Photo Credit: Denise Krebs CC BY 2.0

I have the day off from work today. My kids are in daycare. My wife is at work. And one of the things I was looking forward to doing on my day off was focusing on my writing. About a week ago, I finished writing a memoir. The memoir is 300 pages  double spaced, nearly 120,000 words, and I feel that was an accomplishment I can be proud of, but I wasn’t planning to do anything with the memoir today. Over the years I’ve been writing, I’ve learned that distance from a project helps with editing, with seeing the words on the page much more clearly than I would otherwise see them. Aside from which, my plans for the memoir now involve composing new sections, incorporating aspects of what it’s like writing a memoir live online, examining aspects of what it’s like to post one section at a time and allowing the people who were there and know the people I’m writing about interact with the text. I’ve received comments, of course, but I’ve also exchanged emails and messages with readers, run into them on the street, been given feedback in person. Some of this affected me in such a way that it made it into the first draft I was posting, but much of it needs to be mulled over.

Rather, today, my plan was to focus on two stories, one that I wrote last year and one written over the summer, that I still need to shape into final versions. This, I’ll be the first to admit, was overly ambitious, but I didn’t recognize that until I started the edits this morning. I should know this straight away. I shouldn’t have anticipated this. But for some reason, I didn’t. And it meant that after a moment of disappointment, a moment in which I recognized my ambition exceeded what was possible, I needed to adjust my plans. It isn’t that the stories are a mess and it’s going to take more effort than I had planned. The two stories are average for me as far as first drafts go. Structures were planned out during their drafting. Neither needs a massive overhaul. It’s just that I wanted to be finished with them now. By the end of the day, I envisioned having a finished product I could send out for publication or at least, share with my closest friends, and this all stems from the most difficult thing I deal with in writing all the time, something I haven’t been able to rein in or weed out of my practice in all the years I’ve been doing this, and that is impatience.

Sometimes the most difficult flaws to deal with in ourselves are the ones we recognize but seem to have little control over fixing, and this is mine. It’s not that I have no control over it at all. It just feels as if it takes a Herculean effort, and if I’m exhausted (which I am much of the time, given the day-to-day reality of working a 9-5, taking care of kids, and trying to be a decent husband to my wife), I have much more difficulty doing so than usual. The fact is that though I produce writing in the in-between moments, the moments I can steal for myself, it’s much more difficult to find the longer stretches of time necessary to fine tune and hone that writing into something final. But I also want to keep publishing on a frequent basis, to keep my name out there in magazines with the hopes that I can develop a career in this. And the combination of those two things means I sometimes let go of my writing and put it out into the world before it’s ready. I can’t imagine I’m unique among writers in doing this. Almost every writer has pushed a story out the door before it’s ready, and some of us have even published stories before they’re ready (while of course, the opposite happens too, we write and fine tune something to the point of thinking it’s about as perfect as we can get it and it keeps getting passed over by magazines/publishers). But knowing you’re not alone doesn’t necessarily make a problem like this easier to cope with. So what do I do?

Well, the first thing is to be a little easier on myself about due dates. To accomplish anything with a schedule full of so many non-writing-related tasks, I need to break everything into smaller components. I decided this morning that rather than finished editing both stories today, which would be impossible, I would take one of those stories and edit the first six pages. My edit included the usual. I read it aloud and recorded it on Garage Band, using a printout of the text. I make cuts as I went along. Rewrote clunky sentences. Input the changes to the file, and then re-recorded the new version. I can do another three pages tomorrow night after the kids are in bed. Another few pages the following night. It will get done more slowly, but I won’t feel so overwhelmed. Then, too, of course, I’ll listen to the playback and make further decisions once I have a full recording of the first edit I feel good about. To some extent, I feel the loss of my writing group (which is on hold with one of our key members at the writing program at OSU). I liked to have input that I’m just not getting now, and though I can ask my OSU friend to read my stories, I produce too much content to have her look at everything without it being a burden. Still, I can struggle through. I have a fairly decent sense of the holes in my own stories with enough distance established. I just have to reign in the bad impulse and replace it with something that’s of value to all writers: patience.