Ready, set? Panic! OR Writing as a competitive sport

I am not neurotic.  I promise.  Although I suspect there are people who might disagree with me on this.  But I’ll tell you neuroses regarding public bathrooms is not the same as neuroses in general.  It’s just not.

But I digress. Here is the thing: I believe in Panic.  With a capital P.  With the frantic heartbeat and the short breath and the WHAT THE HELL IS GOING TO HAPPEN TO ME kind of internal dialogue.  Panic propels my writing. Panic has helped me shift gears to working on a longer writing project. Panic rules.

No, still not neurotic.

See, K.K and I may have mentioned that we are both currently working on collections of short stories.   So, naturally,  things come up:

Do all the stories need to have a connecting character/theme/thing/anything?

What will the title be?

How long does each have to be?

I wonder if this is  a good idea?

How many goddamn stories do I have to write?

How is everyone writing so much faster than me?

Who will even publish these?

I am writing shit, aren’t I?

Why am I even doing this?

K.K deals with these things as she deals with most things: With patience.   She sits back, she looks at the problem, she lets the freakout moments pass.   For the most part, she is pretty composed and even when she isn’t, a conversation helps propel her back to her steady and strong pace.

I admire this.

I, however, have found myself oscillating between paralysis and a frantic work pace, much like swinging a wild hammer in order to break myself out of the tunnel that is the long steady path to completing a book. Reasoning with myself hasn’t helped.  Neither has telling myself that most self evident of all truths–it will only get done when you sit your ass down and do it. I have felt like I am not working enough, not working right, not working fast enough despite sitting down to write almost daily.  I have felt like I have needed to justify my quitting the University job in favor of the scraped together odds and ends of acting jobs so i can have “time to write” by actually producing a manuscript at top speed.

I’ve been a little panicked, frankly, and then I’ve been panicked about my panic. So, you know, it’s been hectic in there *points to head*.

See, somewhere between fully crushing my own sense of competence as a writer and determinedly forging ahead, there is this place where I feel like a 9-year-old me. That 9 year old ran a lot of races.  Relays, 100 meter dashes, 400 meters.  She stood at the chalked lines, she felt the muscles ready in anticipation, she felt wind on her face, the Panic in her stomach when she sensed someone else at her heels, that Panic that made her push herself and made her squint her eyes at the finish line, and think of nothing but running across it. She always smiled when she crossed the finish line; you can say she learned that short spurts of speed were the way to win. And to feel good.

That girl would never grow up to be a distance runner.  She just didn’t have the time, or the patience, or the inclination. She also didn’t learn how to sustain that feeling of Panic for an extended enough period of time. As I look at my life now, I see that that the whole short, strong, bursts of effort thing seems to have carried over to other areas in my life, but nowhere is it  more apparent a mode of operation than it is in  my writing.
When I started this longer project, it was a struggle: A sprinter in the middle of a cross-country race kind of thing.  I would speed up, stop.  Then sprint. Then stop.   That worked, in my experience, for  the Bradbury challenge or creating short stories that were independent of each other and did not belong to a cohesive project. But, thinking of a longer work, I found myself unable to sprint at the speed that I had been used to, despite giving my work almost daily time.   This was new territory where I could clearly see that steadiness wins the game.

But one’s nature cannot be so easily altered.  A low, steady run (so to speak), would undoubtedly have forced me into something like complacency by removing the sense of urgency which I need, as a writer and person, to cross finish lines. Panic makes me push myself, always has. I have had to  reach back, to find a place, for  my old friend Panic who can sit on my shoulder and point out the steady pace at which everyone else works, or tell me that I am missing my own deadlines, or point out that my own failure is at my heels. Whatever it may be.  This has meant, I am more patient with my work, but I am not above kicking myself in the ass when it’s been a few days and I have not returned to the stories.  It has also meant I am okay spending a little more time on the stories which, wait what, why didn’t anyone tell me, makes all the difference (The things you know and then know again and then know one more time). I am settling into a speed which allows for the finish line to be far away and yet accommodates for sprints for short distances. Hallelujah: I have adapted.
And the most comforting thing, ironically, in the settling into this new pace  has been learning to accept that not everyone need to just “relax and write.” Some of us need the speed and the freakouts. Some of us need to look over their shoulders.  Some of us need to Panic.Because when it’s competitive, it’s competitive. Note: Neither am I in the attached picture, nor is this how I ever looked.  But in my head, that blur, that whooosh….oh yeah…it happened!

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