What to do when you're annoyed by your best work.
When you write your best scenes, do they simply come to you as gifts, out of your control? Do you ever find yourself thinking, “Well, that just came out of nowhere!” Does this ever annoy you? Be honest.
This is what happens to me: I’m trying to work on a new story. There’s never enough time – I struggle to prioritize my writing. But it feels bad to not be writing, so I finally sit down and force myself to work. This tends to make me feel stressed out.
But I keep going. The next day, I sit down again, and I get past feeling stressed, because at least I’m writing now. But then I start to feel that what I’m writing isn’t very good. I’m not feeling it. It doesn’t feel 100% honest or true. This makes me feel depressed.
A few days go by, and I keep writing. I have a couple of spells where I actually feel free on the page. The writing isn’t so difficult. It’s coming more easily, and I’m not even thinking about it that much. It might even feel easy or fun to write.
Then, I write a scene – let’s say it’s a scene with a girl in a bookstore who has gold ballet flats and an intriguing accent. And I like this scene. I actually like it! It’s pretty damn good!
Almost immediately, I think: Who wrote that? It’s so good. I don’t know where that came from – it’s not mine.
We are so quick to own our own work when we think it’s bad. But as soon as we write something we think is good, we disown it. What is that about?
Here’s what I know: the good scene that arrives out of the blue is very much linked to my commitment to my writing. Sitting down and doing the work even when I resist it -- this is key. When I can embrace that challenge, my work comes more easily.
Writing regularly, not indulging your critical mind, setting the intention to write with clarity -- all of this work is setting the scene for gift scenes to arrive in your mind. They are yours. Sure, they come to you in a different way than other things you can control, like your gym schedule, the ingredients in your sandwich, the way you organize your bookshelves.
But this is art we’re talking about, and art has its special tendencies.
The way you can keep your art coming to you: practice, intention, care and openness. Give it space to exist, and it will be there. Learn to embrace what is out of your control. You want to cultivate that feeling: it is rare and special. It is your art coming to meet you.
Your work is to write it down when it comes.