John Hardy Bell
Swinging for the Fences
Over the course of my relatively young writing life I’ve developed some, shall we say, interesting habits. For instance, I write all of my first drafts on sticky-notes (a practice that I’ve blogged about here), I try not to read much fiction when I’m fully engaged in a project, I start my writing day (or these days writing morning) only after I’ve had my second cup of coffee, and I never talk about a project while it is in its developmental stages. These habits are comfortably ingrained and will no doubt be with me for the remainder of my career.
But there is another habit I’ve developed over the years that I’m not so comfortable with; a chronic practice that seems beneficial on the surface, but only serves to wreak havoc on any writing endeavor I dare to undertake. That habit?
Simply put, I’ve developed the mind-set that every single thing I write, from my novel to this blog post, has to be, well, perfect. Most of the time I don’t even know what perfection is. I’ve never achieved it, nor have I ever witnessed it in anyone else. But I strive for it nonetheless.
There are no doubt some who say that this is actually a positive trait to have, because it forces one to look critically at their work; scrutinizing every word, every idea, and that in turn leads to a stronger product. I can’t say I disagree with that argument in some instances.
But for me it has had the opposite effect. Because I am so fixated on the idea of creating a perfect product, with no real concept of what perfection looks like, I’m left creatively paralyzed.
Some writers say there is no such thing as writer’s block, but I completely disagree. I know it exists because I’ve had more than my fair share of it. For me the block usually occurs not because I’ve run out of ideas, but rather as the result of having too many ideas. In golf there is a term called ‘paralysis by analysis’ which means a golfer’s swing is hindered because he is thinking too much about mechanics and not relying on instinct. This idea can be applied perfectly to the writer. In my case it’s been my inability to trust my own talent enough to just stay out of the way and let instinct take over.
The intellectual side of me – the perfectionist – thinks every piece should be a home run, and refuses to settle for anything less. The instinctual side of me – the true artist – knows that if you step up to bat enough times eventually you will hit it out of the park. You may go 1 for 15 along the way, with more than a few strike-outs mixed in, but the home-run will come.
For years the intellectual side has won, and I believe this is one of the biggest reasons that I write this post as a yet-to-be-published novelist. But the instinctual side is slowly but surely gaining ground. I trust my gut a lot more than I used to, and I try my best not to ‘think’ my way through a piece, but instead allow myself to simply ‘write’ the piece. My God-given talent, such as it is, can carry me the rest of the way. It might result in a bloop single, it might result in a ground-out.
And that’s okay. As long as I trust my swing (the words I put down on the page) I’m bound to go yard sooner or later!