THE HORROR OF THE PRE-LEARNING TANTRUM.
I seem to be writing about comfort zones and discomfort lately, as I go through all of the steps necessary to assemble a book and put it up for sale.
I wrote this Drabble (100 words) on my Wattpad account (http://www.wattpad.com/myworks/26653089/write/120865795):
[Comfort zones are for old ladies.
When you want to be a self-published author, you realize early on that EVERYTHING you do will push you out of your comfort zone.
You will have to actually write, all the way to ‘the End.’
Revise and polish your own work.
LET OTHER PEOPLE read.
Learn the business side: choosing where you will publish.
You will have to take yourself seriously as a professional and have standards.
It will cost money. Your money. You can replace some money with time. Your time.
But there will be things you CAN’T do. They still have to be done.
Most people you know will not understand.
Comfort zones are overrated.]
In answer to a question about dealing with self-doubt, I wrote:
For every scene I write, I go through a chunk of time with a very uncomfortable feeling in my gut, some time between gathering what will go in the scene and being able to write it.
Behaviorist Karen Pryor writes in her book Don’t Shoot the Dog that this time is called the ‘pre-learning tantrum’: what used to work doesn’t work, and you haven’t figured out the new pattern, and you are horribly uncomfortable.
I expect it now. I keep digging deeper into the subconscious – sometimes the tantrum means I haven’t faced the deepest truths yet – and I KNOW I won’t like the feeling.
But the scene won’t gel, won’t get written, until after I’ve gone through that.
For me, it is EVERY darn scene. Fear is part of it: fear of not doing the material justice, of being found out a poseur. Fear I write down in my journal until it is all out of my head.
But it isn’t really fear that makes the gut uncomfortable.
It is, rather, my brain learning what it means so I can write it – and not quite having it yet.
I just let it keep going around and around, reading what I have, asking myself what ‘digging deeper’ means in the context of THIS material.
And eventually a first line suggests itself, or the critical missing piece surfaces, and I start seeing words on the page as a way out of the pain.
I love it, because what follows is the sense of ‘flow’ where you lose yourself, and the subconscious takes over, and the writing seems to come more easily.
No pre-learning tantrum = no writing.
So I shrug and do my job, which is to sit with that discomfort and keep reading my own notes over and over, and thinking, and writing about it, until writing fiction happens.
I think some people fear this stage, and call it ‘writer’s block’ when it hits them.
Using the discomfort to write
The first thing to note about the pre-learning tantrum is that it practically guarantees I’m about to have a breakthrough: my brain is literally oscillating back and forth between the old and the new, trying desperately to trust that I know what the heck I’m doing.
I don’t – but it doesn’t matter, because every time before when this discomfort (okay, PAIN and FEAR state) has happened, sometime very soon after that, if I stick with it and keep poking it with a stick, the state breaks, the discomfort passes, and I’m on the other side of the chasm, writing.
It means I may need to keep digging just a little deeper, to ask myself – in writing – what the problem is, whether there is enough conflict or motivation or angst.
But it doesn’t happen at all until I’m very close to where I need to be.
The farther away I am, the less uncomfortable I am – so I can use it as a measure of distance from the change in state.
The KEY: stick with it. Don’t go looking for something ‘better’ to do instead. Stick with routine. Trust the process.
Writing this formally here will help me remember next time that it isn’t fatal.
Have you heard about the tantrum? Do you notice it? Does it work for you? (Writing is NOT the only area it happens in – almost any change can lead an outbreak.)