So I like to read successful writers’ thoughts on writing because I find the insight really valuable–and it makes me feel like slightly less of a freak to know they all pretty much deal with the same crippling self-doubt I do at times.
Hooray for being human, I suppose.
One of the themes that comes up quite a bit is the idea of writing, similar to most other talents, being like a muscle that you can strengthen by working out more frequently and more intensely.
Like we tell the wee folk–practice makes better.
But this is a challenging concept for someone who doesn’t normally choose to do things she isn’t already good at. The idea of sucking at something for a while before becoming proficient is, like, super distasteful to me. Who wants to suck at something? For any length of time? Even if it means they’re on their way to getting better?
So I have a hard time not just wanting to assume everything I write is already perfect and cannot in any way be improved upon. And yes, this attitude coexists with the ever-present self-assurances that it’s always just a huge, steaming pile of crap.
So, supreme arrogance and self-loathing.
Editing especially becomes tricky for me, then, because my first instinct is to want to believe it’s completely unnecessary. Like, I hated those classes where the teacher required you to turn in more than one edit. I was all, uhhhhhhhh, no, one’s plenty, dude. And I actually looked forward to having to write essays during midterms and finals because I can write the shit out of an essay under pressure.
When left to my own devices, however, I do tend to dillydally. And it becomes especially hard when my propensity for self-loathing takes the reins and, some varying distance into a piece, I decide it’s just not coming together the way I want and banish it to post purgatory. Many a blog post has been left to quietly moulder in that sad, dejected state because I hate not doing things right the first time and I feel like it’s a failure to have to go back and edit.
I know, I know, I know.
Clearly, then, these are attitudes and practices I am working to overcome now that I’m officially DOING THIS. I’ve given myself a(n) (ultimately soft, as perfectly evidenced by the fact that this will be posted a morning late, but no less…existent, shall we say) deadline of finishing one blog post at least every other day, and I am forcing myself to go back and edit. I mean, I always go back and proofread to make sure my grammar and punctuation are all on point and snazzy, but it’s almost physically painful for me to take a hatchet to my work and delete whole sentences, let alone entire sections.
But I’ve been doing it and you know what? The results have been pretty fabulous.
I mean, at least I think so.
And, surprising absolutely no one, it’s easier to do the more I do it!
Pushing myself to slog through a piece I’m not really liking, maybe leave it for a bit, come back to it, delete a decent portion of what’s already there, punch out the rest, then more deleting and fine-tuning so I can get it posted that day or the next (or, you know, the following morning, whatever)… HUGE change from my norm and–cheese alert–really facilitating growth. I mean, it’s one thing to hear from others that your writing is improving, but to actually see and feel that for yourself is pretty fucking cool.
And I’ve realized, in terms of the pain and hesitancy associated with slashing up my work, that there are always more words to come. Seriously, I got words, people. They never quit. So what does it matter if I delete a sizable portion of what I’ve just written? Give me a minute and that space will be filled with more words, and they’re often even better words the second go around.
So I’ve come to see editing simply as an opportunity for improvement. If you had a chance to almost certainly improve upon your work before putting it out into the world, wouldn’t you take it? Why would you not take it, right? So yes, my work is generally pretty good–and it can always be improved upon.
You know what this means, then, right?
It means my self-imposed discipline is WORKING, PEOPLE.
What I want is to improve my writing and become more productive–but when I’m not liking what I’m writing, what I want right now is to close the computer and feel sorry for myself over it for some number of days or weeks or months. But prioritizing the end goal over what’s more attractive in the moment (yes, wallowing is attractive sometimes) by forcing myself to sit with the piece and hack at it and add to it over the course of a certain amount of time is creating a positive feedback loop that’s making it easier to continue prioritizing that way in subsequent writing sessions.
I mean, I still don’t love everything I post, of course, and often I’m submitting these just before midnight (or, you know, a day late) because the process has been somewhat tortuous that go.
But I’m getting it done, and I think that’s what ultimately matters.