I’ve been having trouble writing lately. I can assure you, it’s a first.
A lack of inspiration is not the problem. Like James Altucher, I can easily come up with ten ideas a day and once I get started on a blog post, the words just spill out, nearly effortlessly, at least until I start editing ;). But my “effortless writing” seems to slow to a trickle when working on a new project: my first book.
When I know I need to work on this project, I procrastinate by doing other, more immediate, more “important” things like:
- Reading copious amounts of other people’s work and making notes about the material—aka “research”,
- Doing chores around the house,
- Running errands,
- Helping others with tasks that aren’t a priority and
- Spending extra time with friends and colleagues.
I’ve become good at justifying why these all seem more important in the moment than getting back to the keyboard and getting on with a chapter in progress. They’re all worthwhile activities after all and no one would fault me for spending time on them. Yet, as I do these other things, my mind keeps throwing questions my way: What’s happened to my mojo? Why do I feel stuck? Why do I procrastinate by doing these other things? Why do I feel I need to push myself to do something I usually do rather effortlessly? Why does everything have to be perfect before I can get back into it?
When I feel the obligation to write, the mental resistance I feel is palpable. I literally feel the mental blocks: a pressure on my chest, an emptiness in my gut, and fuzziness in my mind.
Why is it tormenting me? What’s the big deal? After all, I have nothing to lose.
Or do I?
The answer came to me recently while reading The Element by Sir Ken Robinson. In it, he suggested that, more often than not, when he hears people speak about their fear of failure, the actual underlying fear was the fear of success.
My mental block has been a fear of success! I never would have thought of it that way because all I’d thought to evaluate was the potential fear of failure. And, given I’ve done much harder things, I’d quickly dismissed the possibility.
Fear of success is completely different and a whole lot more effective in its mechanisms. By not finishing the work or by doing a poor job of it, I wouldn't have to deal with the potential momentum that the work might generate. I'd get to stay in my little world and not create a new responsibility: living up to the expectations of others originating from my work.
This is what's happening with this book project. This is why I’ve been having trouble writing. Deep down, somewhat unconsciously, I’ve been asking myself: What if the book matters? What if it leads to a responsibility I don’t feel ready for? Or don’t want? Or worse, what if it leads to people having high expectations for anything else I may write or speak about?
Like a dog chasing a car, sometimes the idea of winning the prize feels scarier than the disappointment of not getting it in the first place.
Now that I understand what's happening, I'm going to chase the car and park the "what ifs"...for a while at least.