It has been an exhausting few months. Productive, definitely, but physically and emotionally draining. I recently submitted two key proposals; one academic and one literary. It has been thoroughly draining but something interesting happened when I finally sent off the submissions.
Kernels of ideas
Getting to the submit button involves work of course, a lot of work. Some of it is visible and obviously industrious but much is invisible, occurring only in the neurological passages of the senses and the cogs of the mind.
The first phase barely looks like work at all. There are the months of conscious living, senses permanently alert, the observing, registering and reading, the filing away of shards of information and impressions… Notebooks and archiving software come into play to some extent but mostly snippets just disappear into the complex circuitry of my mind. With time, continuous feeding and patience the data is processed. Hints of a hypothesis and hazy concepts emerge. Yes, they will require further research and refining but ideas firmly set up camp in my mind and, with them, the certainty they are worth exploring further.
At this point the conscious research starts and before long I’m surrounded by articles, newspaper snippets, book chapters… with key thoughts highlighted and ideas scribbled in the margins. Notebooks fill up with a few lines of a thought, penned hastily before it evaporates like a will-o’-the-whisp. A file appears on my hard drive with pages of disconnected passages and paragraphs that capture half-moulded opinions and hunches.
The demons circle
Before long these fragments morph into unwritten theories or ideas. At this point it is essential I start writing, not the finished product, but paragraphs that capture the essence of the idea and where it might take me. These paragraphs, which start the process of turning mental meanderings into a piece of work and form the basis of a proposal, are however some of the toughest to get down. Even if the data has percolated into a robust idea, even if I am determined to turn it into something substantial, even though I love the act of writing, fear of the blank page pops up. I know full well that once I have written the first few paragraphs, I will be away but I procrastinate by reading yet another article or checking another source.
Procrastination is completely normal. New students to published authors and almost everyone in between seem to experience it in some form. Suddenly anything and everything is more appealing than tackling that blank page: ironing Mr M’s shirts, scrubbing the bathroom, doing my tax return…
Driven by the determined idea that has implanted itself in my brain (and often an external deadline too), I finally write the first lines. The opening paragraphs of my proposal gradually take shape. Before long the sentences are flowing out and I hit the recommended word or page count in the submission guidelines, which brings me to the next big hurdle: editing the first draft.
Squaring up to the demons
If fear keeps me from the blank page, dread stalls the read-through of the rough first draft. Dread that I have written complete and utter rubbish. Dread that ideas that seemed worthy and cogent in my head have fizzled into insignificance on the page. I know from experience, from all the press releases and contracts to the blog posts and academic essays I have ever drafted, that once I start editing, I will thoroughly enjoy the process. It is one of the most annoying contradictions. Mrs M the wordsmith loves the métier of using words and syntax to refine and clarify thoughts; Mrs M the originator of ideas is petrified of revisiting the first draft!
After much cajoling and procrastination the wordsmith wins but not before the demons have landed a few punches. The second, third and however many more re-drafts are not nearly as painful. The wordsmith in me is in full flow by then but therein lies a danger too.
Revising and editing can be a tactic to avoid the next hurdle: handing the work over to somebody else. Just as I am satisfied that the draft is as good as it will ever be and I open the email or electronic form to submit it, the enemy within truly rears its ugly head. Bruised from the previous rounds but determined, it throws out all the insinuations it has been held back; it taunts me with old insecurities; and it pounces on past ghosts, memories of which still have the power to unsettle.
At this point the only thing to do is give the demons a resounding punch in the stomach and hit ‘submit’ but it takes energy and self-belief and leaves me feeling drained. However, stunned by my own boldness, I also feel oddly invigorated and am aware of a small but important window. Staring out those measly bastards gives me a shot in the arm. The pesky sods will be back before long but whilst they are still wondering what hit them, I can use the adrenaline surge to get to work on the next project, to tackle my next blank page…
Since hitting the submit button, I have started work on a few more projects that have been in the pipeline for some time. There will be some changes around here, some new ventures in 2015… and hopefully a slightly smaller, slightly weaker cohort of demons to pester me.