What am I afraid of? I can’t put my finger on it… I sit poised at the computer, fingers at the ready atop of the keys, waiting for the tappity tap tap that alerts me to my flow. But all I get is staccato sounds; infrequent, small bursts of activity amidst long silences…. Ideas? Where’d they go? What was I just thinking? I have a thesis to work on – I talk incessantly and passionately about my research, but as soon as I sit in front of a screen with a keyboard, everything disappears from my head – a miraculous vanishing act.
I sit, like a frustrated musician at a grand piano with the finest instruments, waiting for a concerto or symphony to flow out of me. But all I get is a crappy jingle that has probably been unintentionally plagiarised from something I’ve heard before. Ugh… I know the tools of the trade, the tricks to tickle the habit, and yet I resist using them. Write everyday. Be disciplined in your approach. Set daily goals/tasks/topics. Make them public so you are accountable (does humiliation for not doing what you publicly claimed really work as a motivating force?)
I find myself waiting for inspiration, knowing full well that this is not the way to get ideas (or writing) out of me. I have experienced profound flashes of writing elation, where I get lost in the moment and write with fervour in a feverish fit of flow. And then it stops. Dead. Where did it go? How do I get it back? What if I have nothing of value to say? WTF?
I do not believe in my own ideas and musings. I am afraid of being publicly consumed and criticised. It seems that I am a coward. And what is life if I stay in the safe confines of my own head? I am passionate about sharing discourses and delving into dialogues about the human condition. I can discuss such things with strangers on a bus, travellers on a train and customers waiting at the supermarket checkout… and yet, I struggle enormously to articulate my thinking via the written word. Can I find the right word(s)? Can I get my meaning across? Am I using too many adjectives? Am I over complicating what is an essentially simple premise: my struggle to contemplate and capture ‘stuff.’ Stuff is slippery. I forget stuff. Somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind I know that I know the underlying theoretical issues that help explain some stuff, but I labour with accessing this knowledge. My memory is not sharp. Maybe if I wrote more, I would be more successful accessing what I know, or maintain the knowledge better? But these are the ‘what ifs’ that I am riddled with. What if my mind was sharper? What if I was a different version of myself that overcame these insecurities? What if, in a parallel universe, another me was successfully forging ahead?
None of these questions help me get on with the job of writing now! Even while writing this piece on the challenge of writing, I have followed the white rabbit down the hole and been distracted by new thoughts and ideas, losing my grip on the theme I was expanding (or lamenting) upon. The Mad Hatter teases me; the Cheshire Cat grins tauntingly at me. My brain pings. I want to follow every new trajectory in a way that is akin to experiencing ADHD symptoms. I start many projects and very rarely complete them all. Poor form. Poor discipline. I lose interest. I can rationalise that I have learned what I wanted and thus moved on. But this is self-deception of the highest order.
So, here I am, an aspiring author struggling to ‘phinish’ my doctorate. Colleagues, friends and mentors have more belief in me than I do. What do I need to spur me over the phinishing line? How do I access the internal dialogue and transform it into an academic thesis?
I will share my odyssey over the next few weeks and months. It doesn’t matter if you, dear reader, are not actually interested (though I do hope that you are). I need to forget that you might critique my process, or nod knowingly at my dilemma, offering no words of encouragement or enlightenment – because you know that while these are great to hear, they do not generate the writing. I know you will judge me, and I have to be comfortable with that. There will be flaws. I will mix tenses; use too many adjectives, analogies and metaphors. My narrative will lack cohesion; I will neglect to fully expound an idea due to being distracted, or simply losing my thread. I will feel vulnerable. I do feel vulnerable exposing myself to potential judgement. But I remind myself of the spirit of generosity that many readers display because the ‘stuff’ resonates. Because of empathy and shared experience. So, I give myself permission to write badly. It is a self-full journey. I have to find my own way….