past 30 days, I’ve been doing Very Short Stories on twitter. I wrote about it in my last post, but they’re essentially one word prompts done each day. It’s been going pretty well, thanks for asking.
Something I’d noticed is that weekends don’t seem to do as well for me. Maybe it’s just luck of the draw, maybe it’s to do with timings as I’m not doing them as early in the morning. Anyway, this particular day, I really couldn’t be bothered. I had to force it out. A maximum of 280 characters slithered out of me, and plopped into the world. I wasn’t really happy with it, but it’s a small thing, and it ticked it off the list. As predicted, it didn’t get as many likes as my usual efforts had. In fact, I think it got my lowest so far. But then, something unexpected happened.
Somebody commented on it, singing my praises. I thanked them, and before I knew it, they were asking if the book was out yet, and if they could be signed up for an Advanced Review Copy (ARC), which at this stage for me is ideal. It was a better outcome than if it had gotten twice as many ‘likes’ as my best effort of the month. Honestly, it kind of made my day. That one simple comment kind of gave me hope for my whole project at a time when I needed it. And it came out of nowhere, when I was walking down a path I was certain lead nowhere.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is, keep walking. And say nice things to each other. That helps too.