Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Curse of Being Imperfect

When I started writing my first novel to (attempt) to sell a few years back, the words flowed like water - in fact, I had trouble catching them in time. It was a hurried, frantic fever. Life became little more than a barrier to words. I had to force myself to look up from the page. I over wrote most of it - by about one hundred thousand words.

Then I joined a critique group. I learned about scene and sequel. Conflict and resolution. Internal motivation and external stimulus. I learned body language, dialogue beats, and how I was using too many words for everything.

Over months, then years, I learned a lot. And I loved it. Each little fact and facet added a new layer to the personification of information I was beginning to call my internal editor.

Then my internal editor took on a life of his own (and yes, for some reason, he is a he). He's also a bully, as it turns out.

First drafts are no longer an exercise in remembering I have a life outside of writing. They're an act of discipline. The gritting of teeth and getting through. The internal flaying of my confidence in a concept. The general abuse of anything I produce.

"That sucks. You know that right? No one wants to read that."

"This scene is boring. You're getting completely off track! Fix it!"

"You might think that character is hot, but this is reading like he's a thug with a god complex."

"You do realize that's the fifty-fourth time you've used his eyebrow? Dude doesn't emote, he has a twitch."

You get the picture.

The thing is, I know I can write. I know there are moments when the genius bubbles to the surface. Small passages people read and use words like "powerful". But those moments seem so small next to the avalanche of pages bracketing every tiny scene that works.

In talking this through with a wonderful author-friend, we discovered a mutual inclination towards self-deprecation, an internal editor that didn't distract so much as create self-doubt. A fear that drove away, rather than embraced the process.

When our conversation closed, I kept thinking, ticking away at the things in life that were heavy, or poking. The things I gripped too hard, or tried too long to push away. And I started to see a pattern.

It turns out that much of the weight I carry today - and in recent months - has less to do with circumstance or pressure, and much much more to do with all the things wrong with me. Because I have many roles in this life and lately I've felt I've pursued all and achieved none. Which is ridiculous, really. Because my life is blessed. I don't want it to change. I just want to be different in it.

I don't loathe myself. I'm . . . disappointed. The first draft I'm currently pushing through is an analogy for, well, everything:

Why can't I do it right first time?

My dreams are coming true on a variety of levels. Yet, somehow, I'm not doing everything the way I wish I could. I'm not always easy. I'm sometimes rough. Occasionally downright wrong. And my writing is variously inspired and insipid.

I know this isn't an affliction confined to me. This is just life. But somehow in my head it's become okay to beat myself up over this. To tell myself that the wrongness will always outweigh what's right, and I should just give up.

This morning I determined that I was wrong (again), but this time it was about myself, my roles, my work.

My internal editor should be there to catch technical flaws, not berate me as a writer. He should be helping me mold a fresh product, not make me doubt every word as it's torn from the keyboard.

And he definitely has no place offering commentary on my skills as a wife, or mother.

So today I'm turning over a new page (pun intended). It's time to start coaching my inward coach. Time to moderate my monitor.

It's time to stop messing with myself and just get on with what I can do and achieve. And leave the rest to God.

Because the irony is, all the energy I give to inner conflict and self-doubt would be much better spent on doing something right. And there are many things I do do well. That doesn't mean I am flawless. Only that aspects of me don't require flaying on a daily basis.

Today I will be stronger than I was yesterday. That's a good thing.

It will be interesting to see if results in more words and fewer face-palms. It might not. But at least I'll be able to walk away from those moments with a smile that doesn't threaten tears.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I sense I'm not alone in this process. And I want to encourage you - whatever your pursuit - to be fairer on yourself. To resist the voices inside that would tell you how wrong you are.

If we can do that, then when the external voices start up a chorus of "You Suck!", you and I will both be better prepared to measure whether they're right.

The truth is, sometimes they are. I suspect it's rarely as often as we'd like to think. And usually in the moments we'd like to pretend they're wrong. But that's a different blog post.

Your turn: Do you struggle with self-doubt when writing, or pursuing your day? Chime in!


  1. I've just come to the point where I expect the first draft to be crap, with pockets of okay stuff. That takes the pressure off and allows me to LOVE my draft into awesomeness on the second go. I think that's really what it comes down to: setting realistic expectations and allowing ourselves to be human. =)

  2. LOVE this!! And, as you know, I'm with you girlie. :-)

  3. I hope things are feeling better now it's been a few days :) I just wanted to ask if you've ever read Women Who Run With the Wolves? Your Inner Editor reminded me of her "Inner Destroyer". My take on the concept was a little different from what she said, but her book is a great help. The thing is that I think the Inner Destroyer is a function of our psyche who's job it is to put our fears in our face in a way we can't ignore or run away from - cause he's relentless and progressively meaner. Maybe that idea will help as you train the Inner Editor - maybe the roles are blurred.

    Also, thanks so much for this blog - I've learned so much from you in only 2 days!

    1. Thanks for dropping by, Aedan! No, I haven't read that book, but it does sound similar. You're right!