Thursday, November 20, 2008

Comparing Myself With Myself

Today my writer friend Claire asked me how the book was going. "It's going really well," I said. "I had a great writing session today, I feel very excited about the scene I'm editing." I was full of enthusiasm. Then I said, "Well, but it never feels like enough."

Which is true. No matter how much I work on the book in a given day, it doesn't feel like enough. As I kept talking I realized that all this time, I've been comparing myself with other writers, like Cormac McCarthy, who goes to an office, and works an 8 hour day on his novels (at least according to his nephew, who told me this.) Talking to Claire today I realized that I have been beating myself up all year because I don't follow the McCarthy schedule. (And I hated the only book of his I've read!)

My dirty little secret is that on days I don't have to go to my job, I spend somewhere around two hours working on the book. Some days I have two two-hour sessions, some days, when I'm really feeling it, I'll work four straight. But on an average day, about two hours is what I spend writing and revising, with maybe some research or administrative stuff in addition. And, I guess I can count time I spend thinking about the book while walking and time for Artist Dates to refuel my imagination, so maybe add a few more hours a week for that. And if I'm being very generous with myself, I would count time I spend meditating, food shopping, preparing meals, and generally taking care of myself so that I can write. And then if you add in the time I spend reading, and writing this blog, I guess I get a lot closer to a full-time work schedule.

Even still the (inner) critic says, "Well, maybe the book would be done already if you spent eight hours a day on it." When the critic speaks I look for the fear. In this case, I'm afraid that I'm wasting time. That I'm not finishing fast enough. But when I look at these fears rationally, I see that I'm not wasting much time, just a normal amount, and that fast enough is a relative term. I didn't finish fast enough to prevent me having to go back to work, but that's okay. And if I'm still not done in a few months, when this job is over, I'll get another job. ("In this economy?" asks the critic. He's such a downer.)

What I need to do is let go of the outcome. Let go of my worry about what will happen to the book when it's done, and just keep taking my next small step. The book is incubating in my mind and heart and soul, and it responds much better to small and gentle goals than to me screaming at it to hurry up already.

So maybe it's okay to only write for two hours a day, at least for now. Maybe slow motion really will get me there faster. I need to stop comparing myself to other writers and do what works for me. If I compare myself now to myself of a few years ago, now I write almost every day for at least an hour. That's a hell of a lot more writing than I used to do. So I'm making progress. I need to remember that there are many different paths to the same place. And I think if I can muster up a little more faith and a little more confidence, I'll be more productive, even if it is only for two hours a day.


liquidambar said...

Comparison to other writers is a fast road to misery. I enjoy their writing for what it is; but mine has to be different (otherwise, there would be no need for it). That goes for process, too: when we write, how much we write at a sitting, how long our drafts are, whether we listen to music while writing, etc., etc. Other writers' processes can give us good ideas and things to try, but ultimately we find our own way.

jackblackrabbit said...

I've just found your blog and I enjoyed reading it! I agree with what you say about having to look after yourself while writing;otherwise how can you really reach into your heart to find what you want to say? The Artist's Way was a lifesaver for me and you have reminded me how much benefit the Artist's date is. I am going to go on one today (especially as dating men isn't working out too well!). Power to you!