Saturday, November 15, 2008


Something I've said in the past that, taken out of context, could make me seem obnoxious, is that I never get writers' block. I get too tired to write, or too busy, or too lazy, but if I am actually able to get myself into the chair to write, I can write. The concept of the intimidating blank page/screen is foreign to me.

Obnoxious, right? Well, obviously, there's more.

Anyone who wants their words in the wider world, ie., wants other people to bother reading them, had better be a perfectionist. To publish, or try to publish, stories that I feel to be sorta "meh" is a nightmare-ish construction to me--oh, the shame of letting strangers read a badly turned line.

I, however, am a perfectionist over the long term. As I type away, I am not exactly thrilled, but certainly ok with letting a bad line, an awkward scene, a hackneyed metaphor stand in a rough draft. Sometimes I just can't think of anything better right then and I'd rather get the whole thing laid out where I can see it before I start fiddling. It's ok with me if the fiddling and fixing comes much later. No one's going to sneak into my hard-drive in the night and read at it and laugh at my lameness. I'll get it on the 2nd draft, or the 3rd. There's always another chance; I write a lot of drafts.

People who get writers' block, I am given to understand, do *not* write a lot of drafts (since it's not a condition I suffer from, I don't know exactly--feel free to correct me!) They are willing to wait, cursor blinking, until they have it nailed--it takes longer for them to get it down on the page, but they get it right the first time. A novel concept for one like me, who has so far cut close to 1500 words out of a first draft and isn't even close to done. I was pretty sure those 1500 words weren't aces when I wrote them, but they were a bridge from where I was to where I wanted to go--I needed them at the time, although not any longer. That time spent writing what would be later deleted is my version of staring at the blinking cursor--writing garbage, or redundancy, or perfectly adequate narration for another story, is my version of writers' block

I figured this out with a friend who found the process of writing deadly slow, but her stories required almost no editing--by the time she got there, she was there, the story whole and polished. She was envious of my ability to just keep slugging, no matter my mood or doubts about the story or confusion about whether it even *was* a story. I was envious of her ability to say what she wanted to say straight out, with no excess verbiage or pointless digressions.

We realized that, though our processes were so radically different, from first word to final draft took us both about the same amount of time. Which is encouraging/comforting/non-obnoxious. And makes me feel a little better about the fact that another 1500 words could and probably shall be cut from this story.

I think the message here, if there's a message, is: any way you go, as long it eventually leads forward, is fine.

I'd certainly be curious to hear what anyone else has to say about blocks, drafts, and the way forward.

It stoned me to my soul


August said...

I'm also pretty envious. I think the biggest reason I haven't published more is because I don't put anything down on the page until it's right, and it can take months or even years of work before I finish a story that I can feel genuinely pleased with. I think three drafts is my limit, and if I have to make more than minor changes, then forget it, I'd rather scrap the whole thing and start over. I love writing, but I hate editing more than just about anything I can think of. It's just so tedious! Your assessment might be accurate, though. I suffer quite regularly from writer's block, and 1,000 or 1,500 words a day is about my upper limit before I'm tapped out.

Reading helps. If I'm not reading a great deal, then I find I can't writing at all. The two activities are very closely related.

I am far less of a perfectionist when it comes to my blog.

writer_guy said...

Many years ago, I interviewed a prominent Canadian journalist (who I used to enjoy reading, but now find something of a know-it-all blowhard) for a profile I was writing, and he told me a story about Anthony Burgess. He was interviewing the famed author, and asked him how he was able to be so prolific (ie., he published a book pretty much every year). Burgess leaned forward in his chair, and asked the journalist whether he had ever written 2,000 words in a day. "Of course," he replied, "when I'm on deadline." Burgess then said, "Then just do it every day."

My problem is I get easily bored, so struggle with writing draft after draft. I applaud those that can do it. (And you want to see an author who is able to do draft after draft after draft? Check out Dennis Lee's archives!) Which is probably why I make no pretense about ever publishing anything of interest.

The Chapati Kid said...

Ah Rebecca, thank you for nailing my dilemma! My arduous perfectionist journey continues, but the end is in sight!

Intersection said...

I think vonnegut said something along this line... comparing bangers with swishers. Bangers used typewriters and bang out a lot of drafts. Swishers take their time and get it right the first time. I'm sure I have the actual words wrong, but the general idea is there.