So I have taken 2 days off of writing Tallulah because without being able to write at the university general library makes it much harder to block out everything that typically distracts me from writing. Also because what I have to write next …
It’s not just difficult: the entire story depends on me getting it exactly right. and that is not a cool experience for somebody writing a first draft. It’s not a scene that I have particularly well worked-out in my mind, and it’s between two of the characters I’m the least confident writing for: Tallulah, which is poetic injustice, seeing as she’s my main character and the entire story is from her point of view, and her mother, Sinead, who shows up in person at the very start of the book and only features from that point on in flashbacks and weird hallucination things that I’ll probably get rid of in the next draft because they seem silly to me right now.
I know Sinead’s story, and her relationship to Tallulah, but I do not know how to write her properly. I do not have the articulation to bring her character into the story after having only hinted at her existence and personality up until this point. I don’t know her motivations, and feel that they should be pretty straightforward, not just because I’m the one who invented her, but because it’s also nothing particularly original even in my mind.
And I mean writing about how difficult I’m finding it is all very well, and it’ll probably help me to work it out, but every time I run into a problem that it feels like I, as the writer, should not be having, such as understanding my own freaking characters, it reminds me just how far in over my head I am with this particular story, and how I’ve just kind of thrown myself into this project without what I would consider to be appropriate preparation. It’s embarrassing to find myself coming up short, and the entire premise of the story feels so much weaker to me when I –
I mean I know what has to happen, in the general sense; I know the narrative notes that I want to hit, and I know the general sort of effect I’m going for … it’s just very general. that’s the issue; it’s very general and not very specific, and that is an issue with a lot of my writing, and I don’t know if it’s because I’ve only ever written first drafts and have never experienced anything past this experimental phase or if it’s actually just a massive gaping hole in my repertoire of writing skills that I’m only now finally coming to see the full extent of, but it locks me up, because I ‘don’t know what to do’, and admitting that means that I don’t know what I want to write, which I feel should not be the case, and perhaps isn’t actually the case, because I’ve written something like a story up to this point.
I don’t know if I ought to have had more of a clear idea of the story I was going to try and tell, a better sense of the characters and their motivations, from the outset, or if this is, again, fairly common. and I don’t know how much of this anxiety is tied up in being very zoomed-in with this draft and getting more and more perfectionist as I draw closer and closer to the end, because I want this sense of accomplishment by the end of it.
And I know that it’s kind of silly to put so much pressure on myself to make things ‘work’ when it’s just a first draft, in the sense that I’m freaking myself out to the point where I’m literally not writing the draft, because as I keep saying I can change anything, everything, in later drafts, and nothing I write now has to be permanent or ‘official’ or ‘canon’ or whatever.
I’m getting bogged down in particulars. for instance: when Sinead shows up, what would she say? what’s a really quintessential Sinead thing for her to say or do? what little gestures would she make to subtly show how she’s feeling? how can I convey all of this depth of character and make it seem like I’ve worked everything out and have a really good grasp on all of these characters and show off how awesome I am?
because I know the general stuff. I know how she generally feels about this situation, why she’s there, what she’s hoping to get out of it, and the same for Tallulah – but none of it feels very real to me, like I understand the realistic implications of this situation, and really I don’t think that’s very surprising, because this is not something that has ever happened to me before. my parents are still together and have never broken up that I know of; I’ve never been an estranged parent who’s tried to come back without being ready to accept or listen to what my family need to say to me about how it made them feel, what it meant to them, anything like that – I’m literally making it up as I go along and hoping that my guesswork is accurate enough to pull it off.
and I’ve written how many posts now about how it’s just a first draft and nothing is set in stone and there is literally no purpose, no justification, nothing at stake that ought to make me freak out to this degree, and how it’s just slowing me down and it all just makes me feel like a really useless person.
I think I actually have to give up on feeling any sense of accomplishment with this draft. I think that is the problem. too much is riding now on achieving that goal, of having the sense that I’ve crafted the skeleton of this masterpiece that I want this story to be that is in itself a masterpiece, of having it all go exactly how I think it should go, with all the certainty and surety and sense of effortlessness that I think I am owed simply by virtue of being the person who came up with this story.
I did come up with this story. but I did not think it all the way through. and as such, I cannot take credit for doing so.
That makes sense.
That’s nothing to be ashamed of, it is? I mean no. It’s not. it’s a draft; it’s a figuring-it-out process, the first stage in a figuring-it-out process; this is an attempt not to write a story, but to see if there is a story to be crafted from the ideas that I have for one, if there is some sort of thread that would hold a story together, and I’ve blown it up into this huge mission to achieve artistic greatness and my sense of satisfaction with my work is riding on whether or not this final stage of the draft is really well-written and thought-provoking and poignant and true to life and all of this other stuff, and simply going for a test-drive will not cut it, because I’ve spent six months doing this and it’s the end of the year and things are meant to wrap up at the end of the year and wow I’m actually amazing. I am actually so freaking amazing to have driven myself to the point of an emotional breakdown over a first draft.
I think literally right now I understand what a first draft is meant to be, what it is appropriate to expect it to be, rather than just saying that I do all the time.
as hard as it is, as long as it takes, as much effort and time and pain and anxiety and self-doubt and excitement and just all around drama goes into writing it … it ultimately amounts to nothing more than a scribble.
this is a 100k-word doodle. this is what the picture looks like before you pick up your eraser and clear away the messy bits and start to understand why the wonky bits don’t look right and what you can do with them to improve it, and then oh hey wouldn’t it be cool if you put this thing here and made this part a bit bigger, shade it in a bit more, and yeah actually that idea you had a while ago actually works really well in this bit over here …
that’s all it is. it’s … a draft. a first draft …
is a first draft.
absolute freaking genius.
hey, better late than never, right?
yeah. it is stupid to expect too much of yourself, and I know that I do that to myself over and over again, and have done so for such a very long time. I hate thinking of myself as not being able to get things that only involve me and my effort and my own standards and ideas and motivation absolutely right the first time around. I have this idea that that’s actually impossible; how can you get your own ideas wrong?
but it’s not about that, I realise. I’ve gotten all of my ideas right. it’s just that all of my ideas are not enough to fill up an entire story to the level of depth and detail that I want.
what all of my ideas do add up to is a bunch of story-seeds. starting-points. concepts to be tested and revised and then – well, that bit hasn’t actually come yet.
and it’s taken so long to just do that, and I guess like most people I equate time spent with the level of quality to be expected from the endeavour, in some arbitrary and uncritical way that does not take into account exactly what it is that the time and effort is going into, what is fueling it; a good chunk of my writing has been padding, for instance, and that took a good long time to do, and I think I’ve written about three times slower than I wanted to and could have because I didn’t have ideas to connect everything that I wanted to happen together and I had to improvise and just pull something out of thin air that would do the job of bridging all these things together until I could find some better way to do it.
what I’ve put my time and effort and hopes into amounts to training-wheels, and it doesn’t feel right. it doesn’t feel like enough for what I’ve put in, because again, it has taken so long to do, and I just have stupidly, neurotically high expectations for myself.
but you do need training wheels. you do need to learn the alphabet before you can spell. you do need to learn to speak before you can talk. you do need to understand your limits before you can increase them. and time is not indicative of effort, or quality, or understanding; it is indicative of the passage of time.
this is really sobering. and kind of a downer.
but a good kind of downer, if there is such a thing. because I now actually don’t have the heart to expect as much as I did of myself up to ten minutes ago. it’s not worth it.
not yet. not at this stage. at this stage, ‘good enough’ is, well, good enough.
that’s actually very …
all right. time to churn this thing like butter. which I have never done before. Maybe I’ll add that to my list of Things To Do With My Life.
wow. writing about your problems really does work.
and just to be clear, I think still that having high expectations of yourself is fine. having standards is a good thing. but you must, must make sure that they don’t get in the way of you doing your very important work, your baby-steps, your first drafts, your lots of time spent on doing something that your standards turn their noses up at because, let’s face it, they’re assholes sometimes, otherwise you’ll never recognise what it is that you’ve really accomplished, and that would be an indescribable shame, because every accomplishment is something to remember, to acknowledge, to recognise for what it is: an accomplishment, something that you have now done that, until now, you had not. growth. however small in the grand scheme of things, it is still something that you have accomplished. and if you don’t take the time to acknowledge it, I feel that you probably won’t feel like you’re getting anywhere, and if that were me I would give up.
so don’t give up, and don’t give yourself an excuse to. I’m sure we all know at least one person who would be happy to do that for us if given the chance, so don’t do their work for them. accept that the little things are little, even when they take forever to get done, because then you can appreciate them as little things, instead of trying to insist that they be something they can’t, and shouldn’t, and that even though that is the case, you still need them.
and you still have them.
and now, I seriously need to finish this draft. I think I will enjoy it.