Baggage Claim

Day five: 10,593 of 50,000

Now something about that is just downright unsettling. -Jayne Cobb

Please bear with me – this is a difficult post to write.

I’ve encountered something unexpected.

It isn’t about writing, or word count, or about the anxiety over getting this novel done, because that’s going fine. It’s about success, if you can believe it.

Yesterday, I wrote a blog here about things going well, and they are. My readership went up exponentially that same day, and I even had a few people “like” my page on facebook. The advantage to having low expectations for my performance is that I can always astound myself with how well things can go. And suddenly that day, even though the successes were small, things were really going well. I had a moment of elation and triumph and absolute happiness – the feeling that I have found my place in the galaxy at last.

That is when it all started to go wonky.

It started with my heart rate getting faster, and at first I assumed it was the over-extracted shot in the dark (espresso in coffee) I’d had to fuel my fiction writing that afternoon. But then my arms went numb, my hands started shaking, and finally came total mental shut-down. My head started to hurt and my stomach clenched, alternating between unreasonable ravenous hunger and waves of nausea. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t move. All I could do was sit there in front of the computer, absolutely sure the world was coming to an end.

I know this feeling, I thought, this is terror.

I’ve heard of this thing called “resistance” or “fear of success” before, but  never actually gone so far into a project that I’ve encountered it. I didn’t ever think it could be so real and so incapacitating.

I convinced myself to sit down and listen to some of the voices inside me that were terrifying me into a shaking mess of gelatinous writer. I listened, and listened, and listened.

I’ll spare you the gory detail, but from now on I will dub this voice the “Who the hell do you think you are” voice. Because she says that a lot, that’s why. Somehow, I’ve managed to believe for years that I’m not good enough to be liked, or to write, and I certainly don’t deserve to be successful. Anything that looks like happiness and success is against the Laws of the Universe and is therefore Wrong.

Fascinating. No wonder it’s taken me so long to get started.

I’ve begun to wonder if this is the reason we get so damned stuck as creative people. At some point we learn that we don’t get to do this for a living or for enjoyment. It gets internalized. Maybe we even do this number on ourselves to keep from ever getting to that Big Project, protecting our psyches from failure like over-bearing mothers. We hear so much about “fall back plans” that we skip to the fall back and forget about the thing we want so much we’re prepared to risk failure.

Then when we finally get started and have any measure of success, what happened to me occurs and we turn to into a pile of emotional glop.

And stop, never to return. I mean, who goes back into the place that felt so awful?

Fear of Success is the wicked cousin of Perfectionism, and I’m not going to let myself be stopped by either of them. I’m going to write and be terrified and write some more until I have unlearned all the lessons that are holding me hostage to my old ways of (not) doing things.

I wonder what other lessons wait for me.

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