Until quite recently, I had been at war with myself, although that should come as no surprise to any of you. I’m constantly at war with myself. My mind can be a bit of a hellscape, you see. But the thing is, it’s rare for writing to be the reason behind my struggle, and most importantly, for so long.
I’m both a writer and a perfectionist (among other things). And let me tell you right now, when you factor in my perfectionist streaks with the part of me that holds on to writing like a life-line, it is not a fun combination. Handy at times, yes, because that means I never settle for anything less than ‘perfect’. But what is perfection? What is a ‘perfect’ piece of writing? Is there really a combination of words and techniques that can flow across a page in a way that leaves no possible room for improvement? I’ve been trying to find the secret behind attaining such a standard with my own writing.
But let’s get real: there is no such thing. There is always room to grow, to get better, to be capable of greater things. If a single artist on this planet believed that even one of their works was absolutely perfect as could be, would they have continued to produce more? No. Even if there was, I doubt I’d ever reach that standard because I am never 100% satisfied with anything I produce. Over the years, I have learned to somewhat suppress my overly analytical voice and just write. But like your typical villain popping up in a novel when things seem to be going picture-perfect (pun? ha), it struck again.
It all started about a month before I published my debut novel, A Midnight Reverie. I wrote the book during NaNoWriMo of 2014, and was delighted when I ended up with my first completed novel. Excitement pursued when, upon sharing my works with friends, family and on writing communities, I received good feedback. They all encouraged me saying, ‘you should totally publish this! It’s such a wonderful and heartwarming story!’ I was very skeptical – after all, I wrote this book at the tender age of 14, and I knew my writing had a long way to go before it was anywhere close to being publish-worthy. But the positive feedback continued to keep coming in and I figured – ‘hmm, well, I guess it couldn’t hurt to give it a shot? After all, it’s my first book and I’m only self-publishing it!’
Fast-forward three years later and through the several change of hearts that I went through before I finally hit the ‘publish’ button during late-2014. The book was officially in the market, available for order. And I felt so good. I kept touching the laptop screen, with my name written as the ‘author’ in disbelief. I’d just published my first book. One of my biggest dreams just came true! ‘This can’t be real,’ I kept thinking, and I think that disbelief is what my writing dilemma really stemmed from. Although it was more of a happy disbelief at the time, the seeds of doubt had been planted.
A month after I’d officially published A Midnight Reverie, I started to wonder if I’d made a good decision. I hadn’t been expecting that I’d become a best-seller or something over night. I wasn’t that foolish but…this book would mark my first in my journey as a published writer. Was it really good enough? Was I?
I pushed the thoughts aside and decided to work on my next project: the prequel to A Midnight Reverie. I already had 110,000 words written of the first draft and decided to dedicate my time to completing the story, editing, then finally publishing it. The deadline I set myself for all that? June/July 2015. Why that time?
- I would begin first year of university in June. Uni sucks up a student’s time, and I, being a very studious one *cough* geek *cough* would make studies my top priority above everything else.
- It doesn’t help that I’m opting to do a double-degree course: a Bachelor’s and Master’s equivalent combined into the time-span of three years.
- I’m voluntarily stepping into academic hell. And yes, I am aware of the fact that it sounds like complete insanity. ‘But do not worry, Beatrice! You can surely find a way to squeeze in some writing time amidst a busy course like that! After all, you’ve got the weekends!’
- I very recently learned that I’ll have classes on Saturdays as well. I get just Sundays off.
I started to worry about how much time (or lack thereof) I would have for writing that I forced myself to work my ass off on my next book, and to do it fast. There are two F-words in that sentence that are absolutely abysmal for a writer to do: ‘force’ and ‘fast’ (shame on you if you thought anything else).
As I continued working on my novel, I started to grow a little paranoid. I didn’t like what I was producing. I read over the whole 110K I already had, and what I had added to it, and didn’t like it. I needed it to be perfect, and all I saw were flaws.
So then I decided to scrap the 110,000 words (I wish I was kidding) I’d written so far and start from word number one. I started, then stopped again. How could I forget the research? The story’s taking place in ’80s America and to get the descriptions spot-on, I need to know more about that time! Plus, I need to make my characters’ sob-stories realistic.
I did a heck-lot of research, made detailed character bios and chapter descriptions so I wouldn’t go wrong anywhere. I planned everything, almost to the details of what color undies my characters would be wearing (okay, maybe that’s pushing it a tad and completely irrelevant but this goes to show how stressed I was feeling).
After I completed all the research I needed and felt I was ready to start the actual re-write, I sat down and decided to do just that. For four days, I kept a Word Doc open. For four days, I stared at the screen, fingers settled on the laptop keyboard, 100% ready to get this novel written and yet…not able to get the first word out. That’s when I realized what I’d been doing wrong all along.
Writing should never be forced. It should never be a source of frustration and anger, the exact opposite of what it’s been to me my whole life. I’ve always loved creating characters, and discovering who they are and who they’re meant to become along their journeys. They’ve taught me, their creator, as much as real, living people have. After all, these characters are fragments of who I am. Writing out of desperation than actual passion wasn’t just destroying my love for the art, but it shattered my self-confidence and respect for myself as a writer. I was trying to force the story out – and that’s why I couldn’t do it anymore.
I stopped writing.
I stopped because I didn’t enjoy it anymore. I was too paranoid about making every little detail perfect to actually cherish these characters the way they were meant to be cherished. For several months, a separate struggle had been raging on whether or not I should un-publish A Midnight Reverie. I started to deem myself unworthy to be called a ‘writer’, and a published one at that.
I took some time off to think. It did me a lot of good, and I found a solution to the problem that had been plaguing me for several months.
I wanted to write again, simply because I loved doing so.
I wanted to write again, without restriction, without any bounds.
I wanted to write again – just for myself.
So I silenced the voice in my head that kept telling me I wasn’t good enough, that my work would never be good enough and poured my heart and soul into writing again. Into a story that brought me tears of laughter and joy, into characters that never told me to quit writing them unless I could make them perfect. They just wanted me there, and are, till today my life-savers.
This doesn’t mean I give up on the re-write of my novel. I will get around to it when I feel like I’ve gained a healthy balance between my love for the book and my perfectionist side. That story awaits, and I know that when I get around to writing it, I won’t fail the characters. I want to do them justice, but before all that, I need to relight the fire (such a cliche, I know, but it applies)!
For now, I am going to write without a deadline pinned on my calendar. I am going to write without worrying about if I’m ‘good enough’. I’m just going to write because it makes me happy.
Oh, and I’m definitely not going to un-publish A Midnight Reverie. A Midnight Reverie clearly isn’t a master-piece but it’s the first step and effort I’ve made into writing one in the future. I’m not going to take a step back. In fact, hopefully someday when I’m an accomplished writer, I’ll look back on it and see how much I’ve grown.
After all, we all start somewhere. This is just the beginning.