That First Damn Line

If anyone were to look up from their dinner plates at me at this moment they would see someone on the verge of taking a plastic spoon from her empty soup bowl and gouging her own eyes out.

I’m at a restaurant under the false impression that I am going to be doing some writing this afternoon.

I need to leave my house, I thought. There are too many distractions here. Surely if I go out into the world inspiration will just pour out of me.

Instead I ordered my food, sat down, fitfully read over my first draft, got food, and persisted to languish over a blank document for almost an hour.

Now my food is gone but my frustration remains.

The reason being I can’t think of that first line.

Every good story has an amazing opening hook, one that sinks its teeth into a reader and refuses to let go. The line that’s like a rabid dog, frothing at the mouth, refusing to relent. The harder you try to shake free from it, the more it fights back.

I do not have that line.

I’m blocking.

I have a deadline, but I can’t stop resisting.

I type one line.

No, that’s wrong.

Delete.

I type another.

Wrong.

Delete.

Is this story even worth telling?

Type.

Delete.

Would music help?

Delete.

Should I read some more?

Type.

Delete.

Does anyone else care whether or not I finish this?

Delete.

Cliche.

Delete.

Cheesy.

Delete.

Perhaps the problem is not with the sentence. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with the work itself but the expectation I’ve placed on myself.

I try to follow the current. To let the voice and tone of the piece speak through me, nevertheless, there’s that wood pecker of a critic, pecking away at my brain as I type.

If I try to escape, to take a break, I will not come back to it. I  will delay and wait for a perfect day that will never come. A day where I will be free of apprehension and self-doubt.

I wait for it.

I wait for it in the florescent lights, swallowed up by the light sound of chatter and the scraping of silverware on porcelain.

Type.

Delete.

Sucking (Writing) a Little Every Day Part II

I wrote a post around 6 months ago about how I was going to write every single day, no matter how much the product sucked.

And for a while, I stuck to that goal. However, in recent months I’ve had difficulty maintaining.

Some reasons are legitimate like I have had homework to do and personal matters arose. However, a lot of this stems from my self-doubt and internet addiction (see “I Can’t Write At Home. The Internet Wants My Soul”).

Half of the time it’s like I’m pushing against an invisible barrier that I can’t seem to budge. I prepare myself to write, but as soon as I open the page or word document, I freeze up. Everything goes blank.

Maybe it’s because the story I’m working on is going to take more time and effort than I originally thought, or because I am wanting to change the direction of it and am afraid that I’ll take away all that was good about it before.

Since I’m due to graduate soon, I will be expected to get something called a…jobe? Joab? Something like that. Anyway, I won’t have nearly as much free time at my disposal. This means I need to kick it into high gear if I want to birth a book into the world before I’m in my 30s.

I need to go back to writing for at least an hour every single day. That’s every single day.

Not days that I feel like it, not days that it’s convenient, every day.

Even when it feels like I’m sucking.

What Sylvia Plath Taught Me About Perfection

I find it difficult to get started on a new writing project. Not necessarily because I lack inspiration, but I often can’t bring myself to make that first step out of fear I will be dissatisfied with the results.

I procrastinate giving out my work to friends or others for critiquing. I have this undying need for perfection. Every adjective has to paint the perfect picture, the pacing has to be exact, the reader must think exactly what I want them to. But, more importantly, I must be perceived as a literary genius. That’s not too much to ask, is it? Don’t answer that.

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With this in mind, none of my drafts are ever perfect enough to send out. I spend hours languishing over what makes a sentence work, whether or not my protagonist is likable, etc. This is what an artist is suppose to do, but as a result of my concerns, I often keep my writing hidden under a bushel and never allow anyone to see it. I pass up opportunities to enter writing contests and publishing in magazines, all for fear that it’s not good enough yet.

The other day I was researching depression in the library and came across a biography about Sylvia Plath called Rough Magic. I didn’t know much about this poet prior to reading this book except what Plath is, unfortunately, most known for: sticking her head in the oven and killing herself.

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A character I’m currently writing suffers from a similar mental affliction, so I thought reading about Plath would help me gain a better understanding of the condition.However, not only did learning about her help me with my research,  it also assisted me on a more personal level.

Plath was a well-accomplished person for much of her young life. She was a scholarship student at Smith (a very prestigious school at the time) as well as a published author of many poems and short stories. She was also very attractive and laid claim to so many hearts I would need at least three pages to list all of her conquests. Her teachers adored her, boys loved her, she was relatively popular and had a successful life. 

It was never enough for her.

Not only was she susceptible to bouts of depression, she frequently made herself physically ill with stress over her studies and writing projects. She was going to fail her history class (she made an A), her talent for writing was gone (she published hundreds more poems), and if she could not obtain perfection, then her life was over.

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Her lack of faith in her abilities haunted her throughout her life. Each victory only granted her temporary relief from her crippling self-doubt. It didn’t matter how many magazines accepted her work, or how much money she earned. There would always be one or two that would turn her down, and this was what she focused her mental energies on.

 On occasion, she would even experience long dry spells brought on by her negativity, a feeling I’m familiar with (although not to the same extreme). One lead to her first suicide attempt.

While her extreme behaviors were a result of her mental instability, her feelings of inadequacy aren’t unique to sufferers of depression. Most of us feel the need to achieve perfection and seek validation from others. After all, if we’re not the best no one will pay attention to us, right? And if no one pays attention to us, then we’re not important.

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Not necessarily.

We writers need to let our babies out into the world and create as much as we can. Not so people will pat us on the head and tell us we’re a good girl/boy, but so we can become better authors. If someone doesn’t like our work, it isn’t the end of the world. It just means that, perhaps, there is room for growth.

Moreover, we don’t have to be this century’s greatest author and we shouldn’t strive to be. All we need to do is aim to be the best that we can be individually, not compared to the greats or even our colleagues.

So let people see your work in all its prickly glory.

And remember:

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