I am both highly successful and a complete failure. Maybe that’s not all that unusual, I don’t know. My dayjob is frustrating, challenging, technically interesting, and immensely captivating. I know! I’m lucky right? I have a challenging job writing technical documents and it even pays well! Woo Hoo!
I work with interesting people. Some I might want to occasionally dropkick, but mostly I am in awe of what they accomplish. I write everything from procedures and plans to highly detailed reports. Often my writing is as delicately structured as any suspense novel plot. Crafting a complex and logically consistent document is immensely satisfying
It sounds nearly perfect, right? But it’s not. Not at all. If you ask me what my dream job is, it’s to write fiction and publish. That is what I want to do and that is what I keep telling myself I will do, but never quite do it.
I was thinking today about why that is. I mean why when faced with a free hour, I tend to gravitate back to dayjob tasks and projects. I do it all the time. Instead of opening Scrivener and jotting down a scene in my WIP I open a technical document and start commenting or drafting. Or review last week’s meetings. Or see what new regulation has crossed my path that I am sure I must be familiar with by tomorrow. I’m not wasting time. I’m not procrastinating. I am also not doing the thing I said I wanted most in the world to do when I have a few minutes to do it.
I’ve talked to a few people about this and think it’s something a lot of us battle. Particularly people who are hyper-productive. Is it something inside us? Maybe the one thing that makes us so productive and ready to work on dayjob things is the same thing that makes it hard to work on something like writing our own stories? Maybe it has something to do with being accomplished at one thing, but that thing is not writing fiction?
A friend of mine suggested maybe I don’t actually want to write. I don’t think it’s that simple. She’s right about one thing though, if I don’t figure this out I will never publish the book I say I want to publish. So what could this be? Why am I self-sabotaging?
Why is it easier to pick up dayjob tasks than to write, let’s compare and contrast.
- Dayjob writing feels tangible. Dayjob writing is concrete. It has defined edges and dependencies. The path is clear and so is the next step. Even when I am drafting a document from a blank page, the shape and structure are there in my mind. Dayjob writing is familiar.
- Fiction writing feels amorphous. It is puzzling to me that a blank page in the same writing tool can feel like a familiar place when I am writing a technical doc, and so completely vague and unclear when attempting fiction.
- Dayjob writing is easy. What I write is technically very complex but it slides out of my head effortlessly. I can see the structure and often write any flow charts or sequence diagrams after the text is complete. I see the doc as a living thing in my head.
- Writing fiction is uncomfortable. I feel self-conscious when I write like I am pretending to be a writer. Fiction writing is unfamiliar. The structure that I am used to when writing my technical docs, does not come to me so simply. I see the stories that I want to write, I even plot them, but when they tumble out of my head they are messy on the page.
I could probably go on, but I think you get my drift. Even writing this blog was easier and more attractive than using this time to work on my WIP.
Just because I am an expert technical documentation writer, does not mean I am an expert writer of something else. When I read what I just wrote it sounds like someone complaining about learning a new language. Or better analogy learning to ice skate after being a rollerblader. Sure they seem the same, but are they? Are skis like a snowboard? Is a surfboard like a skateboard? These things are closely related and functionally similar, even use the same muscles and nerves, but they not the same.
I think I am expecting the same level of proficiency from my fiction writing as I demand (and get) from my technical writing. I will get there but it will take a lot of work that will involve re-learning something that is as familiar to me as breathing but is now like breathing underwater. I’m like that expert skateboarder who wants to able to surf Mavericks. I’ll get there but first I have to reset my expectations and allow myself the space to learn, again.