I don’t have any particular excuse for disappearing for a week, though I do have a few defenses I’d like to try: coming down with a cold! Headache every day this week! Discovered that Orson Scott Card wrote an intriguing series about fake gods! Bioshock!
In truth, I haven’t been working on my own writing as diligently as I should this week. Stuck on my own thinking (again) for how to start this one blasted novel that has been haunting me for years, I let myself get sucked into a few good books. But I’d like to think the break has done me good. There’s nothing like stepping into someone else’s world for awhile, and seeing how they build it. And to discover all the ways in which I would have built it differently.
One of the reasons I know I can never give up writing is because it’s such an incessant force in my head. I’ve threatened myself with it over the years (“If I’m not a successful author by age [fill in the blank], then I’ll quit and get a real job.”) but the older I get the more it sticks in me. I rewrite almost anything with a story in it (and I do mean anything – books, sure, but also TV shows, movies, and video game storylines) parsing out what disappointed me or what piece of information I would have exploited differently. This is not to say that the stories I rewrite in my head weren’t good – only that it’s a part of myself I can’t quiet; sometimes because I don’t want to, but mostly because I can’t. I enjoy it too much. And in enjoying the way I think, the more I like to own it.
Here’s the thing: some people write by instinct. One of my favorite short story authors, Ray Bradbury, would wake up every morning with a couple of words tumbling around in his head, and then would write by filling in the space around these words. “May I die before my voices,” is how he put it once.
I do not. I write by a strict adherence to analytically methodical planning, rooted deeply in a genetic predilection for obsessive compulsive behavior. I spend years on ideas, hours on the pros and cons between two synonyms and how they subtly change the feel of a single sentence, and I use words like “analytically,” “methodical,” and “genetic predilection.” My notebooks run thousands of words longer than my actual completed works, and I write things like “frick, get on with it” in the margins of the pages. Somedays I hate the little voice in my head that tells me to go back and make it perfect this time, but most days I am inordinately pleased with myself and how I make my neuroses work for me.
The point is, you must always work with yourself. Perfectionism does get in my way – as evidenced by the novel five years in the planning, whose first chapter I can somehow not get past (I’m up to fifteen versions, at last count) – but it also makes me a better writer. I will never stop being who I am, and while it’s always possible to change habits, I don’t want to hate the attributes that make my writing my own. Just so long as they don’t stop me.