My procrastination with writing was an issue I could no longer deny.
Even after some mild success on a local platform and money coming in from Medium, I still found myself taking a whole month to write one article. I’d get lost in notetaking and distracted with things I usually hate doing — scrubbing the oven with a toothbrush for instance.
This would all be fine if I was rich, but I’m a single-parent on the bread line. It’s hard to find work that fits around my child especially in the current climate, and writing is what I love to do, so it made sense to try and make a living from it.
I needed to make myself write more, but how?
I knew I was holding myself back — I’d known it a while but I’d never delved into — truly, why? Why do I sabotage myself time after time?
Then, seemingly from nowhere my uncle (guru) who lives in the Blue Mountains emailed me:
If you are a ‘writer’ experiencing procrastination, then you would write about procrastination wouldn’t you?
Why yes, yes I would!
However, in true procrastinator style, I started reading all the quotes I could on procrastination, and then followed a link to an Imposter Syndrome test instead.
‘Imposter: Person who assumes false character. Swindler’ — Oxford dictionary’
A score higher than 80 meant ‘regular and intense imposter experiences’.
My score was 90.
It’s basically the feeling of being inadequate — like you’re going to be found out. The feeling of taking up space and saying the wrong thing in all situations.
I was still mulling over my test results a couple of days later when I accidentally called a writing acquaintance (rather than my best friend). Caren is a local author who runs workshops I’d attended. She answered, saying “Hello, Kerry? Hello it’s me, Caren…” in her sing-songy posh voice, and I was so startled I ended the call without speaking. I later text her to apologize. She said “No bother, I’ve done the same thing to my boss x” and the next day sent me an email offering me a free place on her upcoming poetry workshop.
Me — a poet?
A poet who didn’t know it…
But then I thought — of course I’m a poet! It explains all my weirdness. All the notebooks. Everything.
Then a memory hit me:
I’m twelve years old and an official letter comes in the post. My step-dad stands at the door flapping it about saying,
I grab it from him.
“It’s me, it’s my poetry name.”
I rip it open and am sad to read I didn’t win the competition, but happy to see I’ll be published in their anthology with my poem, ‘The Rain is My Cloak’.
When I look up, my step-dad is doubled over laughing —
“Kerralana …Mal…in…ski?” he chokes out.
The whole family thinks it’s hilarious.
To be fair, it is quite funny.
What strikes me now though is: How come nobody mentioned how brilliant this was? A twelve-year-old kid having the initiative to enter a competition in a newspaper without telling anyone, and to win a place in a published anthology!
Is this where my imposter syndrome began?
I believe so.
I didn’t get to celebrate my achievement of being a young poet that day, because the sense of accomplishment wasn’t mirrored back to me by my family. It was nothing major to them, and so it became nothing major to me. My writing went underground, I wrote in the airing cupboard and any other moment I could without being seen.
Other Times My Creative-Self Got Done-Over
Over the following days, more incidents came to the surface until I had a whole showreel. Here are just a few.
An ex-boyfriends sister bursting out laughing when he told her I was writing a book. Her eyes glistening with tears like it was the funniest thing she’d ever heard.
Message to my creative self: You are an idiot, you could never write a book.
In 2008 I Moved to Dublin with my boyfriend (of 5 years). I was homesick as hell and had been depressed for months. One day I met him after work and was tripping over with excitement, my words couldn’t come out fast enough-
“I’ve bought a book called The Artists Way — that helps writers to write and people to unblock their creativity.”
I tell him I feel like I’ve finally found ‘my thing’, that I definitely want to be a writer. I want to truly throw myself into the writer’s life and make a go of it. He’s quiet and nods but looks at me like I’m a moron. I feel like a moron!
A few weeks later I come up with an idea for a story and rush into the living room where he’s drinking a glass of wine in front of the TV. I blurt out my BRILLIANT idea — He just looks at me with dead eyes and says: “Can you go outside with that fag, the smokes getting everywhere”. Nothing more is said about my story idea. I never thought at the time how odd it was that he never showed interest in my writing — and yet this guy was supposed to love me?
Well, actually I gladly left him a few months later when he told me he thought about proposing to me in the same way he thought about opening his bills. Lovely fella.
Message to my creative self: You are completely deluded and are not a writer. I will ignore you until you get over it.
In 2015 I finally met someone I looked up to and respected intellectually (on a platonic level) — Stan*, the curator of the lifeboat museum where I volunteered. I idolized him for his intelligence and local historical knowledge. He complimented me on my writing and helped me with research.
He publicly commented on one of my articles, “You’re not an aspiring writer Kerry. You are a writer”. He sang my praises to everyone and sent me research papers and old photos. I felt honored and excited to be classed as his friend and that he trusted me with the museum press releases.
I was obsessed with the history of my area at this point, I couldn’t get enough information. Stan’s wife hated me though — If looks could kill. At that point, bear in mind, I had a shaved head and wore a leather jacket. Not to mention he was fifty years my senior. It was his attention she was jealous of, I guess.
Anyway. I noticed that Stan wasn’t replying to my emails or messages anymore, and avoided me when I came in to do my shift at the museum when usually he’d make a point of staying to talk. I also noticed other committee members stopped talking or making eye contact and even changed direction when they saw me in town.
The final straw came when Stan and another guy from the museum looked right through me as I walked past them in the shop and said, “Hi”. They turned their backs on me and carried on talking.
What the f*ck?
I couldn’t figure it out. I honestly didn’t know what I’d done wrong. I emailed Stan when I got home and asked– “Have I upset you? It seems I’m getting the cold shoulder from you and the rest of the committee. Would you tell me the truth of the situation because it’s frankly cowardly behavior from a group of men I held in high esteem. “
[I talk like a victorian when I’m mad]
Mother f*ckers owed me an explanation.
Turns out it was all over a Facebook post I’d published the week before. Apparently it was “offensive”, “vulgar”, and “a poor reflection of you as a writer, and the museum and its image. “
I looked back at the post in question.
It was a rant about being stigmatized for being a single-parent on ‘benefits’ –
The post started…“It boils my f*cking p*ss when people whinge about people on benefits letting their hair down…”
And went on to claim the dole is no walk in the park, nobody expects to be in this poverty-stricken situation with a child in tow, and if a stressed-out hopeless person wants a drag of a cigarette or a couple of beers then who the f*ck is anyone to judge? They should shut their traps when they don’t know the circumstances and aren’t living the same experience…etc.
Sometimes you’ve just got to express your utter hopelessness and frustration. Sometimes you’ve just got to blow. I thought writing on Facebook was a pretty tame way to deal with my rage, to be honest.
Turns out not.
Not being vain, but I’d been the poster girl for the museum that whole summer (I was the youngest volunteer by 50+ years). Stan had even encouraged me to include the museum logo on my history blog “to draw in more visitors”. I was flattered and inspired to write more, aim higher.
But basically, after my vulgar rant they all agreed in a committee meeting they were disgusted by my conduct (even though my Facebook is set to private) and someone needed to talk to me about it. Stan had asked Brian, but Brian ran away every time I walked into a room so, in the end, nobody had approached me — they shunned me instead.
I felt embarrassed and ashamed at first, that they’d all been discussing and avoiding me. I felt rage at their cowardice and disappointed in Stan for not contacting me and telling me directly. I felt betrayed. I changed my blog profile picture and removed my association with the museum.
I appreciated that ‘it boils my f*cking p*ss’ isn’t the vibe I’d want in my small town community-run museum either. I handed my notice in, and Stan asked me to come into the museum to chat with him. We sat outside in his parked car with the heating on. He said —
“Vulgar language dilutes your talent, it ruins your chances and your reputation as a professional writer. It gives a bad impression. People won’t take you seriously anymore.”
I agreed not to quit, but I never went back. Stan hasn’t spoken to me again, and I haven’t written a history article since — but I have one in progress. I dream of an amazing comeback and hope he lives long enough to see it. Maybe he’ll learn something.
Message to my creative self: you are ruined if you write swear words. You are wrong to express how you feel. Your writing brings shame to yourself and others. You naughty girl.
Most recently, I went to stay with my son's father during the lockdown. We agreed, as co-parents who had been separated for over 5 years, to stay together and help each other. It was all fine (ish) and amicable for three months — until the day I ‘asked’ to go back to my flat to write in peace for a day.
He kicked off in front of our son and shouted, “You’re lazy…you don’t want to be a mother…you’re not a writer…get a real job”. Then poked me in the eye! I packed my stuff and we came back to the flat that day.
[My son hugged me when I told him we wouldn’t be staying there again for lockdown #2.]
- Message to my creative self: You’re letting us all down by not pulling your weight in a real job. You are fake.
But I AM a writer…
Questions burn inside me, I devour books, I turn to the blank page/screen (anything) for comfort and expression. I think in writing. I get urges that propel me towards paper and pen and can’t settle until a thought or sentence is out of me. I have hard skin on my writing hand. I write to make sense of things and sometimes what I write helps or comforts others.
I set myself targets and meet them. I got a degree in English and Creative Writing, been published in a couple of papers and online, have ‘followers’, and receive positive comments. I’ve received personal emails thanking me for articles. I’ve been paid money which has put food on my table and heat in my home — all from my writing efforts.
So it’s not that I’m deluded!
However, I see now…
Each time I achieved something in writing (ie. follow an urge through to the end, then ‘put it out there’), I unconsciously move the goalposts further away to keep myself in a state of struggle — of never being quite ‘there’ — and so never give myself a moment to bask in that glory of completing my end of the bargain — the creation of what needed to come out of me in writing form.
I miss out on the head-rubbing, trophy-holding moments that makes a writer grow, and glow.
This state of never being ‘quite there’ aligns with the ‘I’m not a real writer’ vibe I’ve absorbed from others, and then given power to through my own attention and ruminating. Cue the depression and lack of motivation and why bother even breathing.
I realized that the only way I can change is by noticing what shitty beliefs I’ve been holding onto — and changing them.
Changing them purely by noticing the lies I’ve been chewing on, and spitting them out.
Procrastination is really FEAR
“Procrastination is not laziness, it is fear, call it by its right name and forgive yourself” — Julia Cameron
What my procrastination really is, is fear of being wrong, fear of being seen as foolish, fear of humiliation.
Because I didn’t receive validation in my younger (and later) years — those wounds have lain dormant within me. I internalized the belief that my poet/writer self is hilarious and outlandish.
Each time I followed my natural urge to write, it always came with a sense of — ‘nobody is interested in what I have to say, what’s the point? — and thus — PROCRASTINATION.
A real hard slog to push through that negativity and produce something despite the mess. [So high five for your effort so far, self!]
What also didn’t help is that we naturally gravitate towards those who remind us of our childhood relationships. So many of my friends and past partners have been uninterested in my creative life, and I’ve always felt most ‘comfortable’ with aloof and emotionally unavailable types. A recipe for a f*ck up if ever there was one.
It all suited me fine — ” it’s just the way I roll. I like being the underdog…I’m a loner by nature”— until I wanted to become a ‘professional writer’, and I hit the wall.
“To bring back the creative life, the waters have to be made clean and clear again. We have to wade into the sludge, purify the contaminates, reopen the apertures, protect the flow from future harm.” — Clarissa Pinkola Estes
Why all the aggro and lack of encouragement from others?
Why tell someone who’s busting their arse to make it as a writer — that they’re not really a writer? Or worse, completely blank them when they talk about it?
Here is one reason. It’s a story my son’s father told me (before things went sour):
As a child, he spent a full weekend working on a story for his English class, rather than playing football which was his obsession and he excelled at. He put everything into that story and enjoyed doing it, even though he struggled. When the teacher handed it back to him it had red lines all the way through and an ‘F’ at the top. He later learned he was dyslexic, but the damage was done. He’s never put pen to paper since. The way he told the story, I just felt how crushed he was in that moment — crestfallen, shamed, mortified, made to feel foolish — and yet he’d been so proud of his efforts.
He is one of the most charismatic, engaging storytellers I know as well, and I wish he would write — nevermind spelling mistakes!
Moral of the story, he was hurt creatively as a child and has blocked off that part of himself that sees any value in creativity. And, It’s not about me.
As for my family — they’ve had pretty hard lives and I never saw them reading or writing, and so I was the oddball. I don’t suppose they saw it as something I might succeed in and make a living from, as they’d never seen that happen to any of their own before.
In his article Why People Don’t Acknowledge You, Leon F. Seltzer writes:
“Bestowing on someone else the acknowledgment they never received themselves might open the lid on long-suppressed psychic pain, making them experience afresh never-healed emotional wounds.”
“If they’re in denial about their own unmet need for acknowledgment, it might not even occur to them that positively recognizing another — and for that person’s efforts, as well as accomplishments — might be in order.”
Basically, people can’t acknowledge your achievements or be enthusiastic about your dreams because they’ve likely had their own beaten or ignored out of them.
With this new knowledge, I can give my people a break and soothe my own ego. It reminds me that I’m going to have to seek this sense of approval from within.
How I Finally Beat Procrastination
An interesting thing happened as I was realizing all of these things and trying to write this.
I had another project that I’ve been researching for FIVE years now (the history article that I mentioned earlier…) It was about a lost steelworkers village on the outskirts of my hometown that was demolished in the 1970s. I’ve been obsessed with it all this time but kept stalling on writing it. It just felt like there was something missing.
Then last week it was announced that another major part of my hometown — an industrial structure — was going to be demolished this coming December. There were so many connections and suddenly I had the perfect reason to finally write about everything I’d learned!
It felt like I ended a cycle. Maybe it was always meant to take this long…
On the other hand, without the tension of having this procrastination article to write (in honor of my uncle, otherwise I might not have written it either) then I would never have got the history article done.
The following quote sums it up perfectly:
“Have more than one idea on the go at one time. If it’s a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the latter. It’s only if I have an idea for two books that I choose one rather than the other. I always have to feel that I’m bunking off from something.” — Geoff Dyer
This exercise in writing about my procrastination made me see I’m already a WRITER and to stop doubting that fact. I reached that goal years ago but never truly believed it because of the conflicting belief that I wasn’t ‘good enough’ for such a grand title.
Now that I’ve pulled out my imposter roots, my new goal is to be a SUCCESSFUL WRITER, and to use all the energy I directed towards hating myself and seeking validation, into following my creative impulse, writing whatever the F I want, publishing it, and believing in myself.
I will leave you with these words from Clarissa Pinkola Estes:
“ Creativity is not a solitary movement. That is its power. Whatever is touched by it, whoever hears it, sees it, senses it, knows it, is fed. That is why beholding someone else’s creative word, images, idea, fills us up, and inspires us to our own creative work. A single creative act has the potential to feed a continent. One creative act can cause a torrent to break through stone.”
I AM NOT AN IMPOSTER. I AM THE REAL THING.
SO ARE YOU.