Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Post Draft Anxiety

“I need a fix 'cause I'm going down”—The Beatles

Every time I finish a draft of a longer project, first or final, and put it away to cool, I never know what the fuck to do with myself. This hits especially hard on the weekend, when I have no contractual obligations to anyone. It's not exactly boredom. It's a combination restlessness and fatigue. I'd like to be content with reading or watching something all day, but I guess if I could do that I never would have started writing in the first place. I just can't get my mind to sit still. Any time I spend not writing makes me feel like I'm screwing around the week before a paper is due.

I'm not complaining. Or at least that's not the reason I'm writing this. Maybe you feel the same way sometimes and it's worth knowing other writers struggle with the same post-draft anxiety. Right, because I'm so talented and successful.

I have two projects laid out on the cooling slab now: a screenplay and a novel. The novel is with my personal editor and trusted reader, KP, who has worked with previous drafts of the same story. The screenplay, a re-write of a late undergrad project, is waiting on my hard-drive for a second pass. I just finished the screenplay. I suppose a great deal of my restlessness comes from my excitement about both projects. That excitement, without a proper outlet, turns back against me, and then here we are kicking around the bottom of nowheresville.

Then I suppose there is the fear, but that's much deeper. Fear of bad writing, wasted effort, and more painful toil if the work is ever going to be good enough.

But even that is only anxiety. Bad writing is always unappealing, especially your own when you are forced to see it for what it is, but no effort is ever wasted in this art. As long as you are attentive to understanding your missteps and work to correct them, you are always moving forward. Sometimes things click, and you actually feel your writing improve from one project or draft to the next. You can hold more of what you have to do in your head at once, and better intuit how the task must be done. But mostly writing is a game of inches, and you only see your growth retrospectively.

As for the pain, don't worry, there are no writing injuries. No one ever went blind on account of a rambling plot and misplaced character motivation, though we may wish it on others fiercely when reading such faults in their work.

There is a significant sting when you first see those red hashes on your manuscript, but that does not linger long. As soon as your mind returns to construction, any temporary damage is quickly repaired. Then again, when you are on your own it can be much harder to get out from under, not knowing which way to go. You have to be prepared to make hard decisions. Keep your old drafts and you can always put any cuts back in.

The challenge in this lost and scrambled state is not to dive straight back into the familiar. Leave your work to cool or you'll never get anywhere with it. Yes, the characters all feel close. Yes, the setting feels rich in your head. That's part of the problem. You know it all so well now that you won't be able to put yourself in a position to be introduced to any of it for the first time. You'll remember too well what you wanted to do, or what you thought you did, and this will obscure what you actually did.

It's hard enough to see your work as a reader. Give yourself a fighting chance.

Starting is always difficult, but that's the best medicine to calm your brain. It doesn't have to be serious. It doesn't have to properly start or come to an end. Write an unconnected scene that breaks every writing rule you can think of. Write a poem. Take up an old rag of yours and finesse part of it into a pleasing shape. Pick something your writing lacks and chip away at it in your workshop. No one will see any of these things if they come to nothing, and it's just as well if they don't. You do it because you have to write. Writing is your fix.

Sorry if this came to nothing.

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