My new novel, the one I’ve started during NaNoWriMo, has occupied much more of my time and thoughts than I ever expected when I started planning in August. It bookends my sleeping hours, and threads its way through my days, no matter where I am or what I’m doing.
Have you ever caught someone staring at you strangely while you chow down at your local restaurant? Well, not that I want to make you paranoid or anything, but they may just be taking mental notes for the novel that waits for them at home.
Now it seems this whole unnervingly compulsive thing is a part of something much bigger, and it’s got nothing to do with the word count (50,000 words by November 30th is now within reach).
Internal editors are powerful. They can weigh so heavily that writing even 100 words in a day can be a reach. “NaNo” was to be my cure, an exercise in shutting that nasty thing down. Mission accomplished – no easy feat in a battle waged since high school. (At my age, that’s a long, long fight.)
So, “Yay!”, right? Only now there’s a new affliction, and I’ve got a good dose of it – introducing “Sh*tty First Draft Syndrome”. Or, “SFDS”.
How Do You Know If You Have SFDS?
You will experience at least one, if not all, of these symptoms repeatedly and without warning:
1. Obsession. You know it’s not perfect and you constantly ask yourself how you could make it better, especially while you’re “life-ing” (a.k.a. showering, toileting, eating, talking, sleeping, walking the dog, etc …)
2. Overwhelm. You feel a nasty tightness in your belly whenever you think about how much you’ll have to rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite … reminiscent of the myth of Sisyphus.
3. Panic. This one comes on the heels of #2. Will it will ever be good enough?!?
4. Hyperbole. This typically follows #3. It sounds like this, and it can get pretty dramatic: “I’ll never be able to do it!” “What was I thinking?” “This is a pile of crap!”
5. Envy. To find your calm center, you turned to something that’s always helped: you curled up to read a good book. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but now you realize how much better it is than yours will ever be. (Note the remnants of #4.) How did the author do that?!? Why can’t I do that?!?
If I could come up with two more, it would be like a writer’s version of the seven deadly sins.
Usually, I’m a natural remedy kind of girl. Herbs, vitamins, yoga, meditation, and sometimes just a good walk, typically do the trick for me. On the odd occasion that I turn to drugs, it’s because I’m desperate.
Don’t get excited. Dropping the hyperbole for just one moment, I’m really not that desperate. As much as writers have a history of self-medication, I’m not going there.
So what can we do?
1. Serve. Remember the real reason why you’re writing, and hopefully it’s about more than word count. Anne Lamott and Jeff Goins reminded me, in back-to-back fashion, on my Facebook feed this morning. Thanks to them both.
2. Appreciate. This often results from #1. Be thankful for the gifts you have to offer others and the opportunity you’ve been given to offer them.
3. Be Present. This is timeless wisdom, literally, and can be a side-effect of #2. Consider where you are now, rather than agonizing about where you think you should be somewhere down some nonexistent road.
4. Self-Compare. I can’t say it any better than this:
“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” ~ Steve Furtick
I mean, really, how silly is it for me to compare my sh*tty first draft with someone else’s published book?
But, if I compare where I am to where I was? Wow! Have I ever come a long way! (Your turn now.)
5. Get back to work. That’s the bottom line. Immerse yourself in words, embrace your characters and explore their worlds … just write. It’s funny, but the very thing that creates the space for SFDS to spread is also what will cure it.
Have you ever suffered from SFDS? Is there a symptom or treatment that I failed to mention? I would love to hear about it, so please share in the comments below.