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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Anxiety: Combating the Keyboard

Every time I sit down in front of a keyboard I freeze. My entire body tenses and I find myself in a Mexican standoff with the tiny blinking cursor on my screen.

Small and unassuming as that cursor might be, it usually wins the initial staring contest. My eyes fall to the familiar rows of keys. I tap my fingers atop them lightly; never hard enough to make a letter, much less a word, appear on the blank page before me.

It’s always the same. Work or home, it doesn’t matter. I sit there swiveling in my chair, futzing with things on my desk, reading e-mail or finding some other menial task to bide my time until I get up the gumption to face that cursor.

The panic that comes over me when I sit down in front of my computer has nothing to do with writing. Writing is something I do well. It would make sense if it were fear of the act of writing. Fear of being made vulnerable by offering your words to the world. Fear of feeling ill-equipped to put those words on the page. But that’s not what it is at all.

I write daily. My articles are torn apart by questioning editors. Sometimes they get approved to go to press and other times I labor over a rewrite. Rewriting is never as hard as starting from scratch.

That’s the origin of the fear. Starting something new is terrifying. Sure, it sends a little thrill up your spine that makes you shiver with anticipation. You think of all the things the infant project you’re just beginning could become. Minutes, hours, days are wasted planning its path; its future. Alas, ambition without action is procrastination.

Ghosts of failures past are always lurking, poised to remind you that the threat of failure remains. Suddenly you realize that your bright idea could meet with rejection. It could fail.

Questions bubble up to the surface. Why are you writing this? Is it a good story? Has it been done before? If it has, what’s your fresh new take? What’s the hook? Two dozen or more questions into your internal interrogation and you start to wonder if you even know what you’re writing about anymore.

In spite of all that, I keep writing. I find if I tap those keys long enough and don’t let the fear of striking the wrong one overwhelm me that the words always find their way out. They trickle slowly like water from an ancient spigot. Each word builds confidence. Each phrase erases self-doubt.

Perseverance is the key. Inspiration isn’t automatic.

The cursor would blink all day if I let it. It’s up to me to commit, press a key and take control of the situation. The product may turn out to be craptastic, and the delete key and I will probably become very close over the next few thousand words, but in typing I conquer my keyboard anxiety.

It’s a vicious circle I struggle with everyday, through every article or chapter. I think every writer struggles with some form of keyboard anxiety, where it stems from really doesn’t matter. What’s important is that you don’t wait on inspiration. You keep your butt in the chair and your fingers on the keys and drag inspiration to you kicking and screaming.

1 comment:

  1. I was just thinking about this topic the other day. I'm going to post on it (so don't go stealing my ideas) but I think that going into writing with the expectation of throwing away the beginning is helping me out.

    I usually agonize over the beginning and that's what keeps me from starting. But then I find that I delete it anyway for something that comes to mind later in the post. So, now I just start and know that I'll figure the beginning out later.