I’m currently at work on a 2,500-word piece for an online publication. I’ve done a bunch of interviews, observed one of the subjects at work, watched an online demo, read a couple scholarly papers and sketched out a rough idea of what I’m hoping to convey. A draft is due tomorrow.
Right now, I’ve got shit.
It’s not complete shit. In fact, I’ve just completed the first draft: 3,250 words, written over the course of the last week.
You’d think I’d be happy. Maybe I am, a little. What’s the old
Dorothy Parker Frank Norris line? “I hate writing; I love having written”? But there’s still much to do, and not much energy to do it.
When I’m doing a big piece on deadline, I wake up anxious at 4:30 in the morning. I’m anxious anyway, but this is worse. (Thank goodness for my daily ration of Zoloft.) The cats stay out of my way. (Until they don’t; right now, two of them are sprawled out on my desk in front of the window.) You don’t want to go near the bathroom.
Soon will come the first revisions — the reread, the cuts, the blocks of text I’ll move around, the desperate search for a better quote. And then I’ll read it again and do a few more tweaks and be sick of how lame the piece is compared to the erudite award winner that was in my mind at the beginning of the process.
Honestly, I don’t know why I do this for a living sometimes, though I’ve done it in a variety of settings for more than 25 years. (Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison, how do you make it look so easy?) But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t satisfying. I like editing — a lot — but even editing often comes down to rewriting. It’s just someone else’s words. (And then there’s the fact that it pays the bills.)
So I’m going to put the draft aside. I’ll have lunch. I’ll catch up on my magazines, where I’ll ponder how to become as good as some of the writers I admire, and wonder if they spend their days waking up anxious and yelling at their cats and stinking up their bathrooms.
And then I’ll sit back down at my desk. It’s a living.