Is anyone else out there gripped by the fear that you're working on the wrong thing?
I cannot seem to convince myself that it doesn't really matter what I'm working on, as long as I'm working on something. The part of me that wants success is busy coming up with strategies, trying to figure out how to get more done, sooner. It is constantly aware of my failures, and is busy keeping tracking of the numbers — how many stories, how many submissions — and knows that the best way to improve the chances for success is to increase the numbers.
You know how in NaNoWriMo we talk about the Inner Editor? I call this part of me my Inner Asshole. It's like a little guy in my head who is screaming “You have to get to the end! Fast! Finish it! You call yourself a writer? You haven't completed anything new in months. You should have had this done last Wednesday and be on to the next draft by now. You still have editing to do after this, and then critique, and then more editing. You're MONTHS away from submission, so quit being such a loser and HURRY UP!”
My Inner Asshole wants me to pick one thing — the thing with the clearest goal and a the clearest end — and he wants me to work on nothing but that until it is done, so he can add it to the pool of Product that he refers to as The Numbers Game. He wants me to block out Writing Time, and nothing can be done during Writing Time except that one piece.
Things do not get done this way. Like that radio play I had a deadline for. That little man is screaming in my head, (I think there are boots and a riding crop involved,) and I absolutely cannot work on it. Every time I open the file, I choke. And yet I feel guilty if I work on anything else. So nothing at all gets done during Writing Time. The reality seems to be that I just don't work well on one thing for long stretches, or under pressure, even the self-imposed kind. I'm a good sprinter, but a lousy distance runner.
To make matters worse, lately I have had an influx of ideas unlike anything I've experienced before. I keep writing them down and treating them as legitimate projects, even though I doubt I'll get to a fraction of them. Little Screaming Guy… you know, he really needs a name. We'll call him Martin. Martin thinks this is a total waste of time and an unwelcome distraction from The Numbers Game.
Martin does not embody the larger part of me, though, the part that wanted to write in the first place. That part of me just wants to write good stories, stories that illuminate some aspect of the world and the human spirit, and entertain the reader in the process. That part of me would very much like Martin to go fuck himself.
I once read a post that I think was entitled “Creating a Fiction Factory.” I wish I could find it now. Unfortunately it's a title that's been used a lot, and Google is not helping me out right now. Anyway. It was an article about process, specifically about working on several different things at once.
The author of the article suggested having a bunch of things in progress at once, and just adding a little to whichever ones we're inspired to work on. Getting stuck doesn't matter, if we have a 'fiction factory' working — we just move on to something that we're not stuck on. (Huh. This has some similarities with the Getting Things Done philosophy, which I learned about much later.) He understood the 'marathon' instinct and assholes like Martin. He pointed out that we will still get things finished, and while it will take a little longer, the good news is that there will likely be a flurry of Many Things Being Finished in rapid succession.
That sounds rewarding, doesn't it?
So while my grand plans for scripts with deadlines have faltered, the projects that are getting done are two short stories that I started for a lark, and a treatment for a sci fi novel. I'm writing one of the shorts on my phone, a few sentences at a time, whenever I'm stuck waiting for something. That story is growing every single day, and it will be done probably before the radio play is, because 'some' is, as ever, greater than 'none.' It probably also helps to keep that little screamer at bay that I'm not using valuable Writing Time to produce it. And yet it's getting written, isn't it.
Slowly. Shhhh… we must stay under Martin's radar. Right now he thinks I should be working on a radio play — if he finds out that there are other things that could be finished sooner he'll turn his attention to screaming at me about those instead.