I woke up to an email from a family friend whose daughter has major college-bound angst due to chronic procrastination habits when it comes to writing. She asked if I ever struggled with that. Turns out I had a lot to say…
I am a terrible procrastinator, and it goes back to elementary school. Without hesitation, I would scrap any progress on a project I worked on all weekend and start over Sunday night at 9 p.m with a bigger, better idea. For example, a short story assignment evolved into a nine-part visual treasure hunt starring my troll doll, Mae, named after Madonna’s character in A League of Their Own. Part of the habit may have been established because my creative mojo didn’t always kick in until hours after I’d been mulling over the problem. But that was back when I was fearless.
As I got older, my mounting anxiety fueled a quest for positive feedback and perfection. I didn’t want to write a sentence on the page unless it was flawless. There was an upside to waiting until 1 a.m. to start a paper due in the morning: I was so fucked that the angst somehow vanished and I shifted into get-shit-done mode. This wasn’t a solution. Operating this way, I didn’t have the opportunity to play with or develop ideas. Also, there’s no way my brain ever retained a 2 a.m. reading of The Republic.
These days, when it comes to the personal projects of my dreams, a fear of failure cripples my goals in the form of indefinite suspension. At work I can produce nearly a dozen pitches a day, but when it comes to the features I’d like to write on nights and weekends, I haven’t sent one single pitch to the editors in my network. I often stare at a John Burroughs quote scrawled on a creative director’s wall at the office: “The smallest deed is better than the greatest intention.” Intellectually, I understand I don’t have to write a masterpiece to earn a writing assignment; still, I’m struggling to believe that giving myself permission to suck is more nobel than not trying at all: “FAIL HARDER” demands the note card I recently taped to my desk. I think it’s starting to sink in.
So, here are some thoughts on the intersection of creativity, writing, fear and anxiety that I would instill into my 18-year-old self if I could.