Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Avoider

I'm an avoider. And really, I'm a pro at it.

Anyone who has known me longer than five minutes can tell you that I'm a hermit, but my closest friends will testify that my antisocial habits extend much further than that. While many people thrive on butterfly conversation--that is, the kind of talking that skims the surface and flits easily from one topic to another--and enjoy the act of "catching up," I would more willingly submit to unanesthetized dental surgery. My mother belongs to the social butterfly category, and cringes to see me duck my head and dash off to the restroom every time I catch sight of someone I wish to avoid. But I can't help it. Awkwardness is a form of unpleasantness my genetic chemistry has engineered me to dodge at all costs. My fight-or-flight impulse, while generally trained on Fight in the case of conflict or danger, switches instantly to Flight every time I find myself in a position that makes me uncomfortable.

But social discomfort is only one of the items included in the inventory of things I am inclined to avoid. Imagine my horror when I discovered that my own writing could make its way onto the list.

About two months ago I received a rejection from an agent I had pinned some serious hopes on. And before you go judging me for having unfounded and premature expectations, allow me to say that this agent had been extremely excited when she read my first twenty pages. So excited that she called me just to say that she was excited.

I need hardly say that I was excited, too, but I did my best to rain on my own parade. I'd had far too much experience with agents to delude myself into wild, soaring hopes now. And yet, for all of that, the eventual rejection crushed me. Not because it was unkind--far from it--but because my capacity for dealing with the word "No" had finally reached some kind of breaking point. What should have been a little speedbump in my path became a roadblock that loomed before me like Mount Doom.

And suddenly I didn't want to have anything to do with the book that had just been rejected. The discomfort I associated with my failure began to leech into everything related to writing, and before long I was avoiding even the act of writing itself.

My morning writing time became morning Pinterest time. I directed my creative energies into loads of mug painting and Etsy posting. I satisfied my craving for stories with other peoples' books. I watched a lot of Doctor Who. And all the while I felt lopsided, aimless, anxious, and empty.

I'm writing in the past tense, but I haven't made it out of the dark yet. Like the wee nasty beasties Anxiety and Panic (which many writers fight regularly), creative self-doubt is a clever and cunning enemy. It can't be reasoned with, and it isn't easily pushed aside, and even now, it climbs up on my shoulder whenever I start to consider what I might attempt to work on next. You can't, it whispers nastily. You'll just make a mess of things again, and end up with more rejections for your collection. Wake up and smell the failure, why don't you? You can't write books.

And yet it occurs to me that the only way to shake free of it is to do the thing I have, in two short months, convinced myself I cannot do, and write. I have tentatively started on several projects, but I'm posting this here in order to confess my cowardice and say that I am determined to carry on. I will not be defeated, and for once in my life, I will face head-on the thing I want most to avoid.

I hate ending blog posts without some kind of conclusive, tangible encouragement, but I suppose every once and a while you have to ask other people to encourage you. So if you have battled against self-doubt, weariness, and failure, and come out into hope and optimism once again, do share how you managed it! I'd love to hear all about it.

(And for Heaven's sake, stay tuned. I solemnly swear that my next post will be as lighthearted as they come.)