Trying Too Hard

I’m starting my third day on a focused work schedule, working on short stories and editing. Yesterday day was novel day and the day before I composed and scheduled my blog posts for the week ahead, as well as, and I blush as I write this, prepped a slate of Tweets for Twitter. That’s right – I have to write and edit them in advance – the equivalent of rehearsing a speech in the mirror. I tell myself that I’ll only have to do this until I get better at it, but I suspect the short, quippy, fleeting nature of Twitter is just not in my wheelhouse. I like full sentences. I hate emoticons. I refuse to put the app on my phone. I think about quitting it every time I use it.

GarbagcanpaperThis is not the post I had planned on posting. Inspired by the work of Rebecca Solnit on journalism, Dani Shapiro on personal truths, and an essay by Lu Hsun called “This Too Is Life”, I saw the threads of a post emerging about the responsibility of the storyteller. It was very high-minded and thought-provoking, with obscure references and some cutesy self-denigration, just so I wouldn’t seem like a literary snob.

So all those voices in my head were competing on the page. I had three, four, then five paragraphs. And it was a clunker. I was my high school writer self – all thoughts and finger-wagging and terrible structure. The output of trying too hard always looks like I’m trying too hard. There’s some authenticity in that, but no reason to impose it on a reader. You’re welcome.

Part of the paralysis and bad writing is borne out of my decision to be a “working writer”. Nothing is more damning than approaching the blank page with the weight of 51 years of rootless potential and desperate ambition. I keep missing the lesson that the things that I try least at seem to render the most reward. I put my nose back to the grindstone, flailing about with the most awkward and tiring efforts.

This is, in essence, the story of my life. I will work my ass off with little to no reward but that of having done the thing. Some days, it’s just not enough. But yay, I persist. When I was in high school, I ran track. I was slow. Very slow. So they put me in the 3200 meter run. You would score points for the team if you just finished, regardless of speed. For my senior year at the track awards banquet, I got the award for Best Effort. That’s going on my tombstone.

canstockphoto0404119I’m reading Angela Ducksworth’s Grit with a degree of irritation that comes when someone tells you something you’ve already rationalized for yourself. Yes, persistence and perseverance can win out over talent. But it can also be damned exhausting and demoralizing. I know I will always try, but maybe I wonder if need to dial it back a bit. I’m one of those people who’s always being told to relax. I respond to this in a laid-back and chill manner – bite me.

It occurs to me that if you put too much effort in, too much pressure on yourself, you’re bound to overshoot the mark. This would appear to have the same outcome as not trying at all, but I know there is a difference. Plotting and planning and working at my writing in any sort of methodical way is difficult right now. I’m too used to being a mood writer and I may as well plan on missing the mark for awhile. Discomfort is necessary for growth. 2019 is likely to be the most uncomfortable year ever.

19 Comments on “Trying Too Hard

  1. You haven’t asked for any advice but I can’t help myself, so I apologize in advance. Allow yourself to be spontaneous and just be yourself when you write. You’re a wonderful writer, just speak in your own, natural voice.

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    • There are apps that do this for you, but for me, “scheduling” is cut-and-paste from a Word doc once a day. I am having a hard time convincing myself to do it, but these days, it’s part and parcel of a writer’s toolbox.

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  2. Do you know there are Twitter parties where authors tweet a sentence from their novels and publishers are reading them and may be interested? Twitter pitches? And much more!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I appreciate your tips, Carolyn. I am working to tailor it to be what I need. This weekend, I muted a lot of political and insult words, un-followed a lot of political feeds but still get sucked into it on occasion. It’s a very crowded, noisy room there. I really have to work at keeping it writer-focused and not let my temper get the best of me. Hopefully, my skills will improve – and not at the expense of my sanity! The inability to edit Tweets is really unfortunate.

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    • I have always wondered about this! Does putting out too many excerpts put publishers off?

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    • I don’t think I’m actually capable of relaxing in any way that someone would recognize. But there is something to be said for allowing yourself to write through all that nonsense, getting it out of the system, and then hopefully, beyond that, getting to the good stuff. I think that’s where persistence can pay off. I think I’m going to try a new mental trick – tell myself that the first five paragraphs will be automatically be deleted, just to get on with things.

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      • That sounds like a good approach. A lot of blog posts out there would be a lot better if the first few paragraphs were cut, as they amount to nothing much more than a warm-up to the meat of the post. I’ve found that when I’m struggling to get the first few sentences or the first paragraph right, the best thing to do is cut ties with it and let the second paragraph be the first.

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        • I laughed when I read this, because generally, I could cut the first paragraph to any of my posts and it would be fine. I’m definitely guilty of that. What’s funnier is that the template for my blog puts the first paragraph in gi-normous font. It’s a big “Delete me” sign!

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you for this. Sometimes it’s easy to forget these things but beneficial when we remember them and apply them to our life

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  4. I’m also reading ‘Grit’ (along with 20 other books). It has been a bit stop-start for me but I am liking it so far! I’m also getting back into scheduling tweets (or trying to, anyway) because I am terrible at live tweeting. You know, even though that’s the whole premise of the platform. Ha.

    xo, Victoria

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    • I’m much the same way when it comes to reading, Victoria – switching between 5-8 books, depending on mood and time.

      I think the point of Twitter completely eludes me, which is part of the problem. In real life, I would be the person in the corner watching people at a party and saying little, until I had a long time to think about it. Snappy repartee is just not part of my skill set. And I can easily get sidetracked by reading other people’s threads and comments. I see some real dangers to writers using Twitter – from being a time-suck to watering down one’s ability to fully form and elucidate thoughts. I’ll have to tread carefully.

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