Finishing a novel under pressure: Am I choking?

I don’t do well under pressure, creatively speaking. External rewards are known to sometimes impede rather than inspire creativity. I need to remember that as I struggle to reach completion on this novel by January 10. I don’t want to do it. It is hard work and requires me to evaluate my own work carefully and make hard choices and think in an organized way and remain somewhat distanced from the heart of it, the voices I love, the textures, the word-pictures, all the delicious stuff that I love. And this is not easy. Imagining it being evaluated by agents, editors and then by the public fills me with dread. It makes me want to hide. I do not comfort myself with fantasies of receiving awards and accolades. In fact, such fantasies do not appeal to me; were they to occur, I do not know that they would make me feel good. What makes me feel good is the idea that I will be able to continue to do this work at my own pace and in my own way. So this current situation, where I am not working at my pace and in my own way, is not really great.

So I have had to take some of the pressure off and admit that it is not the end of the world if I do not finish by January 10. I may not be capable of finishing by January 10. Will that make me a liar, as I have claimed, publicly, that I will be done? No, it will only make me an optimist. An optimist whose claims are occasionally overly optimistic.

The more troubling fear I have is that this temporary experience will become permanent, that this momentary feeling of losing the love of it, losing the life-giving involvement in the production, the juicy part of it, that this will cause me to lose interest in the work itself. Permanently. And that could make me not finish.

If this sounds bleak, it is because over a week has passed without significant progress. I got to a point where I saw how it needs to fit together, and then I blanched at the sheer amount of drudge work my insight requires. Plus I had many distractions. I am, after all, living in Italy, in an apartment, and trying to move into a house, and at the same time doing a lot of other things … like this blog for instance.

This is the stuff we work through in Finishing School. All I really need to do, today, is set aside a couple of hours to make some progress on the novel. All I really need to do, today, is keep moving forward. I may feel panicked, hopeless, fearful, angry, tired, disillusioned, restless, uninterested. But all I really have to do is schedule a couple of hours to work and get to it.

So that’s what I’m doing now. Post this thing, tweet my check-in, spend a couple of hours mucking around in there, trying to move the rock forward a few inches.