I can’t polish a blank page, which is why I actually started writing this piece — I wanted to prove to myself that I couldn’t polish crap either. I haven’t been able to write as freely as I’d like lately, and it’s probably because I’m clinging to perfection.
Much of my workflow involves tinkering the first sentence over and over until I realise I’ve veered so far off what I actually wanted to say that I end up abandoning the piece completely.
My second challenge comes from having something to say. I envy writers who tell me that an eight thousand word cap is too little for a short story. This usually gives way to a drizzle of self-doubt, followed by a dollop of anger.
“Well,” I’d say, “you probably took a week to write the first draft right?”
“Weekend,” they’d reply. “I had nothing to do.”
Cue torrential self-doubt that drowns my soul, washing away every hint of literary aspirations, leaving only swamps of clichéd sentences.
In a sense, there’s a certain need to let things be when it comes to writing, because you can’t expect everything to be perfect. The inevitable truth is that no matter how good you think your work is, there’s always someone out there who’s going to hate it, and many writers make the mistake of writing for them.
I’ve also realised that you need to take things word by word. It’s like that overused metaphor of driving. You’d have to take each obstacle as they come; if you wait for all the lights to turn green before leaving your house, you might as well slap on an ankle monitor and call yourself Lindsay Lohan.
So here I am, taking the journey, word by word. It’s like life (anything can be turned into a metaphor, really). I’ve set many goals in life, but the one I’ve a vice grip on is writing a book. Every new year, I’d write that goal down neatly in a journal dedicated to my most sacred entries. And every year end, I’d open that book and shake my head in disgust.
My haphazard goals, on the other hand — usually scribbled on a napkin in a drunken stupor — end up realising themselves, much to my chagrin. For instance, I’d written ‘become a salon manager’ on a lark, and actually ended up supervising an outlet. Who knows why I put that down; I don’t even like administrative duties.
Ditto to-do lists. I’ll just jot my tasks on a post-it and everything magically happens. It’s like my other personality rises from the depths of Cliché Swamp and takes over for a bit, leaving me flustered with a handful of completed chores.
The only reason why this bothers me so much is because I’m only on page two of my grand scheme. I started strong, wanting to write something like The Thing, but in space. The story takes place in a space station, with a virus that spreads through liquids. Guess what’s a bitch to research? How water behaves in zero gravity? Space-mission procedures? How they use the loo?
No, no, no.
It’s math. And I suck at math. Did you know that something huge could still kill you in zero gravity? Did you know that pushing on a massive object in space still requires tremendous effort? Do you now know why I’m stuck at page two? I still can’t wrap my head around the physics. I don’t know. Maybe I should just make shit up, like I used to. Writing used to be funner then.
Maybe that’s what’s killing my development in the art. Maybe clinging to perfection is the exact reason why I’m currently stuck in a rut. Perhaps, like the uncommitted goals I’ve somehow achieved in life, I just need to write shit and let things be. Maybe holding on for dear life isn’t the answer. Maybe, it’s letting go.