Friday, April 22, 2011

Performance Anxiety

In the shadow of a calling I found myself . . .

Untangling myself from expectations.

Musical Moment
~ “Der Kommissar” After the Fire

It’s not what you think. I am talking about writing.

I have experienced performance anxiety as a writer for years. I show up to the computer and I freeze. I pull out a journal and I doodle. I find other things to do like wash the dishes or do laundry (neither of which I enjoy), cook and, worse yet, watch television.

Now television, in and of itself, is not a bad thing. Inspiration can be found on TV, but I realized that every time I watch a series – sitcoms, dramas or “real” TV as seen on the Discovery and History channels, what I am really watching are people who had a dream – to act, to sing, study animals, history, space, to make music or cooking – and they are living their dreams. All of these people have felt scared, shy, intimidated or embarrassed, but they pushed through the fears and beat back their own inner critics to continue to pursue their dreams. These artists and scholars have turned their dreams into their real life.

It is while I watch TV that I remember that I too have a dream and the only way to make it my reality is to work at it. I need to write and write often. I need to free myself from holding back and write the thoughts and words that come to my mind without censoring myself because my fears have decided to pay a nice long visit like the smelly, cranky uncle who snaps out orders and terrifies you.

My performance anxiety manifests into these fears:
~ People reading my work.
~ People judging my work.
~ People judging me from my words and the situations I create, especially in the thrillers I
enjoy with its sick, twisted plots.
~ My mother is going to read this.
~ My father is going to read this.
~ “Am I good enough?” and “Who do you think you are?” (My mad, bad and terribly evil Vlad
the inner critic speaks at normal volume.)

To combat this, I created this website and this blog to push myself out of my cocoon of self-protection. To be a writer is to not care what others will think or how they interpret your work. It is putting your voice out into the world and allowing whomever finds it to connect with it and hopefully learn, laugh and enjoy it, but if necessary, question and argue about your creation. Either way, you want a reaction.

I learned a valuable lesson when I listened to the audio book of All He Ever Wanted by Anita Shreve. I hated every single second of it. I hated the main character with a burning consuming passion. I wanted to end my torture, but I could not stop listening to the story because I had to know what happened to him. It wasn’t the writing, which was quite excellent. It wasn’t the writer’s voice, which pulled me in. (It was a very good book and you should check it out.) It was the horrible, arrogant man she created that I struggled with or it could have been how well the actor Dennis Boutsikaris portrayed the Nicholas Van Tassell character. Either way, I felt that story in such a visceral way that I was shocked at my reaction.

Anita Shreve wrote her story having no idea of the effect her words would have on me. Nor does she care, nor should she. I assume after all her years of success she does not worry about people reading her work, judging her work, judging her words or her family’s reaction (at least not too much). She writes the stories that show up ready to be told. She gave me the experience of having a vehement reaction, which is probably not what she intended, but it was so good for me to learn. My reaction was my problem, not the writer’s. She inadvertently taught me a lesson that I hold in my heart years later which is basically, Get over yourself.

To do that, I have written a short letter to my inner critic.

Dear Inner Critic:

While I appreciate and thank you for stopping by (and I really do), I cannot care what you think. I need to walk a writerly path that is true to me, but I will pay enough attention to you to learn how to become a better writer and discover my “tells” especially if they are overwhelmingly annoying to readers. I will do my best to edit like a fiend and not bore you, but Vlad, since you are ever present (and you really are mad, bad and terribly evil), I cannot attach myself to your perceptions or my reactions, but I do hope we can discover a balance where I succeed and you die. Just saying.

Deborah, Writer (in Progress)

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