Writing: Do Not Go Gentle . . .

You ever want to not be done with something you’re creating? Ever held on to a project until the last minute when it was finally wrenched from your sweating hands?

project anxietyI know I have.

I had a very strange childhood in many ways, but there were some blips of normalcy here and there. One of them was a visit to the amusement park now known as Six Flags California. I had anticipated it so much and for so long that when we drove into the parking lot, I burst into tears. I sensed there was no way it could live up to my breathless expectations. I also knew in a only few hours it would be over. I’d need to let go at some point. My mother and father needed to wrestle me out of the car and frogmarch me through the gates to enjoy the roller-coasters.

I also was pretty sure they were going to fight, they being unable to even approximate  — even for a few hours during a special occasion — a “normal” family. And I was right.

Anyway, I look back on that moment every time I get close to finishing something. I also remember it before I start anything new. I fear at some point it will need to be over, and that fear almost stops me from beginning.

If it’s something I am creating on my own, there’s another factor: I know it’s never going to be good enough by my own standards. Saying something is “finished” means simply that YOU are finished. Nothing’s ever really finished. Nothing’s perfect. Saying so is a bit of an affront to God, really. There’s always more to be said — more to be done.

Yeah, this is how I justify procrastination. I’m really, really good at it, too.

I ran across this article on Twitter: End of Book Depression Solved! My immediate thought: “What the hell does that mean?” But, the title worked on me. I read the article.

It describes this post-partum depression common to so many creators. We don’t want the project to be over. We know it’s not going to really be “done.” We know we’d be lying in some way if we ever said so. Or perhaps we fear that if we comfortably meet a deadline, we’ll feel that we were sandbagging — holding back in some way. If there’s still time on the clock, we weren’t really giving it our all . The ideal approach is to keep screwing with it — tinkering, optimizing, correcting, honing — right up until we simply must move on. The article offers some satiric tips on dealing with this “book depression.” I don’t think I’d recommend any of them. They sound a lot like what kept me from finishing Diamond-T for 22 years or so.

The creative mind never goes gentle into that good night. I’m sure better writers than I say “Shiiiiiii . . . did I really . . .? Sometimes, they say this in public — even though they really shouldn’t. The customer doesn’t need to know everything about how that delicious sausage is made.

So what can you take from this? Only this: nothing is ever done. We just call it at some point and hope it works. And hope that we’ve done something of substance, or beautiful, even. And there’s something wonderfully human in this hope. It enables us to live. We live on hope.

And yes, I think Eye of the Diamond-T is something like that: Something substantial; perhaps something beautiful. I hope you enjoy it.

But, is it “done?” I dunno. Is life ever “done?”

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2 comments

  1. I read about a prospector who feared he might actually find the Lost Dutchman Mine. What could he possibly do afterwards that would replace the joy of the search? Sometimes interesting problems are like that. There could be some regret when you solve it, so it’s always good to have some other unfinished, similar projects around that you like but wish you had more time for. (It’s better if they don’t have all have deadlines, though 🙂 )

    1. I think it’s good to have alternatives if only because when I lose discipline in the main thing I’m supposed to be working on, I turn to something totally unrelated that soon turns tedious and forces me back to the first. It’s a mind-hack. 🙂

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