Putting the pen on the page

I’ve got this little ball of frustration sitting in the muscles just at the top of my neck, and the tension is making its way down into my shoulders and back, and up and over my head into my brow. Something like eighty or ninety per cent of headaches are caused by tension in your neck and shoulders, apparently (which makes sense if you know a bit about anatomy, and which muscles are attached to which bits of bone), so it’s not entirely surprising that lately I often feel as though I’m just on the edge of a headache. Thankfully, I rarely get them, but the threat is there.

I know why I’m frustrated. It’s because I’m doing a lot of reading, and not a lot of writing.

Don’t get me wrong — I love what I’m reading. I mean, writers are lucky in that they’ve got a pretty damn good excuse to read a huge variety of stuff, and at the moment I’m taking full advantage of that excuse. And I think that I’ve needed this time to do this research.

Even so, over the last few days I’ve started to miss writing. That is, I’ve started to miss actually putting the pen on the page and making words come out. I’m impatient to get started on a new draft of this thing. But part of me knows that I’m not quite done with the research, and that anything I write now is just going to annoy me because it’ll feel ill-informed and incomplete. And then I wonder whether I really “know” I need to do more research — or at least allow the research I have done to sink in — or whether that’s just a clever disguise for procrastination. You know, a way of avoiding the fact that once I put my pen on the page I won’t be able to hide from my limitations as a writer. And I know there are plenty.

Sam Cooney recently wrote an excellent piece on the gap between ambition and ability over on the Southerly blog, and I think this small section probably accurately describes my feeling towards my own writing:

I’ve been repeatedly diving out into the gulf that exists between my ability and aspirations, and ending up smashed on the jagged rocks at the bottom. It makes it hard to sit at the desk/on the couch/in the café/at the park and try again.

I know I’m frightened of that gulf, and of being smashed at the bottom of it — I’ve known this for a long time. I feel like some of the stuff I’m working on is pretty ambitious, at least given what I perceive my talents to be, and I wonder whether all this time spent researching is also time spent putting off that dive into the gulf.

It’s probably a bit of both, to be honest.

But I wonder how best to decide when to stop researching and start writing. Or can I do both at the same time?

It probably doesn’t help that I have a bit of a guilt complex about reading. I really don’t know why that is. Part of it is that I really enjoy reading, and I feel guilty about doing something that I enjoy during work hours (even though this reading is also work). But — aside from the fact that it’s a stupid reason to feel guilty — that explanation feels like it falls so far short of what’s really going on. I mean, I’m reading government reports that are hundreds of pages long, for gawd’s sake — if that’s not work, what is?

So why do I feel guilty about all this reading? Is it because I feel like I’m procrastinating? Is it that I’m worried about getting bogged down in this fear of my own limitations because I’m reading stuff that’s really well written (with the exception of the government reports — they need some serious editorial attention)?

Sigh.

Maybe ‘why’ doesn’t really matter at this point. Maybe explaining it wouldn’t really help. Maybe trying to explain it just gives me an excuse to continue wallowing in the guilt and frustration. Perhaps it’s enough that I’ve just noticed that those things are there.

As for the neck and shoulder tension… Anyone want to give me a massage?

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2 thoughts on “Putting the pen on the page

  1. So well said … and you’re finding is correct. The fact that you’re “aware” of what’s going through you mind is important. Eventually, you know that you’ll dive in. Just be patient and be gentle to yourself.

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