I stopped writing for a long time because I focused on perfection. Instead of filling an empty page with content. I filled it with my frustration.
I had already written a novel. So far my first and only book. Every time I tried to write something else I would get stuck. I stopped because of pretension and ego. I made rules I thought I should follow before I could write with confidence.
I knew I was fooling myself. I knew this was slowing me down. But the obsession with perfection took over me. Everything had to as perfect as Frank McCourt’s first novel. Everything had to be jewels or it wouldn’t be good enough
My first mistake was obsessing over the first sentence. One thing I was most proud of in my first novel, Living on Empty, was the first sentence and first paragraph of my book. I wanted to repeat that because I felt it was important to grab my readers with the first sentence. I still believe this is important.
I hammered out page after page on subtle variations of the same words. Writing subtle differences of the same paragraph. Overthinking it. Dreaming about it. Waking up in cold sweat wondering if it would ever be as perfect as I wanted? Wondering if I was wasting my time? Wondering if I should admit I am a hack? I was getting nowhere fast.
Before I knew it, I was tired. I was tired from doing this and hadn’t really written anything substantial other than re-writes of three or four sentences.
Talking About Writing
I have a superstition connected with talking about writing. There is nothing wrong with discussing one’s writing. But talking too much about what one is writing or what one is going to write somehow reduces one’s likelihood of actually writing.
I spent a good number of my days talking about what I was going to write. Or talking about what I was trying to write. Sometimes to impress people and sometimes because I enjoyed talking about it. And then I would talk myself out of writing.
My inspiration from my conversations had left me when I sat down to write. I now realize it is preferable to focus on the writing and not spend so much time talking about it. It is better to talk about after you have something finished. Like a first draft, for example.
The best advice is just to write. Some writers may not agree with my recommendation. Typing through your own bullshit is the only way you get through the pain of writing. Writing is not as romantic or as dreamy as a number of of us think.
Not all writers are sitting in coffee shops writing a great novel while wearing a turtleneck and sipping an espresso. The most productive writers are never seen. They write where ever they can and whenever they find the free time to write.
Writing is solitary and lonely. No one sees’s your writing. A reader only sees the final result. And that is all we should care about. The end result.
For myself, I have found writing early in the morning before work when it’s still dark outside. Everything is quiet. My wife is asleep. I play music in a low volume sipping my morning coffee. Here is where I am always writing. Here is where I am most productive. Here is where I don’t listen any criticism. I write.
Right now, I don’t write during any other time of the day. Most of the time.
Perfection Comes Later
Writing, unfortunately, is the easiest part of the whole process. Going through and re-writing, editing, takes just as much time as filling an empty space with words. So, there is no point on fretting on being perfect at the beginning. Especially if you have nothing to edit, nothing to perfect. Perfection comes later. It comes at the end of all the work of writing. Sometimes after an hour of writing endless shit.
From a pile a worthless shit a dedicated writer should be able to mold gold. So keep writing shit.