Perfectionism and the New Writer

My comparative online silence has been me doing the pre-edits for The Vessel of Ra for Curiosity Quills. I’ve been pretty open about my writing journey throughout these last several years, and I thought you might enjoy a little conversation about the process.

For those of you who don’t know me, I teach writing, mostly to students whose first language is not English, but occasionally to native speakers of English as well. We writing teachers are all about the multiple drafts. Take time to revise, polish, proof, fix. This is vital for someone who is writing in a language not their own, and important for students who might be less than perfect in their grammar and writing.

Well. I don’t know whether it’s the 30 years (if you start counting from my first TAship) that I’ve been reading student papers, or if it’s that I am a person who likes to cross things off my list, BUT I am the worst proofreader of my own stuff. Hey, there are theories that everyone is, but I do know I expect more of myself because I work with other people’s writing mistakes for a living. I have never had the happy ability to be someone who can spot a typo across a crowded room (I’m looking at you, Lisa Martincik!). Honestly, with my own work, I think I have cleared all the mistakes out to find that they have magically crept back in when I look at it two weeks later. Hmmm. Sounds like someone needs an editor.

Well, thanks to the fine folks at Curiosity Quills, I have an editor. I had my first round of edit suggestions with pre-edit notes which were mostly grammatical and formatical (is that a word? It is now!) And I was astounded at how poorly edited the last half of the novel was. Because surely I had been more careful than that! And there it was! Imposter syndrome! I’d just gotten lucky to have my book accepted, because you know, that last half was soooo unworthy!

As I worked my way through my embarrassment and self-disappointment, I realized what I tell my students is true. Revise, revise, revise. Give yourself time and distance between drafts. I am a perfectionist, but drafting is a process. Words will not fall from my mouth in all of their golden splendor, perfect the first time. I have to revise and revise and revise and I will get to a bright and shiny draft. And I’ll get that opportunity a lot. And each time the book will shine more.

So. There are a couple of myths about writing that experience is teaching me are myths. Writing is solitary. Not so much. Support from people around you, good feedback at every level, and people to even help you with the psychology of it, these are invaluable. Myth the second? The book is a product. Nope, guys, it looks like the book is also a process, and just like a term paper, we eventually abandon it because we run out of time, but there will always be ways to make it better.

Tightrope Walking and Juggling. On a Unicycle

And just like that, it was July. July.

I know what happened to June. I traveled 3 weeks on and off in June. I was actually looking forward to July, because hey, writing time, relaxing time July.

July is speeding me by like a Fiat on a state highway. I am learning a couple of interesting things about myself as I work on revising a book and writing a book and preparing to return to my full-time job. Maybe you’d like to know some of them? No. Stop reading.

Yes? Okay then. Buckle up that seat belt.

I have learned that unless I write new words each day, I get kind of cranky. I thought that working on editing or revising or the entirety of a process of writing a book would be the same dip into creativity as writing new words was, but no. What this seems to mean is that I need to spend some time each day working on new words and then some more time each day editing.

Oh ho! say the experienced writers among you. Did you not see this coming? We could have told you that!

I know. Intellectually, I even knew. That said, I didn’t know know. Like so many things, until you have the experience, you don’t get the experience. I’m getting it now.

I won’t get all whiny about work and writing and editing and so on. I know so few writers who truly focus on their writing solo. My time advantage is I don’t have children. Everything else, I got. Full-time job, commute, social stuff. A great marriage. But, and here’s the thing, these things are what we all have to contend with. And plenty of you are writing books and balancing jobs and juggling several stories in the air at one time.

It’s learning curve. I have to learn to do something new. I have to compartmentalize my brain and be okay with several works in progress in several stages of the writing process at the same time. I have to meet deadlines first, but not tap out my creativity.

You know, I had the submit/rejection/write thing down cold. I am an expert at it. Write a book. Keep that book circulating until you really don’t have a likely venue to send it to anymore, meanwhile working on a new book. The new wrinkle in my life is that the old book is back, baybee. And it wants your love and attention again, which you want to give it. Someone else wants you to give it your love and attention, too. A couple of someone else’s, whose interests are aligned with yours.Yeah. This is cool, but I am in an undiscovered country, so I’m feeling my way.

If I’m very lucky, this juggling is only going to get worse. What if Abby Rath Versus Blood Sucking Fiends were to be bought, while we’re still editing The Vessel of Ra and writing The Pawn of Isis? What if, indeed? *preen* And what if Cats Curious sent me the electronic materials for Hulk Hercules, if I wanted to use it for my back list? Which they just did, although really, I think I need to do some revising first.

So, it’s very easy to see how this could get a little busy. And yet, I only have so much time during the day. And yet, I want to make this work.

Should I even be writing this blog post? What about my braaaaaannnndddd????????? 😛

As I said, clearly I’m in a new place. It’s a good place, but I’m learning the ropes. Let’s check back when I’ve finished the revision and see if my brain is still in my cranium. I’m sure it will all work out. It’s not like I’ve ever been in this endeavor alone.

Okay. Those dialogue tags aren’t going to fix themselves.