I’m about waist deep in a huge writing project. I would love to say that I’m neck deep but I’m not. That would mean I’m revising. No, I’m still hammering away at the first draft.
Currently, I have sections labeled “Don’t know what to do with this shit,” and “Probably need to finish, tighten, or scrap the above passages.” These are my eloquent labels. I’ve been trying to commit to eating the frog and spending my most alert and creative hours working on this project. My initial goal, and had I stuck to the writing schedule I had outlined I would have met it, was to write 1K-2K words a day. November 1 would have been the day my draft was completed. Instead, I squandered my days and didn’t write nearly enough. Now, we’re a third of the way through January and still no first draft.
Now, how folks are expected to write anything in the month of December with the holidays and semesters ending is beyond me. Still, I needed–nay need–to write more. Who the fuck doesn’t?
So, what the hell is my point? Last week while I was writing, I had a breakthrough. I finally figured some shit out. You see, I’m a structure-slut. I thrive on structure. I don’t do well when there are limitless possibilities. I’m like the chef’s on Top Chef this season as Gail pointed out, “The more limits we give them, the better they cook.” I’m the EXACT same way. The more outlined and detailed the structure, the better able I am to hammer it out. I’m the same way with my day.
Though I have nowhere to be thanks to no longer being tethered to a classroom with impossible temperature control, mold, and countless interruptions, I don’t really have a set place to be. This sometimes makes my being self-motivated to work difficult. There is no hard deadline. It’s just on me. I force myself to have structure. I wake up at the same time every morning and exercise a strict routine of journaling, reading, and exercise. Still, I’m the one who has to decide to do the work. I know, those of you who are crunched for time must be like, “Oh, poor you. You have all day to write if you want and you’re struggling to stay motivated.”
Listen, it has nothing to do with being motivated. It has to do with knowing what and how to use my time. This has been particularly difficult because for the past three months I have not had a set structure for this project. I’ve just been writing into the abyss. I’m fairly certain that there is so little that is usable. I’m really paranoid about it in fact.
Strangely enough, when I wrote my thesis which was my last huge writing project, I didn’t have that feeling. I knew there would be material that wouldn’t make the cut, but I never worried that it was all trash. Now that it’s done and has been sitting collecting dust for 7 years, I know it’s trash, but this new stuff, I have a much higher standard, and well, I want people to want to read it when it’s all said and done. In its current form, it would be like how I’m sure a lucid Harper Lee might have felt knowing that there were millions of readers looking at Go Set a Watchman. It’s a crappy first draft.
But here’s the thing, last week I figured it out. At least I think I did. I figured out the structure. I thought once I figured this out. I knew it would happen eventually. I just kept using Dori’s advice, “Just keep swimming.” Only this is totally a metaphor for writing. I just kept writing. And then suddenly, BAM like a Kevin McCallister hauling a brick at my head, I knew EXACTLY what I needed to do.
So, here I am knowing exactly what I need to do and a week has passed and I’ve written maybe 200 words. Two hundred words.
What in the fuck is wrong with me?
I’m standing in front of a bunch of building materials. I have everything I need. The materials and time–the two big things. I have the plans. The gosh darn structural plans are in my hands, but instead of building a road and finishing my project that when (you’re right this in thinking that was a deliberate “when” and not an “if”) this project is published will lead me to the great and powerful tenure-track job, I’m building a wall. A stupid wall.
Today, I was working on finalizing the structure and was skimming through what I had already written. I fear that I have 3 months of work that needs to be totally redone. I know I need to just finish the draft. I keep telling myself to worry about that shit later, but I’ve never done a project without any self-editing in the first draft. Never. I always self-edit. Part of me wants to get deep into the material I’ve already written and fix but the smarter part of me is saying, “One Mean, knock it off. Get the work out of your system.”
So, I ask you, dear readers, what should I do? Should I keep hammering away or self-soothe and edit what I have. Either way, I still have mountains more to write.
I’m leaning towards ignoring that I have all this unusable, or at the very least, barely useable material and just finishing some type of draft.
What do you think?