I sometimes find myself belaboring over a story, or more often a novel, for months or even years. And all the time, I feel this pressure to complete it as if this were some horse race and I was late to the starting gate.
Why is it that writers behave this way? You don’t see illustrators doing this. They don’t polish a sketch or single drawing for days on end. They get the work done and move on. So perhaps we writers should take a cue from our more visual brethren.
Songwriters perform in much the same way. You didn’t see John Lennon or Paul McCartney rework a song over and over. Some revision and tweaks yes. Perhaps an overhaul when it came to actual recording. But that’s it. Create and move onto the next project.
Reworking a piece of writing is like over-kneading dough. It makes the final product tough and unpalatable. Another art form based on achieving a high output of products.
I’m not advocating for quick and dirty slop-writing. We still need to edit and revise to get our best product. But I often find myself constantly rereading what I have written — improving it yes — but not making much forward motion.
I also know some writers who work and rework the same story over and over for years. It might be fear. It is so much easier to revise words that are already on the page than to create new ones. But that is living your artistic life in a bottle.
I get this same apprehension when I start what might be a “big” drawing project. The smaller ones I whip out without much thought. But staring at the blank page, knowing that each mark will change the work, can be daunting.
I see it as habitualizing yourself to progress. If you’re like me, and get hung up on constant polishing and tweaking, don’t go back to reread your previous work (as excruciating as that may be).
Art is meant to be created. We can’t bottle it up forever.