On Progress: Manic Optimism and Wildly Irrational Doom

How can a writer judge progress on a manuscript? The problem is that the writer can be his only true judge of progress, as much of the ‘work’ he does is indecipherable to others. So, he is the ultimate judge, and he is also the harshest critic. He judges not only the work, but the creator. Forget objectivity. The spectrum of judgement flows from Manic Optimism to a feeling of Wildly Irrational Doom.

The contemporary-gothic-cinderella-pop-music-new-england-island novel fills me with excitement and, at times, dread. The pages are not writing themselves, for sure. Mistakenly, I thought I was at a point to chug through scene-writing, when in fact I am now drowning in research and complex lists of questions for my characters. I have a chunk of the manuscript written, but it is half as long as I’d planned it be by this date, this time in July.

My friend Stephanie, over at Natural/Artifical, posted recently, “Oh Yeah, That Writing Thing.” I could have written many of her words. Stephanie writes,

In other words, Second Novel has suffered — from both a lack of attention and too much attention. From endless brooding and constant avoiding. From comparisons to award-winning work, comparisons to my friends’ work, comparisons to my own work.

It’s safe to say that I pretty much beat the crap out of Second Novel.

It’s no wonder I felt beaten in return.

As writers, we are the dictators of our work. We are the slayers of our work. We build nations. Then we let our people starve. It is because we are ambitious and confident. It is because we are lazy and unsure. Doomed to fail! It can all seem doomed at times. With creativity and creation there is euphoria. With euphoria there’s always a down. We can’t escape the oscillations, and we never will.  Stephanie, clear-headed and not doomed, writes,

I’m learning that sometimes I need to cut myself a break. Which doesn’t mean giving up or taking a vacation, but it does mean going easy on myself when the writing isn’t moving as quickly or as smoothly as I’d hoped.

This is true. Our hopes for our work are always overly ambitious. We just have to remember that, and then we can calibrate our emotional reactions to how we perceive our progress and give ourselves a break. Maybe we can do this, or maybe we will always be falling into holes and then diggind ourselves out again. I’m trying to move forward, as is Stephanie:

I keep asking them questions, scribbling down their answers, and trying to make sense of it all. And I’m not there yet, but certain aspects are becoming clearer. I just have to keep moving forward. I have to remember that I don’t need all the answers yet.

Today I put a wildly huge amount of notes into a black three-ring binder in an attempt to organize (or perhaps quantify?) my work, a big chunk of which is questions, scribbles, and more questions. Most of the  questions will not be answered today, but the mere conception of the questions was a type of work: progress.

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