Today I want to talk about how hard it can be to put yourself out there and share your work. Part of the issue, for me at least, is vulnerability. My writing, while fictional, is always going to reflective of me in some way. Sharing it, and accepting critique and interpretation, makes me vulnerable. I’m not good at promoting myself. I don’t like others judging my work. I’m worried it’s not good enough.
Now I want to focus on that last point because I feel the others all stem from this one main rigid belief; believing I’m not good enough and other people will find out. While I know there is a lot of research on imposter syndrome, I want to look at something a little less common.
I have “OCD tendencies” as my psychologist puts it and, when well managed, I can be very productive; I produce a lot of work quickly and to a very high standard. The obsessions I have also cause bad panic attacks which can negatively impact pretty much every aspect of my life (including my writing). As Lily Bailey explains “OCD merely requires that you have obsessions (unwanted thoughts and images) and compulsions (the action, whether physical or mental, that you take in response), and that they cause you significant distress” (as quoted in Clark, 2017, para. 3). OCD doesn’t always look like the image we are commonly bombarded with of someone obsessed with being neat and clean.
For example, if my cats go outside, I have thoughts of finding them run over or mauled to death, so I try and keep them inside (in my defense, one of our cats was attacked by a possum at our old house).
When I’m editing a poem, I’ll fixate on one part of it. I’ll know what’s wrong with it, but I’ll question my solution and won’t leave it alone. I’ll just keep changing it over and over again. Nothing else around me exists. I won’t eat. I won’t drink. I won’t acknowledge anything else until I’m happy with it, and I’m never happy with it. Eventually my husband places a hand on me and I start crying. If something doesn’t go right, it sets off a chain reaction.
I also have forms for everything. I have a Google Sheet for our budget. I have a planner which includes every detail of our lives, such as which days my husband finishes work late and when my classes are (I’m a lecturer). The planner also includes a weekly to-do list, which is then broken down into daily tasks. My weekly to-do list relates to how I’m going to achieve my monthly goal, which addresses my New Years resolutions. This used to cause a lot of stress because this schedule was fixed and inflexible, but I got results, which was how I justified it. I’m more flexible with my planning now. I allow things to change and tasks to be moved around.
I never thought there was anything wrong with this. I always thought I was just a perfectionist who had anxiety. I never considered that these two things could be connected. New York’s Binghamton University did a study where HALF THE PARTICIPATES “felt there was no difference between someone with obsessive compulsive disorder and someone with traits like being highly organised” (Stayner, 2018, para. 4), so I guess it’s understandable I didn’t know this either. The thing with my OCD tendencies is, I’m not just worried about something being done perfectly, I’m worried something bad will happen if it isn’t. I’m convinced it makes me a bad person.
My writing suffers because I have a need to find certainty. It’s why I repeat the same thing over and over again. It’s why I over-plan every aspect of my life. There is no certainty when it comes to sharing my work. I can beta test it as much as I like, but I cannot predict the way it will be received.
When it comes to overcoming this, my Psychologist says I need to pattern break. That’s actually why I started this blog. I write every week, and I don’t have the time to make it perfect. It’s taking the anxiety out of sharing my work. I guess when it comes to publishing work and putting yourself out there, all I can say is that you just need to do it. One of my cats got out the other day and didn’t die. I’ve had this blog for months and the world hasn’t ended.
Clark, L. (2017). Lily Bailey on living with OCD: ‘My brain was filled with weird, uncomfortable thoughts’. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/may/29/my-brain-was-filled-with-weird-uncomfortable-thoughts-lily-bailey-on-living-with-ocd
Stayner, T. (2018). ‘You’re just a perfectionist’: OCD suffers speak out about misconceptions. SBS The Feed. Retrieved from https://www.sbs.com.au/news/the-feed/you-re-just-a-perfectionist-ocd-sufferers-speak-out-about-misconceptions