May 18th is going to be a special date. It is a Saturday on which Sarah and I depart for a month in Spain and Switzerland. Imagine all the jamón iberico, olives, wine, and tapas. Imagine all the Swiss chocolate and cheese, the underrated wines, the head-exploding scenery. Yes, May 18th will be a special day.
But for another reason as well.
May 18th is my zero draft deadline. This book I’m writing must be drafted before I leave for Europe. There is no more perfect deadline: I can type the final period and then disappear for a month, let my mind crawl out of the creative hole in the ground, and return with fresh eyes to tear into my first draft proper.
I have been going hard at this deadline all year, and I’m not sure if that’s what’s behind my recent output, my switch to writing in Scrivener, or some combination of the two, but I’ve written approximately 77,000 words in the last three months. In the six months before that, I wrote around 54,000 words. That’s nearly a 300% increase.
As the book stands, which still only has a working title, I have about 14 and a half chapters left to write (out of 40), and it will take every last ounce of willpower, blood, sweat, tears, soul essence, and chakra juice to hammer those out in the scant seven weeks I have left. I’m not happy with everything I’m writing – some chapters leave an off-putting sneer on my face – but the greatest growth I’ve experienced so far in the course of this project is the ability to simply plow ahead, to move on, and just get the story down on pixels.
I have always thought of myself as a perfectionist, but the deeper I’ve gone into writing this book, the more I’ve seen that label as a flimsy veil for what I’ve really been: an instant-gratificationist (see what I did there?). In college, I didn’t draft my papers. What I wrote when I sat down to write…yeah, that was what I handed in. Yes, it took me a long time to finish those papers, but not as long as it probably should have. I’ve tried various musical instruments over the years and universally given them up after a short period of time because that “perfectionist” part of me was not gratified by my novice abilities (the tin whistle will be different!). It’s a vice, a leg cramp in the masterpiece marathon.
There is so little instant gratification when writing a book. Maybe a word rings true, a sentence if you’re in luck, a paragraph if the Dagda smiles upon you. So I think about how Michelangelo said he saw the angel in the marble block and set it free. Can you imagine how that marble looked after his first pass? His second? Tenth? Probably far from David. And he was working with stone, for the love of God.
Giving myself multiple creative outlets has really helped. I’ve written flash poetry for well over a decade and it has become the equivalent of creative candy. I can bash something out, glory in the moment, and return to own my private Crazy Horse Memorial.
Much of creating anything is dirty work. Lots of heavy lifting, lots of disgust, lots of wondering what the hell you’re doing. But also vision. For something epic, I think you need to be able to see the final product, the finish line. The key is that you don’t have to get there right away. You just have to get there. It might be a morass you’re wading through, but you’re going in the right direction (I’m resisting the über-nerdy Mount Doom analogy, but oops – there it is). And that’s the mindset I’ve adopted as I plow toward May 18th. There will be more than 200,000 words when the zero draft is finished, and there will be time for real perfectionism, later, at the end.
Right now, I’m in the pit, just digging up my block of marble.
Original photo by Austin Kleon via Flickr/Creative Commons