It’s the dead of night. Wind howls its eerie song, thunder pierces the sky, and rain drops tap dance upon the roof. What once was a bright, roaring fire is nothing more than a few red coals. What’s left dimly lights the colonial style living room. A crystal glass lies on its side on the table; whiskey dribbles onto the hardwood floor, glistening ever so slightly from the fireplace. Mascara stained tears slowly roll over her cheeks–her gaze is focused on what lies within her mind. A heavy pit sits in her stomach as a picture frame lies on her lap, the glass shattered and bloody. The rain finally stops, and her empty gaze shifts back to the present situation. Her face is heavy with exhaustion. She gives a brief, uninterested glance at the mixture of blood, glass, and whiskey. A disheartened sigh escapes her mouth. The grandfather clock chimes twice, and silence follows.
You’d think that if you’re a writer with a perfectionist streak you’d have the best, well-thought-out pieces, right? No problems, no road blocks, no grammar issues, nothing.
That’s rarely the case.
Being a perfectionist is a hindrance to writing, a lot of times. NOT a perk.
Back in middle school and high school, I always excelled in language arts. I received good grades on my papers. I liked writing, and I was good at it. But, we were urged to follow steps.
- First draft
- 2nd draft
- Edit and peer review
- Final draft
For me, I made it a habit to stop after step 3. I’d get all my research done, make a rough outline, then fill in the blanks. I wasn’t like some students where they’d type out word vomit, whatever came to their mind first, with the intention of fixing it all later. No. I’d sit at my computer, look over my outline, and think over all the possible ways I could write something before getting anything down on paper. When I finally decided, “This is it! THIS is how I want to say X,” it would get typed out. Then, rinse and repeat for the rest of the paper. After it was all said and done, I’d read over my paper and think, “Ya know, this isn’t half bad for my first draft!” So, I’d turn it in and make the smallest, most insignificant changes for future drafts, because nothing really needed “fixed.” My final draft was essentially my first draft, with maybe a couple things switched around. And it worked. I don’t think I ever got below a B on a paper in high school. I used this for creative writings too, not just research papers. Mental first draft, hard copy and “perfect” final draft.
Fast forward a few years to when I want to start writing a book. Mind you, it’s 2018, and I’ve had a couple book ideas since 2014. However, things have barely gotten out of the planning stages. Why? Because I’m a perfectionist, and my previous methods do NOT work in this realm. I can’t just think up the entire plot and dialogue for 300+ pages and write it all down straight from my head. Hell, I can’t even think up 3 pages ahead of time in “perfect” detail. Books aren’t concrete like research papers–they’re fluid. Each page builds on the last, and you’ll never know what page 10 is going to be until you’ve finished page 8 or 9. Sure, you can have a rough idea, but once the words hit the page, things can (and will more than likely) change. Sounds easy enough. Just write it piece by piece, what’s so hard about that? Well, if you have the privilege of being a PROCRASTINATING perfectionist like me, everything. Everything is hard about that.
The way my mind works is this: if I don’t think I can do something perfectly the first time around, I don’t want to do it at all. I’ll keep putting it off and putting it off until before I know it, weeks, months, and even a couple years pass by. Remember how I said I’ve had a couple book ideas since 2014? What happened? Procrastinating perfectionism happened.
I’ve built up bad habits. I’ve conditioned my brain into thinking I can’t write unless things are “perfect” (I’ve been quoting perfect, because there’s no such thing as perfect. There’s always room for improvement, as my old band director used to say). So, nothing gets written. Absolutely nothing. And it’s not even as simple as, “Oh, it’s not going to be perfect. Guess I’ll just put it off til the right idea comes to mind.” There is physical anxiety that comes with all of this. I become afraid and get a pit in my stomach at the thought of getting something “wrong.” That’s not an easy feeling to overcome. Being a perfectionist tends to be glamorized, especially online on sites like Tumblr (looking at you, studyblr/studyspo communities). But for a lot of people, it’s a form of anxiety that can be debilitating. So, how do you overcome the writer’s block that inevitably comes with perfectionism?
You write. You just have to fucking write. There’s going to be a LOT of self-talk that comes with it. You have to re-wire your brain, and the only way to do that is to accept that your first draft is going to be shit and WRITE. No, it’s not going to be easy. It’s going to cause stress, and you’re going to want to fight it. But you have to keep pushing yourself without backing down until it finally happens. Once you finally get some words down on the page, you may hate it. But you’ll get a feeling of satisfaction that you actually wrote something, for once. Or, you may get lucky and be able to say, “You know what? This isn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be,” and not have to re-write that part 8 times. No matter what outcome you get, you wrote, and that’s big.
There’s this quote I found online a few years ago that I absolutely love:
“For a star to be born, there is one thing that must happen: a gaseous nebula must collapse.
This is not your destruction.
This is your birth.” -Zoey Skylar
Something lives inside of her… A fiery longing for something more. A soul and body can only take so much heat. It grows and grows as she tries to conceal it, but it’s hard to tame the flames. The walls come crumbling down as ash clouds the air. All seems lost forever in this one person graveyard.
But there’s a stirring within. Amidst the burning coals, flames shoot high as she rises like a phoenix. Nothing is ever broken–only transformed.
The sky was dark with clouds overhead–the moon and stars nowhere to be found. A single candle sat in front of her as she gazed into the flame. Her mind emptied completely. Suddenly, wind tore through the air. The leaves of nearby trees rustled furiously; branches swayed back and forth. Her hair danced angrily around her pale face, ignoring the uproar around her. The grass tickled her skin, though she felt numb. Nothing could break her focus as she lost herself in the fire. The flame flickered aggressively. The wind grew faster. All of a sudden, the candle’s light went out at the blink of an eye. Darkness surrounded her. Life finally snapped back into her eyes as she peered around. She was alone. Anxiety began to swell—panic set in. She clawed at the ground trying to grab anything she could to remind herself that she was still there as her mind took her elsewhere. Just as she was about to crumble, she looked up. The clouds began to dissipate. Slowly, the stars twinkled one by one. The moon, full and large, peeked out. Her body calmed as a sense of hope washed over her. The calm after the storm fueled her. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw something—the flame danced once again.
I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder back in early 2013, though I’ve had it for years longer (I sometimes think I had it even into childhood, looking back). In fall of 2012, I got my first job. I worked in retail at a video game store. Video games were my life growing up, so it seemed like a natural fit to work there.
I loved it. I got to talk about games all day and keep up to date with what new games and consoles were coming out. My wallet may not have liked me much, but it was fine. I stayed at that job for a year and a half before I quit. It ended up being a toxic work environment, and it began eating away at my mental health.
After that, something changed. I don’t know what and I don’t know how, but it did.
A couple months later, I got another job at an electronics retailer. Although I wasn’t directly working with video games, I still got to talk about them with certain customers and coworkers (I made some really close friends at this job that I gamed with). I figured, “Okay, I can still be nerdy here, I can do this! I’m going to love it here.” I was SUPER excited about this new job. I showed up on early every day, I gave everything 110%, and I was always willing to learn and do more. 3 months down the road…
My whole mindset changed. Stress ate away at me, and I felt like I couldn’t even do basic tasks without nearly having an anxiety attack or feeling like I couldn’t handle it. I was a walking oil leak: my mental and physical health were draining a bit more each day until there was nothing left in the tank. Energy wasn’t something I had. I wasn’t having fun–I now hated what I did. Just a few months ago, I LOVED working here! Nothing changed in the workplace… literally nothing. So, what happened?
I crashed. That’s what happened. It took me years to figure this out, but I was manic when I went into the job; I had lots of energy and motivation and all of these new ideas of how my future was going to go. Then, the fuel tank ran dry, and I skidded to a halt in depression. All of that energy and motivation and ambition I had? Gone, like it had never existed. Negativity filled me, and there was no possible way I could see anything positive anymore. How did I cope? By deciding that the JOB was the problem, not me.
I ended up quitting after 6 months. My mind decided that there was no possible way I could salvage what I once had and that it was time to go. For several months, I was jobless and just lazing around at home all day. I’m not going to lie, it was nice for a while. But eventually, I got bored. In spring of the following year, I decided to look for another job. I found an opening at a cookie shop and thought, “Okay, I like baking. I can do this! I’m going to love it here.” I was super excited, super motivated, and I even got promoted to shift leader a month in (are you beginning to see a pattern here?). Working there was great. But, again, something shifted. A few months in, I began to hate it and dread going into work. Did I quit? Yep. When? A few months down the road.
This has happened at literally every single job I’ve had since I quit my first job. Each time things went downhill, I figured it was the job, NOT an internal issue that I had. So, I ran and headed straight for the next, new, exciting option. Things were hard once the depression washed over each time. I’d get bored with my work. I wouldn’t have any energy to deal with even the slightest bit of social interaction. I’d tell myself I hated what I did, even though I fully enjoyed it just a few weeks ago. I loathed having to go into work each shift. At a few of my jobs, my anxiety and fear of confrontation was so bad (my anxiety gets worse when I’m in depression) that I just stopped showing up with no call ahead of time until I inevitably abandoned my job. Super unprofessional, I know, but in the moment, that was the only thing my mind was able to handle.
The feelings leeched outside of the job environment itself. I’d begin to doubt anything regarding my future. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life, because I lost interest in literally everything I used to enjoy while manic. I was a shell of a person.
I just recently lost my job. A quick summary: I missed too many days from being sick, I was going to be fired, so I quit. However, I still had the same cycle with work on top of that. Manic going in, depressed a month or 2 later. The other day, I talked to my therapist about this and my habit of quitting jobs. She told me, “You have to stop running. You have to make your situation work for you, otherwise the same problem is just going to reappear in the next job.” As she was explaining this to me, everything inside of me didn’t want to believe her and was trying to dismiss what she was telling me. But, she was right. It wasn’t the jobs that were the problem. It was me. Or rather, my bipolar moods influencing me. It was a hard pill to swallow, but I realized that I had to listen to her. The next day, I decided to voice my concerns with my managers (a big step for me, since I usually keep quiet and run), but that’s when I found out I was going to be fired. So, I won and I lost at the same time. But, I still see that as a big milestone.
Now, here’s the tricky part. If I have all of these interests and motivations while I’m manic, how do I decipher what I TRULY enjoy, since it all disappears when I crash? It took me a while to figure that one out. Eventually, I realized that you have to pinpoint what interest sticks around when you’re manic, baseline (“normal” mood), AND depressed. It may not smack you in the face, and you may have to dig a little to figure out what that is, but it’s there. What did I figure out my interest was in that regard? Writing.
I had written a few poems and prompts here in there during elementary and middle school. But in my junior year in high school is when I REALLY started writing. At one point, I said, “You know what? I want to be a writer/author ‘when I grow up.'” Some people shot me down though, because you “don’t make money” in that profession, unless you’re lucky. So, I dismissed it. Until recently. I did some soul searching and realized what I needed out of a job: to work from home, to make my own schedule, and to be my own boss. I realized that writing fulfilled all of those things (I realize you have a “boss” and somewhat of a schedule if you’re a published author, but that’s beside the point), and it has been an interest that’s stuck around through thick and thin. So, I’ve finally decided to pursue it. Sure, I’m going to have to have a side job in the meantime until my writing takes off, but the fact of the matter is that I realized my unhealthy patterns and decided to “make my situation work for me,” as my therapist put it.
What’s my point in all of this? Well, for one, to showcase what a lot of people with bipolar disorder deal with when it comes to working. But, I also wanted to share my personal story and how I’m overcoming the hurdle I’ve been trying to jump for 5 years now. Even if you don’t have bipolar disorder, here’s what you can take away from this: if you dislike or hate what you’re doing in life, don’t run, hoping that things will be solved elsewhere. While you may be in a situation like I was with my first job where the environment was toxic, in a lot of situations, the things that are bothering you can be fixed. You can’t let external factors lead you like a marionette. YOU have to take control of what’s inside of you. Make your situation work for you.
Cool, crisp air encompasses the fall day. Leaves crunch beneath my feet, and the smell of burning wood fills my nose. The air is still and calm. A casual stroll along a straight path helps keep my mind clear.
Out of nowhere, the trail begins to curve. It starts to twist and wind with no sense of direction. This is much more exciting, so I continue to follow. Without warning, a gust of wind sweeps me off my feet. Rather than falling, I start to float higher and higher. Soon enough, I’m flying above the Earth within crystal blue skies.
So many possibilities; I soar in one direction, testing how fast I can go. As a split decision, I abruptly turn toward a new direction. Soon enough, I’m zig-zagging through space and time. I fly higher toward the sun, nearly in reach of it. My hand is outstretched, and it’s nearly kissing my fingertips.
Just before it’s in my grasp, everything stops–the stars stop twinkling, the sun quickly dims, and the once-blue sky turns black. My body goes numb, and I begin to fall. I descend faster and faster toward Earth–everything is a blur. Before I know it, my body crashes into the cold, hard ground. Everything is black and empty behind my eyes.
After a non-restful sleep, I awake and take in my surroundings. The sky is a dark grey swirled with a murky brown. The grass is dead, and the trees are bare. The air is still–not even one sound pierces it.
I’m stuck, nearly paralyzed. I do what I can to drag myself to a nearby bench and crawl up it, grasping for anything I can. Eventually, I manage to pull myself up, but I have no more energy or will to do anything else. My body sits there, slumped over like a zombie, staring into the abyss that is my life. I am alone. No one can pull me out of this purgatory. I begin to accept the fact that this will forever be my future: a lifeless, paralyzed, useless nobody.
When all seems lost, faint music dances through the air. Its lullaby puts me in a daze until I inevitably fall into a slumber. What seems like a lifetime is quickly interrupted by rays of sunshine.
I open my eyes; the skies are blue, the trees are still clinging to leaves, and the sun shines bright again. My body is no longer in stasis. I stand up, brush the dirt off, and realize I’m where I was at the beginning of my walk. All is well, so I gladly resume my travels.
I am calm, and my mind is clear.
Then, out of nowhere, the trail begins to curve…