On Hurdles and Being Your Own Obstacle

This is probably the worst type of motivational post. The type where it’s apparent that the writer is just as lost as the reader. But I’d like to believe that there are other people who are in similar states, who set up too many hurdles, who dig too deeply.

I am the biggest obstacle to my writing. This is nothing new.

I’ve been in an odd mood the last few weeks; it’s an entirely selfish mood, one where I navel-gaze and talk too much about how I should be writing. There are days or weeks when real life kicks in and I can’t write. Not only because I don’t have time, but because I know I wouldn’t be in the right headspace. Two things happen when I write: I become far too introspective and all I want to do is write.

I understand that these don’t seem like real problems, but for me it’s dangerous. I’ve always been competitive and I’ve always longed for immediacy in my projects—it’s difficult working on something that won’t be shown to friends for a couple of months, and may not be shown to the public for a year. In the future finishing a novel might be less (heh) novel, but at the moment it’s a terrifying and overwhelming concept.

Every writer wants validation. Something that proves that what they are doing is more than just words on a page. Acknowledgment that they are creating something and what they are creating is powerful.

There are times that writing becomes a grind. When it becomes a chore, I become spiteful that I need to write and then become spiteful when I don’t have time to write. These are passing moods, but still difficult to overcome.

I’m trying to channel my need for immediacy into writing short fiction, something that has never been my forté. I can plot out a novel or even a series—whether I ever write it is completely beside the point—but writing a complete story in 5,000 words is hard. Worse is that I become obsessive about things that haven’t happened yetthat could never happen. I worry about publishing, about whether the subject matter fits a specific magazine, about what the story’s genre is. I set up my own hurdles only to flee when I see just how many I’ve created.

I’m not someone who easily asks for help. I guess it’s a matter of pride, or maybe just a matter of fear, but to ask for help is like admitting defeat. I wish I could say this is something that only pertains to writing but…nope.

I’ve been stuck at the same chapter for the past two months; writing only a couple hundred words at a time. I’ve been hitting my head against the same part of the wall and I can admit that it’s getting me nowhere.

I decided to look for a new solutionone that I wouldn’t normally turn to. I can only tread water for so long, and I know that this is something that I don’t want to leave unfinished.  So I did something that every writer has been told not to do. I emailed the first unfinished draft of my work to a close friend. I’m not quite sure what I’m asking her to do, I didn’t even ask her to look at anything particular. I guess at the end of the day, I want her to read what I wrote, look at the chapter outlines and tell me that it’s okay.  

Along with emailing the novel, I also took the time to:

  • write a synopsis
  • layout the basic plot
  • plan out the ending; and,
  • list current problems

Writing out the basic plot of the novel was harder than I had anticipated. I had to write everything from an outsider’s perspective, since my friend knew almost nothing about my novel. I believe writing that email did a lot of good for me. I acknowledged and listed the problems of the novel were, and I outlined the final three chapters so my friend wouldn’t be left hanging. 

What this did was force me to organize my thoughts and, most importantly, list the things that were bothering me about my novel. I don’t know if this means that I’ll be able to force solutions to my problems but I do finally understand where this is all heading.

There are times that the best thing for me to do during these moods is read my own work. Some people would rather pluck out their eyes than reread their unfinished work, but I find it calming. Sometimes I hate what I write, but that’s not often. Mostly there is something that I appreciate, even if it’s just a sentence or two.

I’ve been rereading my novel. It’s still the first draft. Still unfinished, but it’s less unfinished than it was before. I enjoyed rereading it. I know where the problems are, and I’m waiting to tackle them once the first draft is actually done.

I am most proud of myself when I force myself to dig deep and produce better results. There is nothing better than pushing yourself and seeing results, whether it’s a faster lap time or a better daily word count. The problem is that you become familiar with always pushing forward and yielding big results. Sometimes there are no results; you push forward but just end up in circles.

The hardest challenges are the ones you create for yourself. Sometimes the only solution is to stop challenging yourself and admit that you need a hand to face the upcoming obstacles.