I can remember a particular week in my early 20's when at least five people said to me, "You should stop being so hard on yourself," or "Wow, you really put a lot of pressure on yourself!" At the time, it was the first synchronistic happening that lead me toward learning more about myself, my emotions and my personal motivators. I can't say I'm any less hard on myself now that I'm in my (very) late 20's, but I still use that familiar phrase as an indicator that I need to lighten up.
As writers, we often put pressure on ourselves to do more. I think this is because there is always more to do. Just today, I spent a few hours on an essay, another few hours doing management and business work for Weave, read blogs, books and emails. Socialized on my network. To an outsider, it would seem like I had a productive day. But to me, I feel lazy. I've also watched a couple hours of television and goofed off online. I should have also submitted work to journals, edited some poems, worked harder on my essay, gone out of the apartment for a walk. I suppose I can still do those things. It's only 5 o'clock. Pressure.
Last night I was talking to my boyfriend, Sal, about confidence. So much about my life and how I spend my time is dictated by how good I'm feeling about myself that day. It's difficult for me to accomplish much when I feel I can't possibly catch up. But catch up to what? When did this race begin? Who am I comparing myself to? There are millions of writers, most of whom are more talented and successful than me. But I don't even know if that last sentence made use of proper grammar. Than me? Than I? I'm a terrible copyeditor. I should really learn the rules of grammar and punctuation. Pressure.
If I had more confidence, I would stop this comparison thing. Because while the world and the job market want to make us feel like this is a race, it really isn't. Writing cannot be. Because writing, like living, requires a lot of patience. I won't have all the information I need right away. A journal will take months to get back to me about a submission. I won't be as well read as a lot of people. I got a late start, not having directly studied writing or literature in my undergraduate studies. I did study education though, which puts me in a nice position to always have a job teaching. But I won't be at the same place many other 29 year old writers are. I don't have a book. I'm barely published. I really need to send work out. I should be reading something. Researching markets. Pressure. Pressure. Pressure.
Part of the pressure we feel is invisible. We don't know our competition. While an athlete knows who they are competing against, writers can only imagine our competitors. When I submit work to a journal, in my mind I'm competing with the most talented, successful, ingenious writers in the world. This can make the submissions process terrifying for some. I feel my vertebrae compacting.
Sometimes pressure is good. When I'm trying to fall asleep, I cannot sleep without a blanket. Even when the temperature is 105 degrees, I must at least have a sheet covering my calves. Feeling the light pressure of the cotton fabric comforts me. I feel covered. Less exposed. When I'm feeling the emotional pressure, rather than a back massage, I often just want someone to literally lay themselves on top of me. Strange, I know, but I'll lie facedown and have Sal lie on my back for a few minutes. While I'm there, I can feel my spine cracking and stretching. My breathing is forced and shallow. My cheeks are squished and I can feel my hip bones digging into the mattress. And then he rolls off me, and I breath in deeply, filling my lungs, and I breath out. I breath out all the pressure.
I have not found a remedy, save for my boyfriend's full body squishes, for all this pressure. Sometimes I feel like having a real, honest writer-mentor would be a good antidote. Someone who is working as a writer, who knows how to set deadlines and stick to them. Someone who understands the mind games and the self-esteem and the lack of confidence. A person who can offer feedback and advice when we feel like quitting. Who knows when we've worked enough for one day. Someone patient.