Thursday, March 18, 2010

Close Enough

As of last night, I'm approximately 3,800 words into a new short story, and I still have handwritten materials to transcribe. (If my daughter hadn't decided to wake up at 12:20am and stay awake until after 3am, I think I would have gotten it all typed up, but that's another story.)

This is very exciting to me -- I tend to underwrite rather than overwrite, so it feels absolutely wonderful to have something this substantial that is not merely the first 5% or so of a novel. (Plus, if it stays under 8K, I can submit it to One Story.)

Despite this excitement, however, last night I started to feel a little run down. A little weary of the piece, even though so much of it is fresh and interesting to me. A little... lazy.

I've been typing for ages, my brain insists, surely we must be done with this one by now.

In many areas of my life, I've noticed that I have a "close enough" problem. I'll clean up 95% of the dirty dishes, and then leave out a single water glass or leave a single pot to wash the next day. I'll do laundry, then fail to put the clean, folded, ironed clothes in the closets. I'll tidy up the vast majority of the house, then leave a single messy pile of unsorted mail and receipts on the front hallway table. Why? Because I've worked so hard already. And anyway, shouldn't someone else take it from here?

Worse, sometimes I don't even realize I've done it. What are you talking about, honey? I cleaned the whole house, top to bottom! Oh. That mess over there. Huh. Yeah, I didn't really see that bit. Oops.

Fortunately, I love to edit, so I always (eventually!) catch it in my writing if I quit working too soon... plus I'm not deluded enough to think that an agent or editor really will pick up my slack if I were to submit an unpolished piece of writing. And also fortunately, I've had some beta readers who are willing to read a 95% complete piece if I just need to get it the heck off my desk for a while before I can tackle the last finishing touches. They get it. Sometimes you have to just type [INSERT CONNECTING SCENES HERE] and let it go for a while.

But I'm glad that I correctly identified the problem last night; I wasn't tired, I was just in a close-enough state of mind. So I powered through (at least, until Serious Girl made it clear that going back to sleep was not happening any time soon). And I think I got some good outlining done as a result.

DOES THIS EVER HAPPEN TO YOU? Do you catch the problem every time? Do you just accept the urge and walk away for a while, or do you keep pushing at it?


  1. I've done the (INSERT SCENE HERE) bit before. Usually it's because my brain's not working well enough to figure something out to connect them yet.

    It seems you and I share an impulse when it comes to cleaning. My wife (who gets off work later than I) will come home and find the one area of the house that I haven't cleaned on my cleaning days. And my reaction will be pretty much the same as yours.

    Ah to find kindred spirits.

    P.S. I need a literary nemesis. Any good suggestions?

  2. Hmmm, I have a couple ideas, actually, but I don't know if they're in the market for one. Let me get back to you.

  3. I am also a "close enough" sort of person, and I also underwrite on first drafts. With writing, of course, we may never really be done, and I don't think the "close enough" urge is always a bad thing. It can be useful to give a story a rest for awhile, but come back to it later with a fresh perspective. As you say, I think what's most important is becoming aware of our own particular habits, and adjusting accordingly.

  4. What an insight! It's great that you could pin down your tendency! In my post yesterday, I talked about determination and the dictionary definition is something like making up your mind to complete a task.

    I do usually push myself through those times I feel like stopping. During that push, I feel rather blah and wonder if my writing will have a blah too it. But I keep going nevertheless, figuring I can edit later!

  5. Not so much in prose writing, in which I tend to have a "just far enough" problem.

    But for poetry and more general activities, I do this all the time. Blog posts, dishes, raking, school work, etc. I've had 97% completed blog posts linger for days un-finished. Nice to know I'm not alone.

  6. I know what you're talking about. I tend to get that way too, especially if I've been working on something for a while. My mind just says, 'Oh, moon and stars above, I've been doing x,y,z, or q for the last [really long stretch of time], and I can't possibly look at it anymore.' The only cure I've found so far is to get some space and then come back to it.

  7. I don't believe anyone on the planet writes a complete book by writing complete scenes one after the other. I constantly leave little notes to myself to fix things later. Or I'll leave space for connectors.

  8. Yes, I totally do that! And often.
    But I consider it an accomplishment to only do %95 and have the power to walk away. I'm a perfectionist. If I strive for %100, I'll never get it done.

    But I do see your point of pushing through. It can make such a difference.

  9. Good to know I'm not alone! It seems like there's no one right answer... sometimes you persevere, sometimes you take a break and walk away.

  10. I was about to say I'm just like this, but then I really thought about it (funny what that DOES).

    I'm NOT like this. I'm an all or nothing girl. That one glass would bother the crap out of me. . . if I start something, I must do all of it. But that's a big IF - I'm just as likely to be lazy and let the house become a trash heap first, THEN clean ALL the mess up.

    In writing, I have never learned to do [INSERT SCENE HERE] because I have to write linearly. Suppose something happens in that scene that's important to how the plot goes? It could change everything! I can't just leave it! My brain won't let me.