the perfect is the enemy and other thoughts on writing

I have a little meta-reflection on writing my recent post about the walled-off internet. These thoughts are not specific to the topic; it could have been anything. As it happens, writing that post brought up some truisms about the writing process - one negative and one positive. Perhaps they are familiar to you.

The first is that old bugaboo that haunts many a creative effort: The Perfect Is the Enemy of the Good. In this case a related pitfall was also at work: There's No Such Thing as Definitive.

I had wanted to write this post for months. I keep a short list of topics I'm trying to get to, and some ideas will stay on the list for weeks or months, especially if they're not timely or pegged to an event. This idea - called "walled-off internet" on my scraps of paper - stayed on the list for ages. The longer it sat there, the more difficult it became to write.

I started to feel as if I had to gather every scrap of evidence, research every corner, become a minor expert on the topic, before I could write. (Definitive.) And the post had to be an Important Post, a Best-Of Post, it had to be Great. (Perfect.)

That's a big mountain to climb. For such a project, I would need a massive block of uninterrupted time, I would need to feel on top of my game, I would need... all kinds of things that I don't have. I'm not ready to tackle such an undertaking!

So the item sat on the list, unwritten.

This was happening subtly, subconsciously. That's how our creative processes begin, I believe. Discovering them, digging them up and bringing them to the surface, we begin to understand them and work with them, instead of letting them control us.

The second, happier writing truth that I encountered was something I call The More You Write, The More You Write. (When I say truism and writing truth, I'm referring to my own experience. I know these feelings are familiar to many people trying to do anything creative, but I'm not implying they're universal.)

As "walled-off internet" mouldered on my topics list through the fall semester, eventually I decided I'd write it over my winter break. That offered an escape from the Perfect and Definitive traps. I told myself, I don't have time to write such a massive post during the school term. I'll put it on the winter-break list.

Then winter break came, and I was busier than I wanted to be - new library job, getting ready for Quebec trip, long list of errands and appointments - but also tired, a bit burnt out. I just couldn't get my mind in gear to write. I was totally unmotivated. All I could do was look at those two topics (there's another one!) on that list and wonder when the hell I'd ever write them.

Then school started. Now I'm busier, but my brain is re-engaged. I'm thinking and writing for school. And lo and behold, suddenly I am motivated to write - not just for school, but for myself, for wmtc. Because... The More You Write, The More You Write. Writing primes the pump for more writing.

In the great musical "A Chorus Line," which deals with the struggle for artistic success and recognition, there's a line, "I'm a dancer, a dancer dances". It's a simple lyric, but loaded with meaning. The singer - not a star, just one of the legions trying to get any dancing job - is asserting her identity, and equating her identity with this creative act. She sings, "All I ever needed is the music and the mirror" - because to be a dancer, to claim this identity, she doesn't need fame or even a job, she needs only to dance. The more she dances, the more she is a dancer... and a dancer dances.

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