By the time you read this I will have taken my very first behind-the-wheel driver’s test, with the hope of getting my license. Yes, I do realize that I’m pretty old to be getting my license for the first time, but that’s all right. I’m excited by the possibility of getting my license, buying a car and being let loose on the streets of Silicon Valley, but I’m also very, very nervous about the test.
I’m fairly confident about my ability to drive, mind you. But I’ve never been the best test taker. There’s something about the finality of it, the uncompromising focus on results; it doesn’t matter if you’re nervous, or in the middle of a bad day, or maybe just had a bounce of bad luck. If you don’t do well enough, you fail. And that failure is in the books and there’s not a thing you can do about it.
That’s heavy for me to think about. I’m…a bit of a perfectionist, and a lot of the time I would rather just not do something than do something poorly. So the idea of willingly putting myself into any situation where I’ll be judged on performance makes my nerves all jingle-jangle. Yet, at the time of my writing this, that’s precisely the situation I’m facing.
It reminds me a lot of my mental state when I’m writing. When I sit down at a blank page, or I’ve just finished writing a scene, I’m always taken with the sheer amount of potential that my story has. It’s just an idea, and depending on how well I commit that idea to reality it could be something amazing. Yet, by the time I’m closing in on the final sentences of a story I become very reluctant to finish it. Once it’s done, it needs to be put in front of other eyes. I need to willingly offer it up for judgement.
The driving test is almost easier to deal with; if I make a mistake or my nerves get the better of me, I fail and practice some more, then come back and kick ass. But if you write a bad story, that’s it; it’s out there, and though you can try to whip it into shape it’s going to always have those flaws and imperfections hard-coded inside of it. When you have an idea you’re excited about, you really want to do it justice. When you’re writing about themes that are important to you, you want them to be treated with the consideration and respect they deserve.
That can be extraordinarily difficult to pull off. And I’m not comfortable with putting something out there that isn’t perfect. It’s really scary to me to put out something that might be bad. I’m sure I’m not the only one out there who wigs out about pouring a whole heap of effort into something that turns out to stink.
So, what do we do when we type “THE END” on a story that we know is no good? Do we send it out to our writing group anyway? Do we put it in a drawer and hope that time makes us a bit more objective when it comes time to edit? Do we cut our losses and abandon the story, hoping to cannibalize a bit of dialogue, or an idea, or a character?
I don’t think there’s any one right answer here, besides the obvious one. If you’re writing something, no matter if you know it to be the worst story this side of “Eye of Argon,” you finish it. Putting a stamp on the experience provides you with closure, which I’ve found to be invaluable with my work. Once I take a deep breath, declare a story “done”, that alone allows me to lay down a huge pile of stress. Sure, I’m not happy with the quality, but that can change through re-writing, editing or abandonment. I can learn the lessons I needed to and move on. That alone is worth the stress of slogging through those last few paragraphs, getting to the point where the character’s story is told. You can always tell it better, of course. But you need to finish it first.
So, that’s my focus these days. To write – and finish – all of my terrible stories, with the hope that with time and practice I can make them better. Even if something is an outright failure, at least it’s a completed one. Sometimes, getting it done is more important than getting it right. Though, by the time you read this, I really hope I’ll have aced my driving test.