“The whole duty of a writer is to please and satisfy [her]self….” ~E.B. White, The Elements of Style
Empowering? Absolutely. And frustrating as hell when nothing pleases you.
When writing for the satisfaction of others, I cannot possibly know what that is, so this or that inclination could do. “It’s good enough” has helped me meet deadlines on more blog posts than I can count. But when my sole focus is pleasing myself, deadlines do not apply. I have to keep going until I find it – that one true way of saying something that feels right to me.
How accurate is that, though? One true way.
Maybe there are dozens of ways I could say something to my satisfaction. I just don’t bother moving past the first that whispers, this is it. It feels like an act of the gods that got me there. Why get greedy? Though I do suspect it’s greed that keeps me from getting there sooner.
Most of the time that I hate my writing it’s because I show up having forgotten I’m there to receive a gift, not a product of my demands.
I force words onto the page instead of letting them fall into my head. I like to think it’s a necessary evil – writing and wading through a bunch of crap to clear my mind for something new – but what if it’s not?
What if it’s just my entitled ego convinced it knows best, despite every scrapped word to the contrary?
Thankfully, my ego can only take rejection for so long (5 minutes on good days, an hour or more on bad). It gives up, turns its attention to, well, nothing I’m aware of really, and the kind of writing that rings true can begin.
Relish what you love in your writing today because you can almost guarantee it’s going to sound wrong tomorrow.
I’m feeling good about what’s on this page right now. I’m in the zone and, if all goes as planned, I’ll publish this post today. But on my first read of it tomorrow, you can count on me wondering, What was I thinking?
Is it because I’m a different person tomorrow? Is it because I’m a better writer? Is it because I’m in a different mood? (It’s certainly not because this is a first draft. I’ve been kicking this around for a week now, editing almost daily.)
What I ultimately end up with by the time this is published is whatever manages to survive (i.e., satisfy) every new version of me that gets her hands on it.
Not to mislead you. It won’t stop with publication. I’ll likely continue to edit this post for days, if not weeks, into the future. Because I can, and because I’m obsessive that way.
But maybe I will treat this post a little differently.
Maybe I’ll note changes post-publication as updates below. So every new version of me that logs in will have to articulate improvements with additional material instead of the editing of what’s already here.
I expect to hate something about this piece tomorrow. But what if the version of me the day after tomorrow is as satisfied with what’s written here as I am today?
Why should I let tomorrow’s version – who may be in the kind of mood that hates everything – decide to take it apart?
No, I’m preserving this in hopes of proving what’s true to me today is true whether I agree with it tomorrow or not.
UPDATE: Tomorrow (September 24, 2015)
I’m surprised to find that the only thing I’d change is the title, which I did, but am still not happy with. Because it doesn’t allude to the struggle with the advice that is my main focus of the piece.
In this order, I’ve tried:
- Happiness Is Fleeting: A Writer’s Dilemma In Pleasing Herself
- Write What Pleases You Today (You Can Hate It Tomorrow)
- Good Advice That Makes It Harder: Write to Please Yourself
None of which have both the message and tone I’m looking for. For now I’m settling with the obvious, Write To Please Yourself. It’s not wrong, but it’s not right. That’s fine; it will come.
UPDATE: June 26, 2016
It didn’t come. I’m keeping the title the same. And I don’t care to edit anything in this post again. Mostly because I think it goes on too long already and, given my rules for this post, if my only means of editing is in subsequent updates, continuing will only make it worse. It feels weird to let it be but also like a nice easy out.