Well, it’s been my first official slump since starting work on the novel – possible title: ‘Tabula’, as in ‘tabula rasa’ or, just as relevantly, ‘Tabula Futura Imperfecta‘. Christmas disrupted
things a bit, but I got in some good work leading up to NYE and new year’s day. Then, as the pressure of the everyday world started to mount, my confidence faltered.
My paid work (and hence my income) has slowed down, no new job has come along yet, I have several debts. And now the rental home my daughter and I live in is being sold, so we need to move house before the end of February. What was my desire to write in the face of these concerns? This thought got me bogged down in self-doubt. Maybe I should quit my band, quite writing, and get myself into a corporate job as soon as possible. Who was I kidding?
Accompanying this was a solid dose of impostor syndrome. Praise sounded like hollow politeness. People either secretly knew I was a terrible writer and were hiding it from me, or else they would soon find me out. Others’ successes seemed like an indictment on me. If I was better I would be succeeding too. Their success was proof of my failure. It’s very self-centred thinking, and deeply unpleasant. Narcissism and neuroticism are two sides of the same coin, I guess.
What snapped me out of this was remembering that thoughts aren’t puzzles that need to be solved before you can act. Thoughts are just what your mind does, and you get some power over how you relate to those thoughts. In this case, I just put them to the side and started working. Forced my hands to type, basically, and didn’t engage with any thoughts unrelated to the work. The impostor stuff faded into background noise.
Interestingly, I found that at the heart of my impostor syndrome was something potentially positive: the basic desire for my work to be good. The problem is that wanting work to be good usually comes paired with the worry that it’s shit. That worry often escalates into broader anxieties about my ‘identity’ as a writer. In turn, this leads to unhelpful questions: am I good enough? do I deserve success if I have it or, if I’m unsuccessful, is that because I am destined to fail? will people realise I’m a fraud? am I worthless?
By fading out those questions I’ve found a quiet, insistent voice beneath them that simply asks: is the work good? More importantly, it asks ‘is this work the best I can do, am I really engaged with this process?’ These questions are healthy – if you think everything you do is great, you’ll never grow or learn (and your work has almost no chance of being any good).
Letting such questions be present when I work – but not relating them to my self-worth – has helped me regain my joy in writing. And redoubled my commitment to perfectionism!