I'm writing (another) book. Something completely different. Fiction. A beast. It's one of those projects I started and can't stop because it's just so ambitious. I got sucked into its vortex. It's woven with tangents and metaphors and plot lines that I can't quite follow and certainly can't predict until my fingers hit the keys. Big projects have their own motors. I'm just along for the ride. And I'm noticing how much energy I'm spending to resist this one. I'm resisting writing because I don't know where it's going to lead. I'm attempting to uncover the plot by rendering satisfying characters, but I start to judge them. Is the main character me? Am I that annoying? Is she annoying? Is this an embarrassing amount of self-indulgence even for me?
Writers, holler if you hear me.
The bewildering part about it is that getting the words down each time is not the struggle. It's the sitting down to write that causes the problem. I do believe this a compound effect from years of using perfectionism as a form of self-validation and my severe impatience for life to unfold.
In high school I had an English teacher who I loved so much. She introduced me to Emerson and Fitzgerald and Whitman, most of all Whitman, and gave me my first relationship to the American voice. That American Lit class rattled me with it's profundity. And that teacher said, "Don't write something you don't want to put your name on." Of course it was a call for integrity in our work, but in my over-active mind I've mangled integrity to mean perfection and if I put my name on it, I must think it's almost brilliant or I will die.
Writing a blog is a great way to break the perfectionism habit. There is no way writing two to three times a week will yield perfect results every time, or even nearly every time. In this arena, I'm prepared. But when I look at a blank word document titled "new book" and know that eventually I want it to be better than anything else I've ever written, my fingers will hover over the keyboard for an awkward amount of time or I will check Facebook one more time just to be sure there's nothing pressing or all of a sudden I have to pee.
I'm just not comfortable with the shitty first draft Anne Lamott urges us to write. Theoretically I am. In my mind, it's process and I get it. But in the moment, oof. I don't want to write shit. (That last sentence withstanding.) So the only thing to do is to write shit consistently. Bad sentences with hyperbole, mixed metaphors and no verb. Daring to use prepositions at the end of sentences when there's a situation you just can't get out of. Using a few of the same very similar words to describe one thing that actually needs no description. An embarrassingly excruciating amount of cleverly placed adverbs to hit your word count. You know, shit.
Eventually, I'll excavate through the rubble of run-ons and see what I can mine. I'll share it with my writing group and maybe even bits of it up here for you. But it won't feel good. And this is the lesson I'm still learning. That your life's work, the source of your daily energy, won't always make you feel good. It can't always be your best. But if it's bad enough, it can give you a laugh. And who doesn't need one of those?