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Help Me Write More, Better, Faster!
Self helpy AF
Welcome to an advice column by me, Sara Benincasa, a person with opinions. This column won’t diagnose or cure anything. Hopefully, reading it will entertain and/or comfort you. Think of it as a vat of organic manuka honey mixed with a swimming pool full of tea. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. If I use your question, I’ll keep you anonymous.
I want to reduce the amount of time I spend on my essays. I am appalled by how long it takes me to write one. I don't feel that I can afford to spend 15+ hours on an essay when I have a lot other things to do to keep my life in order. But what’s the point of putting something out there that isn't good? Isn't your job as a writer to make your writing as great as it can be and not abandon it early? I'm going a bit mad, partly because I've wasted a lot of time in life already, and really need to get down to the business of writing. Help! - A Panicked Storyteller
Here are my favorite things about being a writer:
1.) Having written.
2.) Being paid for having written.
3.) Being praised for having written.
4.) COMPLAINING ABOUT WRITING WITH OTHER WRITERS!
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Therefore, I love your question. I also think many folks will relate, even if their art or craft is not writing.
Even good writers sometimes turn out garbage. Sometimes you gotta hit a deadline so you can pay a bill. Sometimes you lose your mind on bourbon and/or the canned demon drug Celsius and spew word-a-rrhea. Sometimes you’re finished with a pretty good script centering on D.C. politics and then a nightmare fascist gets elected and you have to rewrite the script because it takes place in a contemporary world and then the script no longer makes sense and it goes in some studio drawer and that’s life. Sometimes you go on social media when you’re In A Mood.
Sometimes you’re just tired.
And you know what? Sometimes you try things and they simply don’t work out. But it’s in the trying that we improve. So if you only allow yourself to put your own idea of perfect writing out into the world, you likely will take a rather long time to produce each piece.
I think it’s absolutely fine to sacrifice quantity for quality. In my own case, I haven’t written a book in years because nothing has quite felt right. Instead, I’ve written other things. I really like some of the other things. I know there are more books inside me (not, like, lodged in my internal organs - HOPEFULLY?)
There are more great essays inside you. But they need to cook a little longer. I hope that you will stop putting such pressure on yourself to write so many of them.
Just do the work as you can, and experiment with other forms of writing that may feel fun (or not). Nothing is lost in these efforts. All the work informs all the other work.
I find it helpful to look at what other artists have done in terms of process and production over the centuries.and both cover a lot about this subject. I’m also a great fan of Questlove’s writing on creativity and Rick Rubin’s recent book on the subject (the audiobook is fabulous).
Give yourself a break. Good work takes some time. Great work often takes even more time. I empathize with your self-criticism. Once in awhile, it just flows, but that’s the sort of miracle that only happens when we pace ourselves during the times that feel like a slog.
I don’t think your perfectionism is a bad thing. After all, you’re still putting stuff out into the world; you just aren’t churning it out like a factory. That’s because you’re a human being.
There’s no one recipe for taking delight in one’s own work. Please congratulate yourself for your devotion to creativity.
I do not want to watch any Republican national debates in my home, ever. My husband insists on watching every debate because he says it’s important to know what the other side is talking about. I get it, but we have a small apartment and I can still hear the goddamn debate blasting through the walls when I’m hiding in our bedroom. He won’t use headphones. I am going to scream. - Fuck This Literal Noise
I have no quarrel with his desire to learn what these people are up to. However, his refusal to use headphones seems rude. I’m going to guess there’s no physical or medical reason he won’t wear them, right? Proceeding with that assumption, well - it’s time for you to go shopping. Get AirPods. Get the old-timey radio cans that go over your ears.
Look, I’d be glad to say something soothing like, “Maybe you two can compromise” but if it ain’t happening, it ain’t happening. Tell him to pay for your new electronics. Worth the price of keeping the peace, right?
Alternately, he can go find a Chili’s Too in an airport where they’re playing it and enjoy himself. Tell him to bring home an Auntie Anne’s pretzel while he’s at it. You can always go out and have some fun on your own, too, of course.
Have a good weekend!