Gosh, can you imagine being the author of such a culturally recognisable phrase?
Night has fallen once more. The sun has set (even though the clocks have sprung forward), tea has been brewed and some relaxing music is playing in the background. I read my last blog over three or four times and thought Fuck! How do I encapsulate that same voice a whole month later when I’m a whole month older, a whole month ‘different-er’? This is my ritual for writing this blog post and is, in general, my ritual for writing as a whole. I joke that I am so last minute when it comes to writing monthly blogs (March held even more days than February!) but even that has become something of my ritual. And rituals are important as they help to solidify habits.
My first “real” job with a salary and company mandated holiday limits (seriously guys, the human race is wasting itself in the corporate world) was as a junior project manager for a market research agency. The ethos of the company was “100% Perfect Fundamentals on time, on budget and to the highest standards”. To the more business astute of you, you will recognise that in the project management triangle of time, budget and quality, delivering on all three is actually impossible – something has to give. I guess this company didn’t get the memo, but then neither did I. I was a bright-eyed graduate, hoping to make a good impression (something I later found my personality would get in the way of) and I remember writing that phrase at the top of my notepad.
“100% Perfect Fundamentals”
For the longest time, maybe even up until the beginning of this year, I carried that phrase around with me and applied it to everything I did in life. Was I a perfect employee? A perfect writer? A perfect friend? A perfect dog owner? Every aspect of my identity I would regularly scrutinize for perfection. I enjoy breaking the rules, as it were, but as far as I was concerned, you needed to understand the rules, perfectly, in order to be able to break them.
When it comes to writing, however, there are essentially two phases:
Drafting is about getting it all out; all those swirling thoughts and ideas, reckless characters, unending challenges, whatever! onto the page. Conversely, editing is about getting it right, about fine-tuning the content you’ve got and sculpting it into the finished piece. They are two different disciplines and take two very different frames of mind. Here no doubt, you’ll be able to see the problem. The person striving for perfection straight off the bat is going to have their head in the editing world before they’ve even written anything down.
Existence is superior to perfection.
This mindset, therefore, should and must be overcome. And we (that’s the royal ‘we’ you understand) overcome this by developing new habits.
I was at a party this weekend where one of my friends said, “I have planned out a novel which is something I normally don’t do as normally I just sit, write and then think, shit, this isn’t going anywhere”. What he may or may not have been aware of was his expression of the dichotomy between two writing approaches: ‘The Discovery Writer’ versus ‘The Architect Writer’. The architect writer builds a structure for their world, their story, their novel, and then follows that structure by filling in the different elements with content, all the while knowing where the path is going to lead. This is in opposition to the discovery writer who sits down, not really knowing where the rabbit hole goes but knowing they want to jump in regardless and they then form a structure from what they have discovered. If you would like to see an excellent explanation of this, Brandon Sanderson explores the ideas in his lectures (although sometimes using different terms than ‘Architect’ and ‘Discovery’).
I have always considered myself a discovery writer. To the point that it is actually a part of my identity. Except of course that it is at direct odds with “100% Perfect Fundamentals”. You cannot ‘discover’ perfection (and anyone that tells you they can is a liar and probably just trying to get into your pants). But this is a huge crutch in my writing life and one that leaves me putting off my writing until right now – this final moment.
There was a Ted lecture I watched (when Ted was really in vogue) which really resonated with me because as well as being a discovery writer, I am also wracked with those intense and overwhelming fits of inspiration. Being a discovery writer is in line with this because during those moments I write like a wild cat, and I have no idea where I am going to end up. I bought a gold ink pen just for this, because, hey, what would be the ‘perfect’ tool to reach for in those moments? But this Ted talk resonated because it highlighted the idea that ‘You are never going to feel like it’ and ‘it‘ for me, is writing 80,000 perfect words.
You cannot rely on inspiration alone to be a successful writer. And a successful writer is one who writes, even if it isn’t perfect the first time (or even, ever). So I need to add something to my ritual, sort of like a biscuit to go with my tea, but more useful to the end result. Architects and discovery writers aren’t isolated creatures. They are two extreme ends of a spectrum which I need to move along. So, I have started small. I have planned the structure of this blog (using my ink pen) in order to practise the skills to take onto my other writing projects. These 1000 words were written through intention, not inspiration. Was it an improvement? It doesn’t matter. I am building a habit.
Grammar Task 2
All Grammar removed including line breaks and paragraphs. Taken from two-thirds of the way down chapter two of ‘Heart of Darkness’ by Joseph Conrad
my first interview with the manager was curious he did not ask me to sit down after my twenty mile walk that morning he was commonplace in complexion in features in manners and in voice he was of middle size and of ordinary build his eyes of the usual blue were perhaps remarkably cold and he certainly could make his glance fall on one as trenchant and heavy as an axe but even at these times the rest of his person seemed to disclaim the intention otherwise there was only an indefinable faint expression of his lips something stealthy a smile not a smile I remember it but I can’t explain it was unconscious this smile was though just after he had said something it got intensified for an instant it came at the end of his speeches like a seal applied on the words to make the meaning of the commonest phrase appear absolutely inscrutable he was a common trader from his youth up employed in these parts nothing more he was obeyed yet he inspired neither love nor fear nor even respect he inspired uneasiness that was it uneasiness not a definite mistrust just uneasiness nothing more you have no idea how effective such a a faculty can be he had no genius for organizing for initiative or for order even that was evident in such things as the deplorable state of the station he had no learning and no intelligence his position had come to him why perhaps because he was never ill he had served three terms of three years out there because triumphant health in the general rout of constitutions is a kind of power in itself when he went home on leave he rioted on a large scale pompously jack ashore with a difference in externals only this one could gather from his casual talk he originated nothing he could keep the routine going thats all but he was great he was great by this little thing that it was impossible to tell what could control such a man he never gave that secret away perhaps there was nothing within him such a suspicion made one pause for out there there were no external checks once when various tropical diseases had laid low almost every agent in the station he was heard to say men who come out here should have no entrails he sealed the utterance with that smile of his as though it had been a door opening into a darkness he had in his keeping you fancied you had seen things but the seal was on when annoyed at meal times by the constant quarrels of the white men about precedence he ordered an immense round table to be made for which a special house had to be built this was the stations mess room where he sat was the first place the rest were nowhere one felt this to be his unalterable conviction he was neither civil nor uncivil he was quiet he allowed his boy an overfed young negro from the coast to treat the white men under his very eyes with provoking insolence