Writer’s ego and perfectionism

ego

“You’re a writer, surely you can find a better adjective.”

That came from my wife last week. I probably could have come up with a better adjective. What I couldn’t do though, and this still bothers me for some reason, was identify with that label.

Writer.

To me, writer, implies a level of professionalism and accomplishment, at least as far my own work is concerned. It’s not that I object to anyone who can identify themselves with that label. In fact, I wish I could bring myself to say: Hello, I’m a writer. I’m just not there yet. I don’t have anything in a state where I could justify it.

I feel like this is a symptom of “writer’s ego.” (No, I can’t call myself a writer, but I totally have one of these.) It’s the same thing that makes me kick and scream like a spoiled child when I get feedback explaining that something isn’t working. It’s also the same thing driving me on -that little voice saying “this project is a serious, professional piece of work, and it will launch my professional writing career.”

Normally, the screaming child part of me eventually shuts up so that I can fix what’s wrong, and the part of me fantasizing about being a professional writer becomes humble so I can focus on improvement. However, this identification thing is causing a problem. On one hand, who cares about being labeled a writer, if you enjoy doing it, then it doesn’t matter what you’re called. Well, I suppose I do care, and I care because a failure to associate with the label is a symptom of not taking myself seriously.

I may be a bit of a slob, but when it comes to crafting, I’m a perfectionist. When I set out to do something, it is NOT half-assed. My wife will attest to this character flaw. Case in point:

Electric bass

Homemade electric bass

Except for the neck, and electronics, I designed and made this. It is my second attempt at making a musical instrument, the first was from a kit. I am not a luthier, nor am I a particularly fine woodworker, but this thing sounds pimp, and I am still completely unsatisfied with it. That said, I’m not going to go into the odd details I hate that no one will ever notice.

I spend at least an hour a night writing, and many more hours discussing plot, characters, setting, and so on with my wife and anyone else who’s foolish enough to listen. On those days I commute to work, much of that drive is spent thinking about my story. Not only that, when I get to a bit of story containing details I’m unfamiliar with, I start researching. On one occasion, I was at the table with a bit of string and my map. “What the hell are you doing there?” My wife asked. It was pretty obvious to me. I was doing a rough measurement of a road to make sure the the distances and travel times I had were plausible.

So, with all of that effort, shouldn’t I be taking myself seriously? After all, I want others to. If I write my book and publish it, it’ll be hard to convince folks it’s a good read, if I haven’t even convinced myself. Just one more thing to work on I suppose.


photo credit for header photo: ego via photopin (license)

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So, what’s next? – a progress report

desk

My sun-room window overlooks a swamp, which is currently full of leafless trees. They’re dripping with fresh rain that should have come down in the form of three or four inches of fluffy snow. Our little flock of ducks are happily waddling about the yard grubbing, for who knows what, in the muddy ground. I, however, am sitting here, thinking about writing and not actually doing it.

Right now, my current project has progressed to being about 1/2 to 3/4s done with chapter 16 (for context, this is about 72,000 words through the book). The next few chapters charge into territory I haven’t yet covered in any draft. This is partly because the original ‘next chapter’ has been moved off to chapter one of the subsequent book. However, that’s not the main reason it’s uncharted for me. While it’s true I’ve spent countless hours on nit-picky details, various bits of polishing, and improvement in content and craft, I’ve never been this close to the end of a book.

Instead of all of the motivation and excitement I should be feeling, I’m dreading what’s coming next. Shouldn’t I be pleased with my progress? After all, I’ve nearly passed an important milestone in my writing career. For whatever reason, I just can’t mentally bring myself to that place. It’s not that I’m totally lost on what to do next. In fact, what needs to happen is pretty clear, but it’s going to be difficult, and like anything that seems hard, it’s causing me a major procrastination jag.

The ending has to be tidy, exciting, and fill in some open questions, while at the same time building up to the next book. Most importantly, everything needs to come to the inevitable ending that’s not so predictable the reader knew how it was going to end by somewhere in the 4th chapter. I seriously doubt I’m going to have that problem. What I may have trouble with though is making that riveting and inevitable ending plausible.

I suppose the only course of action here is to just get the lead out. Once I get started, the last few chapters shouldn’t really take more than a few weeks to draft up. As always, there’s revision and polishing to clean up any messes, and feedback from those helpful test-readers who have already given me a tremendous amount of help.

Relentless

The only word that could possibly do justice to today’s weather is relentless. The wind is blowing at about 35mph, and gusting to around sixty, though I’m pretty sure that last night we were breaking toward 80. The Oxford English Dictionary (the thirteen volume version) simply defines this word as Incapable of relenting; pitiless. This is a pretty good description of what’s going on here. It would be cold without the wind, and when it’s cold, the wind seems to have so much more force behind it. The OED also contains this little gem on the word.

1798 Edgeworth Pract. Educ. I. 380 Few things can be more terrific..to the young writer than the voice of relentless criticism.”

I don’t know that I ever feel terrific about criticism, but I certainly appreciate it and find the result of responding to it close to terrific.