Monday, March 22, 2010

Time and Talents

The Manage Your Writing blog has a wise quote up from former M*A*S*H writer Larry Gelbart:
You have to allow yourself the liberty of writing poorly. You have to get the bulk of it done, and then you start to refine it. You have to put down less than marvelous material just to keep going to whatever you think the end is going to be -- which may be something else altogether by the time you get there.
That's something I needed to hear this past weekend. Between work, school, and the responsibilities of fatherhood and husbandhood, my concentrated writing time has gotten reduced to a few hours every Saturday and Sunday. They're precious periods that often end up feeling oddly stressful because of their very scarcity. When the pump's a little dry, it's all too easy to spiral into cannibalistic internal monologues, telling yourself, "You really need to get this right if you're ever going to move on from this project," and, "You know, you should really be able focus a little more than that," and, "It could be that you aren't really cut out for this writing thing after all." Pure silliness, since such self talk not only wastes what time you have, it also relies on that least-objective of observers -- yourself. As Dilbert's Scott Adams notes, we are scarcely the best judges of our own aptitudes:
Any assessment of your own abilities is necessarily polluted by your optimism, your pessimism, your passion, and your everyday delusions. On top of that, you are influenced by other people's opinions of your abilities, and other people are just as clueless as you. ... In summary, the two opinions about your abilities that you should never trust are your own opinions, and the majority's opinions. But if a handful of people who have a good track record of identifying talent think you have something, you just might.
Rather than seeking perfection from the get go, perhaps we ought to allow ourselves some a little license to fail and search out an insightful community that offers both constructive critique and encouragement.

(Picture: CC 2008 by
lrargerich; Hat Tips: Writing, Clear and Simple and Between Two Worlds)


B. Nagel said...

Looks like you and Nathan Bransford are plowing the same field, at least as far as the self-judging thing is concerned.

I have been guilty of being held captive by trepidation, caught in the 'paralysis of analysis.' But, in the immortal words of my buddy Adam H, "You have to power through it."

Unknown said...

And here I've been failing without a license for all these years...

Loren Eaton said...


Funny, I hadn't read that one before. Must check it out after I wade through an inbox full of bills tonight.

I wonder sometimes if self-loathing is just part and parcel for writers. I've been struggling with it from day one.

Loren Eaton said...


Yeah, I never bothered with a license either. They just tax up the wazoo for one, and should you get busted by the IRS, well, it confirms one's sense of failure. It's a win/win!

dolorah said...

You come up with the most amazing quotes Loren. This one is especially timely for me, since I'm really pressuring myself to get a rewrite done on one project, AND write the next scene on the newest.

I think sitting at the original 2300 words for two months is appalling.

Now if you'll excuse me I have to go procrastinate some more by checking out Scattercat's world.


Anne R. Allen said...

I was going to bring up Nathan's blogpost, too. I've been thinking about this since I read his post. He says people who are bad at things think they're great, and people who are really proficient start doubting everything they do. And it's been true for me. When I knew nothing about publishing, I had all the confidence in the world. I got an agent and nearly got a deal with Bantam on the first query. Now I've been doing this for 20 years, I'm terrified every time I send off a query. I know so much more about what can go wrong and how imperfect my work is.

I guess the more wisdom you gain, the more you know how flawed you really are. As Socrates said, "I only know that I know nothing."

Loren Eaton said...


SC's world is both inspiring (he writes an excellent 100-word short every day) and depressing (he has skill to burn, while I struggle like heck with first drafts). His blog is well worth your time.

Loren Eaton said...


Yes, there's truth there, but I wonder how we balance between healthy humility and self loathing. Anne Lamott talks about trying to sort through the delusions of granduer and feelings of worthlessness. It ain't easy to do!

Unknown said...

Ha! You guys! You're making me blush.

(Also, if all of my 'fics are taking place in one unified world, then holy crap is that place screwed up. Wait. I just zinged myself, didn't I?)

Anyway, thus far you've won more recognition and acclaim than I, Loren. Toot your own horn on your own blog, ne?


On topic, a related issue to the expert fallacy is the fact that the only people who have realistic assessments of their own knowledge and ability are those who are clinically depressed. "Normal" people lie to themselves about their own adequacy all the time just to keep sane and functional. Noodle that the next time you need a quick pick-me-up!

(I'd dig up the article/study, but I've got two minutes left on break and I need to 'access the facilities.' Fascinating stuff, though.)