By Lisabet Sarai
I hate pressure, absolutely hate it. When I have a deadline looming and my writing isn't going smoothly, you'd be well-advised to go somewhere else. I moan, I cry, I literally tear at my hair. (Fortunately I have a lot of hair.) My head aches. My back hurts. Even the cats know enough to hide under the sofa.
Yet when I started thinking about this post I came to a startling realization. The pressure doesn't really come from outside. Although I expend a huge amount of energy trying to keep my life organized in order to avoid crises and crunches, in fact I create the pressure.
I used to make myself sick when I was a schoolchild, worrying about my grades. An A- just wasn't good enough. If I didn't get an A, I'd be a total mess, most likely in tears, much to the disgust of my classmates. Now, this didn't come from my parents. Certainly, they emphasized the importance education (which was hardly necessary, since I loved the life of the mind from my earliest days). However, they never pushed me to be the absolute best in the class, nor punished me on the rare occasions that I fell short of my extreme targets. No, that need to excel came from somewhere inside of me.
Writing is like that for me, too. I'm the one who establishes the goals. Nobody forces me to write. I willingly commit to deadlines. No one is going to kick down my door and rough me up if I don't follow through.
The notion of not meeting a deadline, though, is practically unbearable. If I've made a commitment, then I'm going to fulfill it, come hell or high water, the Rapture or the tornado of the century. When I suspect that might not possible, I fall apart.
The presence of deadlines, the accumulation of tasks on my to-do list, and the inevitable unforeseen obstacles - these aren't the source of the problem. No, it's my reaction. I panic. I hyperventilate. I lose exactly the concentration that I need in order to make progress.
So really, what I need to do is manage my reactions. Not easy, but clearly possible. Meditation, exercise, enough sleep, these are all strategies that can help. Mostly I need to get my priorities straight. Yes, my deadline is important, but not as important as my relationship with my husband or my own inner peace.
I understood something else, however, as I continued to consider my post. Sometimes the external aspects of a crunch are also my fault, because I'm so bad at saying no.
I'm the perennial volunteer. When my publisher sends out a note saying that they're in critical need of a story or two for an anthology, I'm ready to pony up and commit to supplying one. When I'm contacted by a fellow author, asking if I'll help judge a writing contest, how can I refuse? Peer reviews needed? Lisabet can oblige. Crit for a colleague? Of course - after all, I've received so much help from others' crits, it's only fair to pay it forward. Take charge of editing a series of books? Gee, I'm so flattered - I'd love to.
This happens in other areas of my life, too. A few weeks ago, an academic colleague mentioned passing that it would be great if I could give a guest lecture to her class on a subject where I have special expertise. Before I knew it, I'd agreed to creating a brand new two hour presentation, which ended up taking two days to prepare - two days that I might have devoted to my work in progress, if I'd thought for a moment and declined.
I've wondered whether my urge to say yes has anything to do with my submissive tendencies. Or maybe I just want people to like me. Actually, to be honest, I think that pride is a factor - you know, the kind that goeth before a fall? I know that I'm competent in a variety of areas and also that I'm the sort who gets things done. When someone identifies a need, I figure that I can do at least as good a job satisfying that need as most people. Perhaps at some level I'm even trying to show off.
I've got to watch myself, though. Pressure just isn't healthy, for me or for my writing career. The quality of my writing is far higher when I can approach it in a spirit of play, rather than as a task that has to be completed.
So I've got to practice saying no, even when I'm dying to say yes. Perhaps some role playing as a Domme might help. You want me to do what to you? Dream on, slave!
On the other hand, I know that would be terribly difficult for me. I've written dominant characters, but they're usually far more indulgent toward their subs than they probably should be. Face to face with a submissive who's eager to offer you his or her whole self - how could you refuse?