Performance Anxiety

I started with dance when I was 5, and I hated it.

“Arms up, back straight. You’re not doing it right again!”

I would hold my tears until I was home again, but I didn’t have any choice about the lessons. I practiced till my arms were sore, and it was still not good enough. I didn’t have the feet or the build for ballet.

Its been many years, but I still dance (not ballet). I’ve made peace with it and think of it more as exercise,  social time. But the pressure is still there. I screw up at every performance. I still get yelled at, and now I do my share of the yelling. Panic, stress, here we go again, grin and smile, and pretend.

I can’t stop the yelling in my head, and I’m harder on myself than any of my teachers ever were.  It doesn’t get better when I write.

This is never going to get published. There’s no hook here. You’re info dumping. Your prose is awkward. You use too many adverbs. You’re telling again. You’ll never write like X. Most people trunk a few novels before they sell one so this one’s probably a stinker.

Sound familiar? I bet you hear those things too.

The voice got louder when I printed out that last draft, but I still went on and cleaned up the first chapter. Went over it with a fine toothed comb. Made it spotless. Hook here, hook there, start with action, foreshadow…

(Harry will vouch that I’ve been out of my mind last few days, borderline OCD.)

I sent the pages out to test the waters, and got rejected.

The funny thing was, I was relieved.

The worst thing had happened, and it wasn’t the rejection, but my editing fear come true.  I’d worked the text so much that I stripped myself out of the writing, ended up with a stagnant, immobile, immaculately coiffed statue of wax.

I am far from perfect. My glasses are always dirty. I burn my food.  Anything breakable, I will break. Make me run a block, and I’ll pass out.  I’m afraid of buttons. I can only focus on one thing at a time. I put people to sleep when I talk…

But flaws are part of our flavor, our imperfect human voice. Passion gives things life.

I’d lost both. It was a good lesson to learn.

I was trying to do, to be, something that was impossible, and who I am not. Nothing I write will ever be perfect. I can’t be afraid to be me, and I must believe that is enough. I need to stop thinking about the lights, and the stage. Get back to just me and the music, a writer and her words.

In the meantime, I really need to find some earplugs. What do you do to drown out the noise?

25 Comments to “Performance Anxiety”

  1. This is the current draft you were working on? If so, I am sorry to hear it was rejected. I’d still be interested in giving some part of this a read, if it’s ready for that stage.

    My thoughts, in general though: I’ve learned from reading and following Brandon Sanderson’s blog, recently, that the Trunk is not Forever. His latest best-seller is a trunk novel of his that he wasn’t ready to write when he first wrote it – but which he was finally able to do full justice to only recently. So, too, I feel with my novel that I’ve been writing since forever. It’s not something I’m ready to write – right now.

    A trunk novel is not a novel that’s no good. It’s a novel that you’re just not ready to write. For you, whether this novel is trunked or you’re able to revise it and improve upon it, I feel the same. If you do end up having to trunk it, think of it only as a temporary limbo, until you have reached a point in your career where you are better able to overcome the challenges it posed for you.

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      I sent the first 3 pages into a contest even though I knew I wasn’t ready to (I would have had to have the entire book edited by next week), but I decided to gamble and see what would happen.

      So actually, this is a relief. Now I can actually take my time (as per original plan) and go through the final edit, and beta read process etc. I’ve not given up on this story, but I needed to change my editing mentality. It was a pressure cooker that made me realize what didn’t work for me, and what does.

  2. to drown out the noise? give each voice a name, drop them one by one into a jar and watch them try to get at you – but fail! other than that? I have no idea. I love this post though – not because you suffer, but because you sound human. I’m honestly more encouraged by this post than I have been by anything I’ve read all month. We are not alone. 🙂

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      Hehe it will have to be one very big sound proof jar!

      That’s the wonderful thing about the blogosphere, isn’t it? It is encouraging to know that so many people go through the same process, the same doubts, and that they come out ok on the other side 🙂 No, we’re not alone. Thank you!

  3. I remember the first time I stood in front of a class of graduate students as their professor. I spent so much time thinking about where I was standing, how I was holding the dry-erase pen, where my hands were, that I’m surprised I managed to put two words together in a coherent fashion. (Perhaps, I never did since I can’t remember actually giving the lecture).

    It sounds like you are in a good place currently and have learned some from this round. Good luck with the editing. Take care and don’t be too hard on yourself!

    1. The first time is always the worst. I never imagined one of my professor’s might be afraid of standing up there, so that’s something to think about. I wonder if the students noticed at all or not… perhaps not 😉

      Thank you! And no, I’ve learned my lesson. I think things will go smoother (crossing my fingers) from this point on.

  4. I find sometimes that the raw draft has something undefinable to it that surpasses the edited product. Passion, innocence, whimsy, reckless abandon … I’m not sure what, but it’s a fine balance editing your work and keeping the hook intact.

    Happily though, I believe that like writing, editing is something we all improve at as well. As we grow and find our ‘editing voice’ hopefully we stand to lose less of the undefinable qualities of our work even as we trim and alter it to make it more presentable.

    1. Yes, it certainly does. Being free of self-consciousness produces something rough, but as you mentioned, usually has something to it. I think you’re right about the editing. I never expected it to be as tricky as it has been. As you said, balance is the key. 😉

  5. I keep reminding myself that the plan is to get a draft and then improve it. I’ve long since proven to myself that my first drafts are never immaculate, and that stuff I don’t work on enough after the initial phase does not sell. I think of Harper Lee and Larry McMurtry, who took over a decade a-piece to finish their classics, and all the other highly talented authors who rigorously improved their manuscripts. There’s an essay by Virginia Woolf about visiting the original manuscript for John Milton’s Paradise Lost; she was stunned how much was different from the perfect poem she’d grown up with. I don’t pretend that my first drafts rival the quality of Lee, McMurtry or Milton. I do pretend, though, that if I don’t do the work today, I cannot improve it tomorrow, and then the self-loathing prophecy of never publishing will fulfill itself.

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      I keep reminding myself that too. It helps take the pressure off. My first draft and this one are so different they’d almost be unrecognizable to anyone but me. I can say with confidence the latter drafts are miles better than the original. I fall on the other end of the spectrum… I could edit forever. I need to learn when to hold back. This editing stuff is a whole different craft I did not anticipate. 😉 Still learning the ropes.

  6. The only thing perfection is acceptable is in the dictionary.

    Being imperfectly perfect is one of the beauty of being human. Enjoy all of your warts and all. This is what makes the unique DNA of writing you.

    As far as drafts, if you want fresh eyes to look over your work. As a suggestion, head over to Writing.com and make an account. Slap your draft on the site and ask for feedback. The feedback has help you spot areas you missed and help you become stronger as a writer.

    Don’t you dare give up. 🙂

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      “Give up?” I expect that I’ll get many things wrong, and have no illusions that I’ll always have lots to learn, but give up? Never 🙂

      Thank you for the recommendation too.

      1. My pleasure.

        Look at this quote from U.S. Basketball great Michael Jordan:

        I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed. – Michael Jordan

        I’m ready to succeed. Are you? 🙂

    1. Hehe I was wondering if anyone would pick up on that. Technically it’s called “koumpounophobia”. It’s a lot better now than when I was a kid, but I still get squeamish sometimes. ~blushes~

      1. You know… I saw that and thought it was a laugh-line. Which kind of button – the kind that clasp our clothes together or the kind you push to make something happen on a whiz-bang machine?

      2. Um yes a laugh line, but unfortunately true. The kind for clothes, and the smaller the button the more disturbing. They make me squeamish the same people are afraid of spiders or bugs. So if you’ve ever watched Coraline, well for me that was pure terror LOL

  7. I didn’t really pay much attention to post secondary commencement speeches. I think I was jaded with school but I came across one by Steve Jobs and it’s an amazing speech. We’re all going to have anxiety and make mistakes. The difference is our attitude towards it.

    “…you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

    “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

    You should watch the whole speech on youtube Steve Job’s Commencement Speech. I’ll probably end up posting about this on my blog.

    I hope this related to your post…sometimes my mind makes odd connections.

    Happy writing! I know you’ll succeed because you have the passion for it.

    1. T.S. Bazelli Author

      Hey Tree! You know, I can’t remember mine either. I either was too impatient to get out of there, or it wasn’t really that great. lol I did look up Steve Jobs speech, and it was worth the listen. “avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart” That part really resonated. Thank you for pointing it out 🙂

  8. Sorry about the rejection, but you know what? Every no is one step closer to a yes. Seriously! And I’ve read your stuff, so I know you can get there!

    And you’re absolutely right: you’ve got to let your writing reflect you. Forget the rules sometimes. Be true, be you. The rest will work itself out.

    1. Honestly, I’m not really upset about the rejection. I know I’ll experience many more, as do all writers, even published ones. Thank you for the encouragement 🙂 It takes guts to be brave, and be yourself, but I think that’s the only path that’s really worth it.

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