The willingness to be bad at things
So yesterday I had writers block.
This week, I had made a promise to myself, to a get a number of things done, several of them concerning writing. The two of these I was trying to fulfill yesterday was finishing a short story I had been working on, and writing a post for this blog. But, alas, writers block.
Now, I realize that I’ve been slacking off these last few weeks, and if you look at my post history, I haven’t exactly been up on this blog recently. I’m not in the swing of things, and I don’t have the momentum going so perhaps that’s the reason I’m having difficulty. But there is also the fact that several times throughout the day yesterday I would open up my computer screen or notebook, stare at the page for a couple of minutes, and be unable to put a single word on the page. I wrote a sentence, maybe, of fiction, and a blog post outline that I managed to delete accidentally. On Svbtle’s back-end, I would write the first sentence, delete it, and go back and write a near identical sentence several times.
Now, I did a couple of other things yesterday; I worked on a new math book and did work on a novel program I’m trying to write in python; neither of these were a problem. I am tempted to say that writing has been giving me difficulty because of the difference between straightforward and open ended work. If you have to do three math problems, you look at them, figure out solutions, solve them, and you are done- it’s a confined problem, you just find the algorithms to solve the problem and apply them. (Yes, I admit this is not true in higher level math.) Whereas with this blog post I’m writing down, if I am to decide the last word of this sentence, I have literally every word the English language to choose from. I need a novel, interesting point to make; I have to try not to be boring, and even the length of this post and my conciseness of making my point need to be taken into consideration; the creation of this content is not straightforward, as it is in the math problem. But as I said, I had to look into building a program solving a problem I had not encountered before; even though some of it was looking up commands in python, I didn’t have the same apprehension with beginning anything, I just wrote code without a problem.
Rather, I think my writers block might be something else; the blog post I was trying to write yesterday was on an entirely different topic, but was very unfocused; and the writing itself, disjointed, and generally bad. The same with the fiction piece I was working on; I disliked my word choice, shifting style and narration, to the point I thought my writing was bad. And this is a difficult thing for me; I think of myself as a good writer. I’m sure if you read through my blog you might form your own opinion of that assertion, but being a good writer is part of my self-image, and when I write things that I think are bad, it’s quick for me to rather not write anything at all.
Um this morning, right before I started writing this post actually, I worked out. I’m a couple weeks into a new exercise routine; and growing up, I was terrible at exercising, in that I didn’t care for it in any form. I"m still not as fit as I would like, and when I work out with my friends I often struggle to keep up with them. But I don’t find this at all discouraging; if I look at my beliefs about fitness, I don’t believe that for the level of fitness required for basic health and wellness is something you are good or bad at, rather it’s something that you either put the effort into or not. I cannot do as many pushups as him because he has spent more time on doing pushups; if I do more pushups today, some date in the future I can do more. I may be able to do as many push-ups as that guy over there. Which is, a completely different mindset that my mental approach to writing.
\I don’t care if I am particularly good at working out, because if I work out consistently I will get good at working out in short order. If I’m not working out enough, I can always increase my frequency or intensity or apply more of whatever principles I remember from high school gym class. This is of course, true of writing as well- if I write more often and in different styles and think consciously about the elements of rhetoric I’m employing, I will become a better writer. But I do care about being a good writer. In the case of fitness, I view myself in the middle of a learning process, so it’s not important where I am physically as long as I am improving. But I, as I’ve said, think of myself as a good writer. And I didn’t view myself in the middle of a learning process. I was good at something, and simply doing that. And what I wrote yesterday- I won’t publish it, it was bad- I couldn’t move on because everything I put on the page was awful.“
This is a trap a perfectionist must be aware of, that things aren’t actually perfect when you start. Or even good. And only by having a willingness to be bad at things, even when doing so may hurt my ego, am I able to keep at it and improve; that’s the lesson I choose to take with me.
Or possibly this is all conjecture and I just had writers block yesterday; I’m not perfect.