Not writing? Or overthinking about writing?

Monday, April 26, 2021 Permalink

As you all know – having committed the tedium that-is-my-life-to memory – I started some postgraduate study last year. I kicked off with three subjects which was probably a bit ambitious given it’d been over 20 years since I’d completed my previous Masters.

Anyhoo, I’m studying writing and literature so it’s kinda perfect given the direction my life has taken and I guess you’d say I’m following my passion. Albeit at $2750 per subject.

I’ve talked on social media however about the down-side… that I’m thinking too much about writing. Not that I’m obsessed with writing, in fact I’m not writing. Rather, I’m overthinking about how I write. It was bad enough when I was doing feature writing last semester (definitely my passion) but this semester I’m doing an editing subject and… It. Is. Killing. Me.

I always liked English classes at school. Obviously I’ve always been an avid reader and was a tad obsessive about spelling tests as a kid, but I was also educated in the era in which we studied everything from adverbs to adjectival clauses. And the like. And I knew and remembered it all.

not writing

Photo by Mike Tinnion on Unsplash

Of course, having left high school 35 years ago I now realise I’ve forgotten so much. And a lot has changed. The Australian Government released a new Style Manual last year and it has edgy and controversial suggestions like, writing the number for any numeral over one (it used to be 10 and above) and ditching long ’em-dashes’ (long dashes with no space either side) and sticking to spaced en-dashes.

I know you’ve just nodded off there but I need to bloody know this stuff for this subject and it’s killing me.

Regular readers know I write informally. I mean, I try to be grammatically correct but I use a lot of dashes and hyphens (different things by the way) and am an over-user of semicolons. And just then, my fingers paused trying to decide if semicolon was one word or hyphenated (semi-colon)… Hmmmm…. what’s that rule about compound nouns or adjectives and nouns?

See?

I’ve read before about debate in the creative writing arena; (hmmm… semicolon or comma?) suggesting it’s actually a disadvantage for those wanting to write to study writing academically. As if creativity is drilled out of them or leaks somehow as they focus on theory rather than the art.

And that’s kinda how I’m feeling. I’m starting to think too much about how I’m writing rather than what I’m writing. (And ugh, should I have put a comma before rather in that sentence?)

Of course the other challenging thing is that editing is subjective so – though there are manuals and guides – clients, publishers and audiences have their own preferences.

As an aside, I think I’ve realised my passion is structural or developmental editing which is more about the plotting or structure of a book than the punctuation and grammar. Although I do love a sentence with a good iambic pentameter.

It’d be easy to say this is my perfectionist self rearing it’s ugly head but given I’m supposedly learning this stuff, shouldn’t I be putting it into action? What’s the best excuse you come up with not to do something?

31 Comments
  • Amy Andrews
    April 26, 2021

    I think you should take a page out of Marie Kondo’s book – does it bring you joy? The older I get, the more this becomes my excuse not to do stuff.
    Life. Is. Too. Short.

    • Debbish
      April 26, 2021

      I must I’ve been thinking exactly that re book blogging / reviewing lately. In many ways it sucks the joy out of reading…

  • Sue from Women Living Well After 50
    April 26, 2021

    Hi Deb, I agree with Amy. You need to think about where you are placing your energy and what replenishes your energy rather than depleting it. I over-commit and then find that I just keep putting things off because I don’t know where to begin. I’ve found for me, taking a step back and going through the exercise of what I need to do, what I want to do and what I’m doing that I can let go of. Well done you for the studies, I’m thinking of doing my Cert IV in Fitness which will round out my experience nicely. Have a great day! x

    • Debbish
      April 26, 2021

      I’m actually (mostly) enjoying learning stuff and it’s been useful in some of the work I’ve been doing as a contractor. I suspect I’m overthinking it all and should just write utilising whatever skills or knowledge I have and not stress about it being perfect.

  • Natalie
    April 26, 2021

    These days I focus my time and energy on my health, home and leisure activities that I enjoy. Tedious tasks that I don’t like may not get done until they become necessary. I don’t feel guilty about it either.

    • Debbish
      April 26, 2021

      I’ve actually gotten better at that as I’ve aged as well Natalie. A couple of years ago I started a part-time job and could see in the first week that it was going to be fraught. I also knew someone else had left for the reasons I was experiencing so I decided to opt out before I became embedded. I think the younger me wouldn’t have done that as my father was wont to lecture about not quitting things but nowadays I realise life is short and the whole quality of life thing is equally important.

  • Annee
    April 26, 2021

    Hi Deb,

    You made me laugh wth reference to the Style Guide. Coming from a different background from you as a retired graphic designer who spent most of her career in Canberra plus teaching it at tertiary level, I can’t read magazines without getting caught up in the fonts, justification, layout, not too mention grammar and punctuation, etc. so I just don’t enjoy them as I’m too critical!

    Be yourself and be creative without worrying about the minutae of current or past dictums. You’ve had a good education and grounding and are streets ahead of the beginners, so just express yourself as it naturally comes and your personality shines through. You don’t need excuses.

    That’s why I read your blog!

    • Debbish
      April 26, 2021

      Oh thanks Annee, that’s lovely. I had a job in government in which I managed a project to improve briefing and correspondence materials of a department and later managed teams of people managing and QAing documents and became as obsessive grammar nazi. I still remember pointing out a typo in a newsletter my hairdresser had written and then realised I sounded like a complete biatch. I reined it in a little after that.

      As I read so much I now read with a critical eye (if that makes sense) so notice immediately if a character is referenced before they’re introduced or there’s a plot hole, and am almost ALWAYS thinking of ways a story could be improved.

  • Melissa Gijsbers
    April 26, 2021

    This is one of the reasons I don’t want to study writing! I know my style and my method and I know it works for me… the writing I was taught in high school just didn’t work for me.
    I got confused with a lot of the grammar stuff at school, that may be partly to do with going to school in 2 countries…
    The kids I have in my writers groups, I tell them that the best way to improve in writing is to practice and there is no formula – as this is something that often stops them from getting started. It is possible to overthink things when it comes to writing, so I do my best not to!

    • Debbish
      April 26, 2021

      As I was responding to another comment Melissa I thought about the fact that it’s always drummed into writers that the first draft of anything is just that – very much a draft. If we don’t get it down in the first place there’s no chance that something of beauty will grow from it! What’s the saying about digging out a pile of sand to build the sandcastle? #orsomething

      I know a lot of writers say they’re bad at grammar and punctuation and rely on editors to fix that, which is great but perhaps it’s self-editing that’s hard. I’m trying to perform two roles and struggling? Or perhaps I’m just crap at both. *grimaces*

  • leannelc
    April 26, 2021

    Oh my goodness – my eyeballs started bleeding as I read all that editing stuff. I think that’s why I’ve stuck to blogging and not been tempted to try my hand at novel writing or even e-book writing. And paying an outsider to tell me all the flaws in my writing just does my head in. Good luck with learning about it all – I’m sure it will fire your brain neurons in places they’ve been dormant for 20 years, but I can’t say I envy you!

    • Debbish
      April 27, 2021

      I think I’m still trying to find a ‘fit’ for my writing Leanne. I guess I like blogging because it’s that stream of consciousness thing which is perfect for an overthinker like moi! I know editors who feel very confident re where they put commas or semi-colons or hyphens and guess it comes naturally after you’ve been doing it for some time. It worries me I just can’t seem to retain some of what I’m learning.

  • Jennifer Jones
    April 27, 2021

    I didn’t drop off at all Deb. I love this stuff and get really irritated when I see it done incorrectly. I didn’t realise the style guide had changed. I must check it out.

    • Debbish
      April 27, 2021

      Jennifer, we had an online quiz re the new Style Manual for my editing subject so I spent some time making sure I knew my way around the Style Rules and Conventions section! Here it is if you want to check it out. https://www.stylemanual.gov.au/

  • Vanessa
    April 27, 2021

    I really don’t enjoy the grammar type editing at all. Much like you, the structure/developmental is more interesting. I fly by on privilege of education in my writing being somewhat grammatically correct and have no interest in learning more and being better at it.

    • Debbish
      April 27, 2021

      Yes, my grammar and punctuation are mostly okay – which I guess is how I got jobs managing teams of people monitoring quality of others’ work. But now I’m getting into the nitty gritty I’m just overthinking it too much. Alas.

  • Debbie
    April 27, 2021

    Oh my, style guides would do my head in but I applaud you for continuing and making us aware of these changes, I really had no idea and can’t imagine all the errors I’ve been making over the years – but I don’t think it worries me too much at the moment! I will have a look at the style guide just for reference, so thanks for sharing in response to Jennifer’s comment 🙂 #lifethisweek

    • Debbish
      April 27, 2021

      Deb I wouldn’t worry about the grammar stuff unless you have to. My main concern is that NOW that I’ve been more exposed to it, whether I need to be adhering to it religiously or if I can / should still just write? I suspect there’s some middle ground.

  • Laurie
    April 27, 2021

    Deb, Yes!!! Read Anne Bogel’s book about overthinking. It helped me get unstuck.

    • Debbish
      April 27, 2021

      I don’t read self-help books much (though I read a few re disordered eating when it was more problematic in my life) but I also have one called, Eating, Drinking and Overthinking!

  • Lyvea
    April 27, 2021

    I lOVE em-dashes and won’t be giving them up any time soon. But I guess I’ll have to recommend the new SM guideline to my authors . . . sigh.

    • Debbish
      April 27, 2021

      I’d only started using em-dashes in the last few years after being a keen user of the en-dash.

      Related: I have to confess I have no idea how to type an en-dash and just use hyphens… (Well, the minus sign!)

      I did see a shortcut somewhere but, meh.

  • Marsha
    April 28, 2021

    I’m happy for you following your dreams and I’m sure you get bogged down. I agree with one of your readers. If it brings you joy, then do it. I have almost quit writing book reviews. The ones that I want to read don’t need them, and they do take the joy out of reading. I used to write them so I would remember some of the fluff I’d read. But the need and compulsion for writing them went away. So good luck with dashes and hyphens, quote marks, spacing, and all the rigors of writing. If you would like to write an unpublished story for my blog, I pick a new story to publish each month. You might like it. 🙂 You can see one of them on Denyse’s InLink party. 🙂

    • Debbish
      April 28, 2021

      I’ll check it out Marsha, thanks. And I’m probably edging closer to reducing or quitting book reviewing. Just when I think I’m ready to give up I’ll get a nice thanks from an author or reader and it’ll spur me on for a bit longer.

      • Marsha
        April 28, 2021

        I think it is so hard. I reviewed one blogger’s book, Plunge recently because I know her and I did a promo post for her. It turned out that the book was fantastic, but all I did was an Amazon review. Those are much less tiresome. I used to put hours into my reviews, probably needlessly. What authors really appreciate are Amazon reviews more anyway because so many more people read those than a blog post. I don’t mind doing those as much either.

        • Debbish
          April 29, 2021

          Yes I think shorter reviews (Instagram and Goodreads as well as Amazon) are becoming popular. Perhaps podcasts as well. Maybe our attention spans are diminishing.

          I haven’t bought enough from Amazon to be allowed to leave reviews there. I recently bought a book and wanted to leave a review there (as well as my blog) but wasn’t able to…

          • Marsha
            April 29, 2021

            They are picky. I have been given books to review, and they sometimes allow that, but that’s about it.

  • Denyse Whelan Blogs
    April 28, 2021

    Oh Deb…this sure did attract some comments and I see why! When I did Uni via correspondence (because that was how my lectures and info came..in the mail, and my assignments returned, in the mail, I had to lift my game to pass subjects. I was already writing professionally for education purposes: newsletters, policiies and more but when a Uni is going to pass or fail you, it was time for me to learn. I did those assignments 1985-1987 on an electric typewriter and made sure of the double spacing after a sentence ending etc. I know that has all changed but it took a long time for me to let it go. I still find I correct grammar and punctuation (silently).

    My last foray at Uni was Post Grad Cert in TESOL and if anything is going to do your head in, it’s gettign grammar correct because you are teaching it to people whose first language is not English. I passed and did well. However, despite my 1960s education I am not a bright English student. Hated having to dissect poetry for a start. Now, about you…whatever you are doing this Uni thing for ask the question “would it feel better on my death bed that I did this or if I quit”…seriously (and boy do I love….) I did this about going for a principal’s role and got it. Despite its not great outcome for me, I do not regret it.

    Thank you for sharing your post for Life This Week. I am always appreciative of the blogging community and you are one of those people in my blogging life. Next week, the optional prompt is Taking Stock. The new set of prompts is on my home page should you want to follow. Looking forward to see you again next week hopefully too. Denyse

    • Debbish
      April 29, 2021

      It’s funny you talk about poetry Denyse as I HATED poetry at school and I was really bad at it. Well, I was bad at reading comprehension tests and that seemed to be the only way poetry was assessed. Perhaps I’m too literal a thinker? Too auditory? I’m not sure. I avoid poetry now like the plague but then I hear Amanda Gorman’s recital at Joe Biden’s inauguration and I think, ‘Wow!’ and enjoy it.

      PS. Almost put double inverted commas there instead of single. I now know we use only single in Oz and US use double. *sigh*

  • Bert Hoak
    April 29, 2021

    Greetings Debbish!
    I am a computer troglodite so I can’t even use Facebook! My friend Roger Paris sent me comments you made a few years back about visiting Berts’ Books” in Phnom Penh. Those were the days! Lots of happy memories and some less so. Do you have any photos or memories you care to share? I too have tried to write some but I tend to lose my enthusiasm and unspiration on a regular basis.
    I’d love to hear from you!
    Bert (formerly of Berts’ Books)
    Bert_hoak@yahoo.com

I'd love to hear your thoughts