I recently completed the first draft of my first short story. I don't think it's anywhere near ready to be submitted to potential publishers, but just getting a story down on paper is liberating. Because most of the important plot points have been committed to paper, you don't have to worry about remembering every little potential twist and turn, or every detail that was previously swirling around in your head. When you read what you've written, you have a sense of accomplishment that is difficult to describe.
And yet, you still have a nagging emptiness, the sort of feeling that begs the question, "Is that it?" I have no illusions that the story is in its final format in any respect—far from it. Yet because it is written down, I have lost that compulsion to constantly work on it. Not helping things any is that some of my other side projects are at a "lull" stage at the moment, where I have to wait for stuff to arrive in the mail, or I need to research things further. I find myself asking "now what?" a lot.
I've had this feeling before, usually after winning some kind of award or a sports championship. You're incredibly happy for a while, but at the end of the day, what's really changed? What's the next step? There is a disconnect between completing a pretty big goal of mine and the reward I thought I would feel.
I think this is somewhat attributable to two things:
1) The story isn't as good as I want it to be yet. I realize that it's still a rough draft, but somewhere in the back of my mind, I thought maybe I'd be the rare person that just could write something down once, never tweak it, and find it to be genius upon further review. Clearly, I'm not that person! Especially given that this is my first stab at fiction in a long, long time, I should have realized that even the greatest geniuses in the world craft and re-work their stories over and over again to achieve a polished, pleasing result. Because I'm not nearly on that level, I have to work even harder to get there.
2) Even though I have achieved a goal, it's not the goal. So I wrote a rough draft. Though it's a pretty big milestone, especially for someone who would've rather played Civ IV than done something productive with his time even six months ago, I'm not at the destination yet. There's still plenty of road in front of me, and that's just on this one project. Multiply this by the many projects I'm taking on in addition to my job, and it's possible that my brain was becoming overloaded. I think this weekend I was starting to get a bit burnt out. In my mind, if it was so much effort to get through a rough draft of a single short story, how could I ever accomplish the goals that I set out? I lost some of my motivation to write, and fell back into my old routine for a couple of days, playing videogames, and generally moping around in a haze while eating junk food and zoning out.
Then, by reliving this old routine again, I remembered how miserable I was in my old routine. At least when I'm writing, no matter how terrible the end-product can be at times, I'm creating something and that makes me happy. Also, every word that I write is a step toward becoming a better writer, which is essential for many of my goals. Even if my readership thinks this post is the worst piece of shit ever, I'm still becoming a better writer because of it.
The bottom line is once you've set goals, don't give up. It's okay to lapse into your old, tired self every now and then to remind you as to why you're making these changes. There will be days when you question whether it's all really worth it. Now I know, sometimes you just have to push through and do something. Hell, when I sat down to write this post just now, after a weekend of doing nothing, there was a moment where I wanted to just keep playing FreeCell and JSettlers. But now that I have these thoughts on paper, I feel much better. Keep moving forward. In the words of Jim Valvano, "Never give up. Don't ever give up."
Questions? Comments? Would you rather hear about the incredibly boring things I did this weekend? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on twitter @djgelner.