This morning I made my way around to an article I’ve been meaning to read. It’s a piece on Slate about authors, most of them recognizable names, that went back years after publishing and reviewed their own work. The author of the article, Three Things You Learn When Famous Writers Reread Their Old Books, Katy Waldman sums up her take on this activity differently than I would. But I would point out, we can agree on one thing; that the notes in the margins reminded us that everyone who writes, regardless of the number of copies they’ve sold or the accolades they are due, is just a person like us. They are filled self doubt, they struggle through the writing process, they lament sentence construction and word choice.
Right now many of you are busily banging away at your keyboards, approaching the literary equivalent Mach 2, as you stretch yourselves for 50k words in #NaNoWriMo. Believe me when I tell you that eventually you will come back to this pile of words you’re assembling and say to yourself, “What the hell was I doing?”
Yesterday I agonized over a single word for hours; I’d leave the sentence and return to it, over and over, trying to massage the damn thing because I was displeased with that word’s meaning within the context of the story. I made pleas on Twitter for help, tried researching the idea I wanted to express on-line, and generally discovered ways to belate finishing this writing project.
Late last night I finally managed to change it, managed to make it work. Despite the many sentences I edited yesterday and the pile of new words I wrote, fixing this single word within an inconsequential sentence located in the backwoods of my story felt somehow cause for celebration. I committed the change and took a break, sipping hot tea and munching celebratory chocolate. Incidentally, I am out of scotch.
This morning I awoke and returned to my lamentable worry concerning this single word. The news, I’ll leave it to you to decide its quality, is that after “finishing” that sentence I wrapped up the project and sent it off to the editor so regardless of what I chose to do with that word in that sentence, I know that it is “done.” I’m not changing anything, and I know I need to move on. Still I worried, but then I read those notes in the margins and it dawned on me that in order to counterbalance the worry which will invariably hold us back, slow us down, or stop the assemblage of words I must compartmentalize and segregate those concerns. These feelings are helpful only to a point, beyond which they will become dangerous and counterproductive.
“Enough is as good as a feast,” and perfection is a myth. Push through my friends, push through. Those little regrets left in the margins are the glorious scars of war, of conquest.