Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Perfection and the Merry-Go-Round of Ridiculousness

Perfection is a scary thing.

I’ve been working on first drafts for what feels like forever. Once I get to the stage where I’m writing (this is after weeks and weeks of brainstorming, plotting, over-plotting, and more brainstorming) my process usually goes something like this:

Step 1: Write a beginning of between 500-5,000 words.
Step 2: Read over said beginning and start editing it. And then edit it some more. And then a little more.
Step 3: Write another 500-5,000 words.
Step 4: Go all the way back to the first 500-1,000 words and edit some more.
Step 5: Begin to think that the beginning really isn’t where it should be.
Step 6: Write a scene that takes place before the beginning (thereby creating a new beginning).
Step 7: Edit the new beginning and edit some more.
Step 8: Start to think that this beginning isn’t any good at all.
Step 9: Throw it all out and start from scratch.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Then, as if that Merry-Go-Round of Ridiculousness wasn’t bad enough, I then go through a phase for a few weeks where I find myself having trouble putting pen to paper at all. And it’s not because I didn’t want to (I do) or because I don’t have time (I mean I don’t have a lot, but I have SOME). And as anyone who has spent time lamenting an inability to write knows, this phase always leaves me with quite a lot of time to wallow and think about WHY I couldn’t write. So I spend a few weeks thinking and lamenting my brain block.

But it wasn’t until I stopped whining and actually started talking the issue through with writer friends that I realized what was really going on. 

I’m scared.

I’m scared of putting time and effort into something that I want and having it turn out badly. I’m scared that the crappy first drafts I’m working on are going to be so crappy they aren’t going to be worth editing. I’m scared that my books are never going to be worth reading. I’m scared that I’m going to discover that I’m not good at writing and that my dream is impossible and not meant to be. I’m scared that I’m going to discover that something I’ve wanted to do since I was little isn’t in my future.

All of which brings me my most recent rationalization, the Catch-22: If I never write a book, I’ll never know if I can do it. BUT if I don’t know if I can do it or not, I won’t have to face the possibility of finding out that I can’t do it. And this week I finally admitted to myself that this way of thinking is yet another ride on the Merry-Go-Round of Ridiculousness.

I have come to realize something: When I first starting writing my dream was to “write a book”. It was not to “write the perfect book” or “write perfectly on the first try”, in fact perfect was never part of the dream at all. Of course, I want the book to be perfect, I want it to be worthy of sharing shelf space with so many of the wonderful books that made me want to be a writer in the first place, which is a terrifying and daunting goal. And that’s perfectly alright. There is nothing wrong with being afraid that my dream won’t turn out perfectly, I think most people worry about that, but there is something wrong with allowing that fear to control my ability to create anything at all. Allowing my fear to stop me from doing something that I love to do: write stories.

I don’t know if understanding this is going to help me break out of the first draft cycle I’m in, but like they say, the first step is admitting you have a problem. Hopefully, my second step will be writing a book. But even if that's my third, fourth, or fifth step, I'm ok with that, as long as I'm moving in the right direction. And at the end of the day, it may not be perfect, but it will be mine. My book, that I wrote, from beginning (to beginning, to beginning, to beginning, to beginning) to end… and my dream of writing a book will be perfectly fulfilled. 

In the meantime, I've hung the quotation below on my wall to remind me I need to keep fighting.


  1. I like your "Merry-Go-Round of Ridiculousness" term :) Awesome description of getting stuck in that place. Everyone hits this point (and most writers I know seem to hit it at least once a month, so you're in good company!), when you've got to put the fear aside and just go for it.

    Have you read this article from Writer's Digest? I've got it open all the time on my phone to remind me not to let the fear stop me.

    Happy writing :)

  2. We have similar writing ways and it is a merry-go-around of ridiculousness. Just last night as I was diving into my 6th attempt at this story, I stopped asking myself what was the point. Every version of a beginning (and somewhat of a middle - I've never given a full fledged draft of it) has sucked, sucked, sucked. Then I remembered that I still want to write. It can be crappy, but crappy can be fixed at some point.

  3. HI ....