Writing Isn’t Easy – This Writer’s Struggle

I am the world’s slowest writer. I believe that no other writer could possibly struggle as I do, choosing each word as if it were an artisan chocolate, arranging words as though they were precious stones in a glorious Bulgari necklace, sequencing sentences like layers of finely ground nuts, cream and sponge cake in an Austrian torte.

If the results of my efforts were as impressive as any of these, I wouldn’t mind. But they’re not. They might be, one day, but I’m still learning, refining my skills, being the apprentice.

With the amount of experience I have, I should be writing like a landscaper makes a garden, planning, digging, shovelling up words as if they were pebbles and laying them down into paths. It’s much easier to fill a garden with beautiful plants once the structure is there.

This would be the logical and rational approach, even the more creative one. But I’m stuck in a rut. Called perfectionism. Sometimes the struggle to be perfect is so overwhelming that I want to walk away. I wonder if this novel-writing gig is really for me.

But then, I want to tell the story. I’m compelled. I don’t seem to have a choice.

I write this blog between scenes of my novel. It’s a way to communicate, give me a break and actually publish a piece of work. Once a month I get that little buzz of satisfaction that I have produced something. It reminds me that I have something to say. Something I believe in. Something worthwhile.

The idea for this post came to me as I struggled with a difficult scene, one in which extracting the idea was like sorting through a rubbish dump. I had rewritten the first few paragraphs several times, rearranging the words and the sentences. Literally moving things around to find the essence. The needle in the haystack. The point of writing anything. When the writing is challenging like that, distractions creep in. Anything, everything else, seems more interesting, more manageable, more urgent. Even other writing.

I complain about my writing style and yet I continue it. I battle myself, sometimes, to change my ways. Occasionally, creativity flows. But then I see a flaw. And I attempt to fix it. And I’m back where I began. At the end of the day, it’s only perseverance, sheer determination and self-discipline that will prevail. And a belief that my story has value. And needs to be told. And eventually, it will be close enough to perfect.

I reassure myself that it’s not only the hare that can cross the finish line. So can the tortoise.

Credit: Artwork of The Tortoise and the Hare by C A Harland

Plotting, Planning and Perfectionism

Perfectionism is the highest form of Procrastination!

I know, I’ve been down this path before – in LIFE and in the BLOG.

My writing is slowed by painstaking planning. There are two types of writers (so say actual writers who’ve written and published books): Plotters and Pantsers. One does the whole PLOT thing in a rational and methodical way and then does the story writing. And the other writes ‘by the seat of their pants,’ creating as they go along (or being told what to write by the characters themselves!).

I believe most writers fall somewhere in between – on the writer-type spectrum.

I’d love to be the creative type who simply has the story flow out of them. Those writers are sublime beings to me. They’re REAL WRITERS!

I’m on the other end, maybe one point off extreme PLOTTER. I love making notes, researching, reading writing-craft books, listening to authors speak in interviews, following them on Facebook….

I nod my head and take more notes.

I’m amazed that I even have a first draft. If you read it, you wouldn’t be so amazed, because it’s really crap! But that’s okay: it’s in the RULES – a shitty first draft is how it’s supposed to be! Ten points for me!

Now that I’m in second draft stage, I’ve stalled. I’m the plotter, the planner, the perfectionist, and I have a sneaking suspicion, the procrastinator!

I re-did my CHARACTER PROFILES – in extreme detail. They’ve changed a little over two years, and I was getting confused, having to check through realms of notes, even for things as basic as family names. My character profiles are beautiful: tables that have headings like BACKSTORY, QUIRKS, CONTRASTING TRAITS. They’re the kitchen sinks of character profiles! With two vacant rows between each heading! You get the picture? And I have three protagonists, so I got to do three!

Next step: THEMES. Which character expresses what themes? Easy. Done.

Then there’s the CHARACTER ARC, which is another way of saying TIMELINE, in my mind. I can spend days on this! The 10-25% mark where the reader gets a glimpse through the persona at the essence of the character, the dark point at 75% etc. Whoopee! Days of perfect planning.

It might seem like this is all important stuff, and I obviously think it is, because I’m doing it. But is it really necessary? Am I overthinking it? Have I read too many craft books and had too many lessons? Is this just putting off writing the story? Is it PROCRASTINATION?

Or am I the most perfect planner ever?

I don’t know, but I better Post this Blog and get on with it. One day, I might finish the damn book!

Ironically, it’s called The Rest of Their Lives. I won’t say any more!

Perfectionism, Procrastination or Research

When is RESEARCH just another form of PERFECTIONISM or PROCRASTINATION?

“Perfectionism is the enemy of creativity,” says Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love and Big Magic. It’s been said by many different writers, motivators and teachers. It’s the writer’s biggest obstacle to getting anything done. The fear of the work not being good enough prevents it from flowing and growing. Perfectionism is the little tyrant that sits on your shoulder saying, the work is crap, so you better make it better before you move on!

‘Making it better’ can demand a lot of editing along the way. It demands that you stop what you’re doing and Google that idea or go to that place or do that thing. Research. The only thing is, it doesn’t make it better because it interrupts the flow of the idea and stops you from ever getting to the end.

Research is obviously important for authenticity and detail but there’s a time to do it and that is not in the middle of the writing. Fiona McIntosh, masterclass teacher and author, says do all the research first, then sit down and write from start to finish. This makes sense when you’re trying to get the story down. It also prevents the research from becoming a form of procrastination.

The first draft of my first novel has been smattered with research. Word choice has me reaching for the dictionary. The suggestion of a place has me sucked down the internet tunnel. Both, most definitely, are the combined forces of Perfectionism and Procrastination.

And then I downed tools and went to Ireland, to research a County, a culture and a nursing home. For a chapter of my novel! Of course it was useful. Of course it was enlightening. Of course it will make my novel better. But was it necessary for what I was writing? Probably not! It was the Perfectionist and Procrastinator that made me do it!

Procrastination will find us an endless list of things to do before we can possibly start that important project. Whether it’s washing the dog or writing a blog, we can rationalise that it was essential before we get onto the task. Make sure that research isn’t just another excuse.

Research becomes another form of perfectionism and procrastination when it interferes with the writing. Do it before you start the first draft. Do it before you start the second draft. But don’t let it be the excuse that stops the flow. Don’t let it be the scene on the side of the road that slows and jams all the traffic.

Let research be interesting. Let research be fun. Let research take you to places you’ve never been before. But don’t let research gobble you up. Don’t let it be the wolf in sheep’s clothing!