500% Done

I’m having one of those days.  Maybe more like one of those weeks.  You know the type, where it feels like everything that can go wrong does go wrong.  Like whatever you try to do, you’re doing while shoulder deep in molasses, so it takes forever to do anything, and when you’re done it’s sticky and stained and useless anyway.  Writing-wise, it’s the feeling that makes me want to print out the story I’ve been struggling with, just so I can tear it to pieces, and set the pieces on fire.  The feeling that has me all but convinced that I never had any talent to begin with, or if I did then I certainly don’t now, and I should just accept it and give up.

This isn’t an uncommon experience, of course, for me or for anybody.  I’ve got a ton of pep talks for myself along with a ton of quotes from famous people about how quitters never win, about how whatever I do, I need to keep moving forward, even an inch at a time, etc etc.

Then I have to write.  I have to keep that fire going, somehow, because if I let it go out, it’s that much harder to rekindle.  Because the best way to combat the worry that I can’t is with actual proof that I CAN.  So I write about the feeling (HELLO!) and I write drivel in my journal.

And I edit.

I don’t touch anything too recent, from the past couple weeks, say, because they’re still to fresh for me to look at with a detached eye.  Anything later than that is fair game.  I print out five, six, seven stories, and retreat to the coffee shop with a stapler and a pencil.

A lot of people hate editing.  A fair number of writers do it sparsely, if it all (Lawrence Block likes to say he sends out first drafts all the time).  I’ve come to like it.  It’s useful, of course, to know that when I first write something down, I don’t have to be paralyzed by the need to make everything perfect.  Then there are times like this.  By reading through my old work, I’m reminded that, yes, I wrote this stuff.  Surprisingly enough, it’s not that bad.   Sometimes it’s actually pretty good.  And with pencil in hand, I can make it better.  I enjoy that process, recognizing the rough edges (an awkward sentence structure here, a wrong word choice there) and sanding them smooth.  At times I’m able to go deeper, noticing themes that I might not have seen when I first wrote the piece and reshaping the prose to strengthen and highlight them.  When I’m done, I’m in a more positive place in relation to my writing, and hopefully the general feeling of impotence has passed as well.

So, what about you guys?  How do you keep writing (or doing anything) when you’re just 500% done with everything?

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