I’ve been working on creating a fairly complex report in Crystal Reports for the CEO, which draws from diverse locations and, ideally, collates neatly, tallies into eloquent sums and counts, and even suggests direction and purpose. A damned fine report. It’s taking quite a lot of time, as it seems that I need to determine the meaning of life so that it can be incorporated into the report.
This morning I woke with a realization plain before me: No one will care if the report doesn’t do all of those things. I was asked for a fraction of what I’m doing, the rest is merely because I believe it ought to be that way. Pride, Aesthetics, that sort of thing. In fact, if the report is even close to what was asked for (and it already is), then it will be received well and I can go forth and do other things, gain more experience, and will eventually be able to knock out my idealized report out of hand.
In most things, tolerances are well above +/- a percent. Mostly, if you aim for engineering tolerances of 10%, you’re in great shape, come results time.
So I finished the report to those loose tolerances, and moved on. In the background, something began to tick.
The Agent (there is only one, at this time, in all the world) wants to see my ms, once complete.
Check. That one is true.
This is an amazing opportunity.
Check. Also true.
My best work, clearly, is called for, and nothing less will do.
…er…check…within reason, I mean….
As always, when I am galloping foreward, as the finish line approaches I suddenly realize that there are things behind me that should be brought up, and spin around to fetch them. Let us journey two decades or more into the misty past, to one of my favorite episodes of my life: Writing 121.
I failed it.
I finally determined that I was considering myself to be like unto a god in comparison to my classmates (but for one — hi, Ed!) and was consequently obliged to prove myself in each paragraph turned in for credit. Everything I wrote must needs be perfection in ink, bringing forth gooseflesh and tears of joy from each reader. When I turned in Writing (for it was capitalized in my mind), the teacher should be so moved that he or she would strike any students turning in lesser work, reviling them: “You! How can you dare presume to write, nay, to even speak in the same language as this man, who has wrought beauty we are not worthy to experience? I cast you out of my class, and call upon you to never again let your pitiful gruntings be mistaken for the English tongue!”
[Yes, we really speak like that, Ed and I. Doesn’t everyone?]
My feelings on this were not, perhaps, quite so fully formed as all that, but there lay the direction they went. In practice, my every written word was not quite so potent, and, crestfallen, I would fail to turn in such lackluster work as I produced. It took some years before it occured to me to just turn in the same pedestrian tripe as the illiterate oafs in class with me might put forth, and take the grade that they would receive. And so it was, and I moved on.
I am in the third or fourth rewrite of this misbegotten book, and in the last two I haven’t even been writing properly; I have been nailing down every corner of the plot, doubting and checking and replotting and entirely failing to get further into the book, failing to get words written, failing — oh, no — failing to have fun with it anymore.
What does it take for me to not enjoy the sound of my own voice?
Just the requirement that my voice be utterly without flaw, and then to place the weight of the world and all its futures on that requirment.
Welcome back to WR121, you recursively stupid, stupid man. (If one says “recursively stupid” and then says the “stupid” part twice, is that some major complexity of redundancy?)
All right, then. Here is what I must do.
To learn to write books, one writes books. I am not writing books, I am writing a fraction of a book, over and again. All I’ll learn from that is how to write that portion of that book.
I will write this damned thing as the plot lays now. I will (with some editing, certainly) pass it to The Agent, who will like it or not, ask for revision or not, and things will go forward. I can then, while that ms meets its just fate, move on and write another book.
It is all right to have failed attempts at novel-writing. Some of my best friends have written books that haven’t published, and yet they are published for other books.
This book does not have to be good. It does not have to succeed. It merely must be written. Engineering tolerances apply.
And, yes, I realize I’ve covered some of these realizations before. If you don’t enjoy reruns, feel free to write something new, yourself. As Aberdeen noted, I frequently travel in spirals, but I have faith that I will eventually arrive somewhere…and if I’m a bit dizzy when I do, so be it.