I’ve wanted to be a writer since I first began thinking about what I might want to do with my life. I think I was eleven or twelve.
I’ve always loved making up stories; it’s been one of my favorite pastimes as far back as I can remember. I’d make up epic tales of adventure with my action figures, play make believe with my friends and siblings for hours on end. There was a time when I would spend long periods of time outside, gathering leaves from Ligustrum trees and pretend they were people. I’d fashion crude spears for the common solders out of sticks, give the archers with toothpick arrows, and arm the knights with little plastic swords; the kind you stick in sandwiches. Then, my army assembled, I would concoct elaborate sagas for them to enact; nations would rise and fall, peoples would prosper or perish, all at my whim.
I’m sure a lot of kids play like that when they’re young, but I never grew out of it. I still love making up new worlds and cultures and people; I do it every time I stare out the window, or while I’m washing the dishes, or folding laundry.
So I started trying to write stories down–I even got a few pages into one before giving up. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so nothing I write is ever really “good enough” to satisfy my inner critic. The more I write, the more I begin to hate everything about whatever it is I’m writing, I start to see only the flaws and the missteps. it’s not until I go back and read through it that I realize it’s not half as bad as I thought it was, just a bit rough really.
That’s part of why I had so much trouble last year when I tried to write a novel for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). I got just over half way through it before getting bogged down by disappointment, and instead of just having fun with things and blundering my way through the rest, I decided to give up again.
Of course, I didn’t tell myself I was giving up. No, I made excuses, told myself I’d written the story into a corner, that I hadn’t been well enough prepared, that I’d bitten off more than I could chew. But the truth was I could have kept going. My inner critic just got too loud, and I didn’t try hard enough to shut it up.
Earlier today I found myself slipping into a similar pattern. I was having an off day and not writing quite as well as usual, and suddenly I had an epiphany; I was making myself sick trying to force myself to write when I didn’t feel like it, and even sicker by over critiquing it.
Problem was, I came up with the wrong solution to the problem; I decided to give up again. I thought that I should just stop worrying about word count and not even try to win; the same mistake I made last year.
So a little while later I had a second, better epiphany; quitting doesn’t work! Just because I’d had one off day didn’t mean I should give up completely. There’s still plenty of time left in the month to catch back up; I’m not that far behind.
So in closing, what I’ve realized is that you can’t write well while obsessing over how much the voice in the back of your head says your work sucks. That sometimes it’s actually faster if you slow down a little, take you time, and let your imagination work at its own pace.