Damn it, Jim! I’m a Write-a-Holic, not a Perfectionist!

Posted: January 26, 2012 in Uncategorized

There are two kinds of writers. There is the writer who can create three rough drafts for short stories per week, if they can find the time. This type of writer can do this easily.

Then there is another type of writer. This is the writer who painstakingly labors over what he pens, worrying about word placement, style, plot and depth of characterization.

(Note: There is a 3rd writer, too, a combination of both types of writers described above. They’ll claim that. I’m betting that they belong to one type over another, and are simply experimenting or simply trying to find their niche’, but that is for another essay.)

What you’re about to read is intended for the first kind of writer. If the second type of writer practices what you’re about to read, they risk falling into writer’s block. This is because the 2nd type of writer ALREAY intrinsically practices what I’m about to describe.

Now I’m the 1st type of writer. I can easily write 3 rough drafts per week. If I have the gumption, it’s easy for me. While I differ from other writers who fall into this category, this is how and why I can do this:

1) I am very creative. I can come up with story ideas that are (to me) fairly interesting, and I do this easily. There is no need for me to scribble down notes during the day, because when I sit before my laptop, ideas literally pour out of my head. Sometimes those ideas are so creative and simply too big to become a short story, and thus those ideas cannot be captured by a story of that length. Thus there is TOO much stuff in the story.

I’m not saying that writers who fall under the 2nd category aren’t creative; all I’m saying is that writers who fall under the 1st category (we need a name, so let’s call them write-a-holics) are almost always bursting at the seams with story ideas.

2) I type very fast. This gives me the ability to virtually type out my thoughts as I’m thinking them, which allows for the purest form of inspiration to materialize on paper. There is no painstaking contemplation of plot or characterization or depth or intrigue that the 2nd writer (let’s call this writer the perfectionist) constantly utilizes while writing.

3) I have very low self-esteem regarding my writing. I’m always picking fault with it. Because of this, I intrinsically realize that whatever I’m writing, it’s not going to be the best. Just about everything I write I consider a “rough draft.” This is one of the best reasons I can write so many stories per week. In the back of my mind, they simply do not matter.

The perfectionist doesn’t think that way. The perfectionist painstakingly crafts every word to set perfectly in his magnum opus. He slowly forms the plot, sometimes etching out the middle or ending of the story, much like a sculpture forming various bits and pieces from blocks of marble. Just as the sculpture may start at the face or the feet—wherever inspiration hits him—the perfectionist analytically approaches the story in segments, perfecting each.

I said all that to say this…

Why do we write-a-holics create rough drafts? Why can’t we produce the next-big-thing? Why should we strive to write like what the markets want, anyway? Just to get a publishing credit? Are the markets the Holy Word on All Things Pertaining to Writing? Will those publications be around fifty years from now? Why would we sacrifice our stories for the editorial cunning of someone at a publication that will be defunct in ten years?

Why shouldn’t we write-a-holics approach writing like golf? In golf, it’s not about your opponent. Not really. It’s about your best score on the golf course. It’s about maintaining and (hopefully) exceeding your best performance on the field. It’s not about your opponents. Some are better than you, some are worse. None of that matters; what truly matters is that you maintain your performance somewhere around your average. If you’re under par by 3 points, you naturally attempt to maintain that average, and to hell with the other players, even those who maintain an average of golfing 6 under par every single game.

Why can’t we write-a-holics excel? Why can’t the next story we write be the best story we’ve ever written, the best story we’ll ever write? Why can’t we believe that? Why don’t we forget the cookie-cutter writing-templates? Why do we HAVE to start right at the action? Why can’t we go beyond plot, beyond mere characterization?

Why can’t we write-a-holics attempt to create a mood or theme? What about penning a story with the theme being creepiness? Above and beyond a good plot and strong characters, why can’t we go for producing a visceral reaction with the reader? If not creepiness, then why not attempt to manufacture true fear within the reader? Not based on gimmicks such as monsters or gore or taboo subjects, but based on solid and pure writing.

Why can’t the next thing we write be perfect? Why does it have to be considered a rough draft? Why does it have to be “shelved” for years until we decide to do something with it? Why can’t we break free from our “average” and go beyond what the guidelines publications demand? Why can’t we break free from that “average” story locked in our mind—that “average” story that we almost always write—and create that perfect story that goes beyond our average writing game? Does our experimental writing have to be rough-draft-crap?

Why can’t we experiment like jOhn Lovero did in the recent, marvelous story he just posted in a private web office (he combined Hawthorne and another writer, creating an experimental piece of fiction that I found simply marvelous)? Why can’t we try new things? Why must our fiction be held accountable by the guidelines of our own imagination? Why MUST we write a certain way? Why MUST we obey all the freaking rules? Why MUST we maintain a specific plot sequence from A to B?

By now you probably understand why I said earlier in this post that these suggestions are NOT for perfectionists. Perfectionists automatically do this from the get-go. In fact, perfectionists often fall into writer’s block, because they feel so strongly that the next thing they write simply MUST be the best thing they’ve ever written PERIOD… that when they read what they’ve written, they metaphorically vomit with derision, hating everything they’ve produced. If a perfectionist practices what I’ve just written above, it will already seal the perfection they insist on EVERY TIME THEY WRITE.

This isn’t intended for the perfectionist. This topic is for the write-a-holics out there, those write-a-holics who can easily pen 2-3 stories per week, those authors who can hit 2,000-,5000 per day (if they have time), and feel natural and great doing so.

I think there comes a time in the write-a-holic’s life that he must stop, take a step back, and ask himself, What the heck am I doing? He must examine his writing (golfing) average, and contemplate his writing game.

Maybe the write-a-holic should take a few suggestions from the perfectionists out there. Maybe he should begin with the middle of the story like perfectionists often do. Maybe the write-a-holic should attempt to mix Hawthorn and another respected writer’s style—let’s say John Grisham because the two combined writer’s styles would be very interesting—combining both writing styles with his own personal writer’s voice.

Instead of having the mindset that the next story we write is just a rough draft, is just an idea, just a story… just another piece of crap from another piece of writer who will stuff the crappy story in a file to be forgotten about…

Instead of having that mindset, what if we write-a-holics could take a cue from the perfectionists out there? What if we—instead of gushing forth with words until we transform into dry husks of delighted and satiated emptiness—began the next work with the idea that it WILL be perfect? What if the NEXT story we write, what if we intend it to MEAN something, to CONTAIN some meaning of worthwhile purpose? What if there is a moral to the next story we write OTHER THAN MUNDANE ENTERTAINMENT?

What if we write-a-holic writers could write just one story—the very next one we write—with the intention that it is to be perfect? What if we could be a perfectionist, if just for one story, if just for one day?

For my next story, I will make it perfect to the best of my ability. I won’t just write a rough draft. I won’t just spill my guts on paper. I won’t let my thoughts bleed crimson, I won’t just gush forth with creative ideas and inspiration.

No, for my next story, it’s going to be my magnum opus. I’m going to approach it slower. Each word will be carefully chosen, like well-placed dynamite hidden through the edifices of the reader’s expectations. And I will push the plunger down, I will light the fuse that sets off a charge that will cause the reader’s expectations to crumble, causing the reader to become engrossed in more than just mundane plot and strong characters.

Yes, my dear reader (probably only one or two) will become engrossed in my story, because it ISN’T a rough draft, because it ISN’T just another cookie-cutter template chosen because it’s safe.

Hell, no! My next story is going to be DANGEROUS! It’s going to produce a theme within the reader. Perhaps it will be a feeling of creepiness, or a twinge of fear mixed with loss.

After this next “perfect” story, I will go back to my old ways. I will succumb to natural inclination, penning imperfect rough draft after mediocre story, until I am hitting 2-3 stories per week (again).

But until then… I am leaving the camps of write-a-holics, going AWOL in order to broach the ideas of the Perfectionists.

If only for one story…

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