In the first post of this mini-series, we talked about how hard it is to maintain writing enthusiasm, and why we so often feel like running away instead. We also discussed a few tips for keeping enthusiasm high when it feels impossible.
Now, I want to talk about a much bigger issue when it comes to creativity: the yips.
The yips is a sports term, most commonly associated with golf – and definitely not with writing, but stick with me.
It describes a scenario in which a pro, who has been overall successful in their career and even performs admirably during training, suddenly chokes when the stakes are high. It’s more than just buckling to pressure, though. Most golfers – all athletes and performance-based professionals, really – train and train and train for every move and every scenario, so that when it comes time to deliver, they do so almost without thinking.
Have golf ball; will hit. No problemo. Time and time again, they make the shot, until it’s not thinking and agonizing and grinding teeth; it’s just muscle memory.
Why, moreover, does the problem become so much more pronounced when other people are watching? (Suggestion: If you’re not entirely certain what I’m talking about still, go ahead and check out that link. It’s a fascinating read.)
The answer is there is no answer, as of yet. Science has failed us in this department. The more so because public pressure doesn’t reliably correlate with the yips. While anxiety is a factor, the yips can strike at any time, nerves or no. In fact, those who are afflicted describe it as more a short circuit than a result of anything else.
Now, you’re not a world-famous golfer, and no one expects you to be. If you’re comfortable with total golf failure for the rest of your life, well, that’s just who you are and I’m not going to stop you.
Kidding! I’ve never tried to golf, but I’m pretty sure it would be humiliating. As in, the golf course would charge me for full turf rehab after every visit. So, you know, let’s all stick to our wheelhouses.
Mine, apparently, is digressions. Back to the yips!
At this point, you’re probably wondering what the hell I’m talking about. You and I haven’t trained for one thing our whole lives, have we?
Well, perhaps we have. I’ll tell you a little bit of my story.
I’ve been writing my whole life. Frankly, I’ve never had much of a problem writing overall … I always have and probably always will want to do it. But when it comes time to sit down, it’s often very hard to maintain writing enthusiasm.
That didn’t use to be true, though. Ever since grade school, when I would turn in ten pages for assignments in which we were assigned half a page, I’ve loved the feeling of churning out words. This continued all the way through school and into present day, where I’m a writer by trade. I have been trained very well to do it, I think I can objectively say I’m good at it (or at least people pay me to do it), and I like it enough to put in many hours of practice each. and. every. day.
Much like a pro golfer, yes?
In my case, I don’t have to get up in front of crowds and hack away at teeny balls. But I do have to deliver publicly, because I write online, work for clients and have chosen to publish my work. And almost every day, I experience some sort of yips-like attack, usually for no reason at all. I lose faith; I lose confidence; I lose resources; I lose enthusiasm. I lose ability.
Just like that, they’re all gone. I lost utter faith in this blog post just before sitting down to it a few minutes ago, in fact. The insecure baby in me labeled it pointless and boring, while flake labeled it faaaaar inferior to that new novel idea I just had. Thanks, brain, for making work suck just a little bit more!
The result? Even though I’ve trained all my life to write words and have other people read them, it suddenly feels like I just can’t do it. But I’ve learned the hard way that if I maintain writing enthusiasm, sit down anyway and just write, I lose those feelings of fear and angst. Trying again, and again, eventually breaks through that sometimes inexplicable loss of performance (snerk), and I can write again.
This isn’t a perfect metaphor. The yips are when an athlete physically can’t do something they objectively can do.
However, it’s not that far off: Creatives love creating, yet when they sit down to actually make something, to live their life’s dream, they suddenly find they can’t realize their vision, stick it out, believe in that dream to save their skin. They squirm. Their ability to maintain writing enthusiasm wanes. Their fingers hover over the keys and do nothing. Panic sets in as the page remains blank.
Why? What’s different? What changed between last time and this time?
My opinion? The yips, man. We are just as capable as pro golfers of choking when it matters, and when your enthusiasm skids and you let go of that dream, I don’t think it’s much different than shutting down on the putting green.
If you can find an interview with a famous pro who concludes with “ … and that was it for me,” then by all means, forward it along. I’m betting you won’t, though. Because the yips are painful, but usually transitory. They don’t have to define us; they aren’t the end.
This post has been a bit of a long road, and I realize that. The point I’m trying to make, though, is a really important one. We struggle to maintain writing enthusiasm for so many reasons: we’re tired, we’re challenged; we’re embarrassed; we’re insecure; we feel exposed; we’re certain of our own inevitable failure; the work feels impossible. What I want you to notice is that none of these facts have any bearing on the actual merit of your work.
Not one of these reasons makes a lick of difference when it comes to whether or not you should chase your creative dreams.
Here’s the thing:
You can still work when you’re tired, faithless, scared or bored. I still have fingers that can type even when I have feelings. You still have hands and arms and eyes and whatever it is you need to pursue your creative dreams.
Emotions have no bearing on the question of whether or not a writing project should go forward.
At the end of the day, I think the best trick to maintain writing enthusiasm (read the first part of this post here) is just to remind yourself why you’re doing it in the first place. Try this:
Make a list of your whys. If you’ve already started your project, do it retroactively. If you have an idea you’re sitting on, do it now. Hang it somewhere you can see it; keep it there; look at it every day. When you feel like giving up, or that you can’t maintain writing enthusiasm, pull it down, hug it close and cry. Then wipe off the tears and put it back up. Your why matters, and there’s no bigger key to maintain your enthusiasm and avoiding mysterious creative failure than keeping it right in front of you.
And one last helpful tip: Find a community. You’ve got one here on New Leaf Writing, if only you choose to leverage it, so feel free to join up. Bonus: You’ll get all the handy worksheets and downloads in the Free Resource Library, which I promise will be awesome! Just click that pretty picture below and you’re on your way!
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