The Peril Of Producing Content

Hiatuses are not as fun as you might think they are.

The first thought that might pop into your mind could be: “Who wouldn’t want time off from work?” Or perhaps that a hiatus, by its very nature, is a temporary reprieve from work, meaning that neither is it permanent nor is it complete; that work doesn’t go away forever, it just goes into hibernation.

Except those two statements are built off of a painful assumption: that work must be done.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been ignoring my presence on the blog intentionally. The root cause is that I was finishing a third edit of my manuscript for submission last Saturday, and, as a direct result, my creativity plummeted and my desire to produce content for the blog evaporated. Frankly, I didn’t want to do what I needed to do because working on the edit was work. It wasn’t writing per se, and most of the time wasn’t particularly enjoyable. It was satisfying to read a page and only need to alter a few words, fine-tuning something that was already good and making it better. But then there were the periods of abject creative despair when I read something I wrote and profoundly, utterly hated it. Or, equally painful, when I had a fine character or a great scene that absolutely could not be included in the final product and needed to murder my darling. An editor might take great pleasure in excising vast swathes of text, wielding a red pen like the Kommandant’s impartial finger wag: you to the right, live, and you to the left, die. But as a writer, I did not. I could only watch something that I thought was great be mercilessly torn down around me.

Suffice to say, it was painful, and it bled into my other writing because I had such doubt about it. It is my first novel and of course it isn’t the best I’ll ever write, but that self-defeating axiom implanted itself in my head and morphed into a darker message: if it’s not your best then why improve it? My mind goes on wild flights of fancy when I am faced with a difficult passage or uncertainty about a plot, running off on wild tangents or inventing new stories to write that obviously would be better and obviously wouldn’t have the same problems as the useless piece of crap I’m trying to hammer into shape.

A truth of the aspiring author: that an object’s shininess is directly proportional to how much work you’re ignoring to look at said shiny. Imgur is never so interesting as when I have a deadline.

But what about that assumption I asserted earlier regarding the necessity of work’s completion? And here you see that not only am I unnecessarily long-winded, I also have a poor grasp of plotting and pacing, thus assuring my manuscript’s rejection (only exacerbated by my apparent love of tangential sentences introduced by parentheses), rendering my work void. Yet this is the trick about work: you need to do it to get it done.

Roll that line around in your mouth for a bit. Yes, I’m that profound all the time.

I could have said “No, I will work no more on this piece of garbage. It is better that way.” And gone on to live a happy, productive life spent playing Thresh support bot in LoL (a life that, as it is spent playing LoL is demonstrable unproductive and, playing support to ungrateful 4/0/0 ADCs, is certainly not happy). While that would mean that something I produced was not completed, well, who cares? Not me in this case, as it is apparently better to ignore and destroy than to endure the slings and arrows of my own rampant criticism. When the only thing stopping me is that I compare my work to literary prize-winning pieces and wonder why I feel inadequate, why I can’t make anything good enough to move readers to tears nor anything profound enough to be deemed important, then it makes sense to stop. Having then decided that I will not try, that I will press “delete” and in a flaming second of evaporated ones and zeroes there would be no more uncertainty and no more disquiet because there would be nothing to stir those stupid, resentful, proud, and arrogant thoughts within me.

But I did not. And so I worked, and worked, and often pretended to work and did very little, but still, each word written and each sentence changed was one less word to write and one less sentence to change. It was a long process and exceptionally painful, as all the while I would walk through my store, past the Science table and think how laughable my ideas about God are, past the Literature section and think how ridiculous my prose is, past the Sci-fi/Fantasy table and think how impossibly unmarketable my story is, and past the Teen section and think how my father, after reading it, thought it was YA despite the fact that the main characters are married adults who are planning to have a child.

I’ve grown to hate my story because I no longer trust it. I don’t know what I’ve made, what ambling madness my fever-dreams concocted and my long-suffering fingers put down on the page because it has morphed into something fearsome in my head. It is not about winning the contest or getting it published or simply writing a book that I hope people will enjoy, it’s about slaying a dragon I created out of my own inadequacies. Is it a good book? Impossible. How could anything I make ever be good? Is my last name Doestoevsky? Did I wander America like Kerouac? Am I nearly as insane as Vonnegut? No, no, and no. Good-bye Pulitzer.

When people ask me how I did it, how did I write a whole book, I don’t have a good answer. At first, I say it was simple because all you need to do is write a couple of words, one after another, until you feel it should end. But now, if asked that question, I’ll have to respond by saying it’s the hardest thing you can ever do. Not because putting words on the page is hard. Not because plotting, pacing, and character development is hard. And not because writing good prose is hard. They are, but you get better with time and practice.

It’s the hardest thing ever because if you want to write a book you have to know, deep down in your heart that it is not as good as the book you wrote in your head. The manuscript you give to friends is not the one that won you all the Pulitzers in your dreams nor is it your ticket to a place of importance and wonder, and that it never, ever will be because this is the real world, damn it, and all you did was put words on a page until you thought it was as good a place as any to put “The End”. And, if it ever does become something greater than nothing, it is by some fluke of chance and you barely had anything to do with it.

It’s knowing your assumed greatness is a sham, that your belief in your writing is laughable, and that at any moment you can put the pen down and make it all stop. 

And, knowing all that, you do it anyways. Because, as someone else put better but I refuse to bow to the tyranny of pithy quotes, the only thing more painful than going on would be to stop.

I’m happy I’ve finished a book, and I’m happy I’ve submitted it for consideration. But I’d be lying if I said I was content. At least now, I suppose, I can start work on the next one.