Writer’s block is real.
So is writer’s remorse.
It’s a lot like buyer’s remorse, which I’ve also been afflicted by. Writer’s remorse is a term that should be used much more prevalently because it’s so accurate. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written something, only to find myself agonizing over it, even to the point of despising it right off the bat. I am my own worst critic. I often don’t afford my work the opportunity to breathe. Sometimes I find I can’t allow it. It would be a betrayal of the highest order; my poor neuroses would be ever more stricken. In the past, I’ve even set fire to my papers.
The fear of failure is astronomical. But anything I’ve managed to write, let alone post, has somehow survived a maelstrom of personal, counterintuitive recrimination and backlash. I sometimes find myself seized by anxiety from the moment I pick up a pen, or sit down to type at my keyboard. But I do it because it makes me happy, because it feeds my soul, even when my soul remains steadfastly convinced of its satisfaction while fighting off legitimate hunger pangs. I do it because it feels real and so it can remain real. I do it so I can live outside of my head, away from the crippling specter of my self-doubt.
The world according to Alan Ryland is riddled with writer’s remorse. But maybe I write because I believe you should know what the world according to Alan Ryland is like. Faith, perhaps. Or maybe I’m just a sucker for punishment. Either way, you learn to take these things in stride. You have to, if you want to continue writing. You have to, because you will find that adulthood is packed to the brim with all sorts of demands on your time. Somewhere along the line, you will have met—and you will always continue to meet—people who’ve stifled your voice.
Some have made a business of it. They’re the ones who told you that you weren’t good enough. They’re the ones who insisted you stop journaling and join the real world. It is lost on them that the world of the “real” is relative and shaped by experiences, that to share your own thoughts (even with yourself) is an incredibly painful and even courageous thing.
Others may not have made a business of it, but they still had an effect on you. You may not remember exactly what they said. You may not remember exactly what they did. But for the life of you, you remember exactly how they made you feel. They’re the ones who smile half-heartedly, humoring that pipe dream of yours. It is lost on them that the majority of us will not write bestsellers. It is lost on them that we write because we love it and because we have to, as an extension of ourselves.
It is lost on both of these groups.
But there is nothing you can do about it. Except continue to write, of course.
Continue to write in spite of the remorse. Don’t write TO spite the remorse. You’ll only stifle yourself from the deceptive comfort of a corner.
There is an art to building a balanced sentence, a talent for being aware of the measurement of the width and weight of words. I had someone tell me once that this is something subconscious, like a blacksmith understanding the iron he forges after years of working with it. Blacksmiths would never be able to shoe horses if they worried about getting every single horseshoe perfect before they took it out of the fire and put it on a horse’s hoof. Being a wordsmith should be no higher stress than that.
But you need to write. Because style is a conscious thing. Write. And write some more. Then put it away. Don’t show it to anyone. Take it out. Look at it. Take a pen to it. Mark it up. READ. Read the work of authors who inspire you. Take note of what they do. Take note of what they don’t do. Sit down. Write again. Because here’s the tough part: You’re not really writing until you’ve hacked at mechanically and started to develop the prose that you want.
It is difficult to understand this when you’re hyped and begin working furiously in a spell which leaves your coffee cold and your breakfast unmade. When all you see is how little resemblance what you produced actually shares with what you conceived in your head, how can you separate yourself from it?
I haven’t set fire to any of my papers in a long time. Nor have I ripped anything up, run it through the shredder. But time has taught me that there are a few things scarier than my own eccentricities. Remorse, for starters. Remorse of all kinds.