Daily Archives: April 23, 2012

Perseveration and Perseverance and the Novel

Treasure Hunt: morning coffee + milk

I am drowning today. I woke up feeling awful about my novel. Like wondering-why-I’m-even-doing-this awful. And I felt even more hideous knowing that I’d continue to re-write despite my despondence. And yet even more horrific because then of course all this self-doubt was a massive waste of time, keeping me from said novel-rewrite.

On these self-doubting occasions, I feel like my novel is an act of perseveration–of crazy unfulfilling repetition that speaks to the adage, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”

That line speaks not to perseverance but to perseveration, which is an actual psychological term describing unhealthy behavior repetition.

There’s a difference between perseveration and perseverance. Perseverance, which is steady persistence (and a novel-writing virtue) towards a goal despite obstacles and discouragement has value in the effort whereas perseveration recreates old, unresolved issues (i.e., like how someone who felt left out in junior high then ends up, in her adult life, trying to connect with people who reject her–or at its simplest, repetition of spoken phrases).

It’s when I fail to see value in the process and effort, that I feel like writing this novel is an act of insanity.

One of the most hurtful things someone has ever said to me (other than the time someone told me, “My husband will not be happy if I get fat–but your husband doesn’t seem to care!”) is “Are you still working on that novel? Finish it already.” That a novel is solely about a finished product is false–that a novel’s value is positioned solely in its finished product is daunting and stomach-turning, at least for someone in the thicket of revision.

And yet, because of this end goal, I push. I push.

And sometimes, it’s the pushing that is the wrong thing to do with my novel-in-progress.

I’ve taken up yoga in the past year or so. After living in yoga-infused-Berkeley for decades and scoffing at the practice, I found a yoga instructor and studio in Tara Stiles and Strala Yoga in NYC that did not make me feel alienated or like I landed on Mars or had me speaking a foreign language in class.

I learned that yoga isn’t about pushing. It’s about being in the moment, and connecting with your breath and going with the ease. That anything is possible. That I can do crow and when I did crow, the moment felt utterly effortless and beautiful and marvelous. That it happened like magic one day. That getting to crow and holding crow meant staying very much in the present moment. That pushing to do crow was the very thing that made me topple.

It is hard to fight self doubt. Maybe it might be better to cave into it and process the feelings that self doubt brings. Either way, I thought that by writing about my self doubt and defining the creature that embodies it in my life today, I’ll know better how to manage it.

That I am pushing to “finish” my novel is what stalls me–that I fail to see value in the process and the present moment of revision is what pushes me to doubt myself.

So I downloaded my yoga class playlist and I’m writing to it this morning, so that what I learn in yoga can infuse me as a writer today. No pushing. Just be. Write the words. Breathe. Listen to my novel. Listen to me. Allow myself to cry. So that I can amaze myself.

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Filed under Novel, Revision, The Personal, Writing