Some times I could really give myself a good slap. In 2005 I enrolled on the Writer’s Bureau Comprehensive Writing Course and duly completed my first assignment. My tutor at the time was Iain Pattison author of many short stories and the book ‘Cracking The Short Story Market’. The comments that came back with the marked assignment although critical were very funny and constructive. He finished with the throwaway statement that he looked forward to seeing my next assignment and I felt a ridiculous feeling of well, pressure.
Suddenly I was struggling. I read and reread the assignment, made notes and put them to one side. I revisited them after a couple of days and tore them up. I began again and quickly deleted the second attempt resolving to give myself a break for a week or so in the hope that my muse would visit, and I would complete the assignment in a whirl of productivity.
It was not to be. For five years I did no work on the course and only managed a little written output which was carefully stored on my hard drive and went unread by anyone but me. It isn’t that I don’t like to write, quite the reverse in fact. I simply found any and every excuse not to be productive when faced with a structured task.
Looking back at my life I am very much aware that this is a pattern that has held me back in almost every aspect of my life to date, and stems (I believe) from an acute lack of self confidence that can lie hidden deep within me for months at a time, waiting for the right moment to surface and sabotage my life. Such self destructive tendencies are I am sure not uncommon, and are probably one of the things that seperate life’s winners from the also rans.
I realise that in my heart of hearts what I really fear is failure. Failure to succeed in a task is for me far worse than not attempting it. Failure means I was lacking, inadequate, even unable. This means I have to downgrade my aspirations; accept my own mediocrity and reassess my potential as less than I believed it was.
By contrast, non-completion offers so much more to the insecure or fragile ego. It allows me to continue to dream. To dream about how if circumstances had been just a little bit different I might have been this, or acomplished that. Who knows what I might have been? There is a certain comfort to that path that reveals me to be something of a coward.
Procrastination is the path of least resistance, and it has been a way of life for me (or more probably half-life) for far too long. Even now I will make lists, tidy my desk read my emails and generally waste my precious writing time rather than sit and get it out.
In 2010 something small happened that was really big for me, a high point in fact. My wife pointed out a writing contest in the Bournemouth Daily Echo that offered the winning entries their own column in print for a day with their name and picture published at the top.
I wrote a 600 word piece around my own parenting experiences when my daughter lost her first tooth and sent it off. I almost fell over when I saw the email three weeks later to tell me I was one of the winners. Anyone who has ever won a writing competition (okay I wasn’t the outright best, but close enough) will know the incredible thrill of that first major success. I was (and still am) so proud.
For a few short hours I forgot to procrastinate. I wrote my piece, checked it, sent it off – and got published. I am not trying to moralise here, yes there is a message but it’s really a message from me to me. I would like to end by saying that I never looked back and have gone from strength to strength but that wouldn’t be true.
Like an addict that knows he will always be addicted and needs to find every day anew the strength to fight his demons, I must grapple with my own. My success brought with it the whispering fear that I could never replicate my achievement, and I have entered no competition since.
But there is a silver lining. In September, after a gap of seven years I completed the 2nd assingment of my writing course and sent it off for marking. It has been almost a month since it came back and the feed back was encouraging. And now I am here with you sharing my demons, baring my soul. I hope you stay with me on this journey because I am not too good on my own, a bit flaky I guess. But I think with a bit more courage and some helpful feedback from you I will get there.
I wonder how long it will take me to finish my book…..?