My Writerly OCD, Let Me Show It To You

I write my first drafts longhand on my bed. I transcribe them to my computer and revise and rework them on my laptop while sitting on my upstairs sofa.

This week we’ve been having a couple new floors installed upstairs which means my bedroom and the sitting room upstairs were off limits. Our floors are in now, but the sititng room is still filled with things which belong in the kitchen. Things like our fridge, the stove, the table — you get the idea. Jo has to work today and I’m not quite uber enough to move those things myself, but I also have a non-fiction column to revise before tomorrow.

So here I sit. On the sofa downstairs, trying to revise this. I am failing. I’m failing because it’s not right. The light is wrong, the tension in the sofa is wrong, the height of the sofa is wrong. It’s just wrong.

Wah!

Fuck Plan B

Amanda Palmer made a commencement speech to the New York Institute of Art’s class of 2011. It is very much worth watching, or reading the transcript if you prefer. In it she talks about the Fraud Police. You know that feeling you have occasionally (or constantly) that you’re a fraud and someone is going to find you out? Yeah. That. That is something I can totally relate to — I bet we all can. I watched her speech and I thought ‘I ought to blog about that’ and maybe I will someday, but not today.

Not today because of three little words at the end of her blog (well, two words and a letter). Those words? Fuck plan B.

I <3 them.

For me they sum up a lot of things I find myself telling other writers, telling myself. Unfortunately, they are also very much open to interpretation, so let me tell you a little story about how I interpret them.

As far back as I can remember I’ve wanted to ‘be a writer’. Now, that definition of ‘be a writer’ was not ‘someone who writes’. It encompassed a whole lot more than that. It meant publication, it meant people liking what I wrote, it meant writing as my full-time job. I wrote all the time in school. All the time. My friends (and even the other students who weren’t my friends) and my teachers said I was a good writer, they said I had “talent”. I believed them, but I didn’t. I tried, in high school, to get published. I submitted a couple (terrible) stories to magazines. They were rejected. I said all the right things about those rejections, “It’s not me they are passing on, it’s the story.” “It’s a good story, it’s just not right for them.” “Get back on the horse.” Etc. etc. I even sent some of them back out again, and got some more rejections.

In the end, the only thing I published prior to 2006 were letters to the editor in my local paper and one in Canadian Gardening that was mostly fiction though I pretended otherwise. I was pretty pleased with that silly letter getting published though, don’t get me wrong. I was willing to take my victories where they came.

They didn’t come often enough though, so I became discouraged. I gave up on writing as a career and I moved on to Plan B.

Now, there was no pivotal moment, no light switch that got flicked and made me say ‘No, I’m not going to do this, I’m going to do that’ but it happened. Slowly, insidiously, it happened. I became certain my dreams, my Plan A, was impossible so I moved on.

Oh, how I regret that now.

In 2006 I was re-assessing my career, my life. I was looking for a new direction. My husband, Jo, said to me “Well, if you could do anything in the world what would it be?”

“Writing. But that’s impossible.” I replied.

“Why?” he asked.

I had no answer.

That was a turning point for me. Now I’m living my Plan A. It’s taken time (oh, how I bemoan the lost years when I could have been honing my craft instead of writing it off as impossible) and it’s tough. I still feel like a fraud, and I struggle, but it beats the hell out of Plan B. Hope beats surrender.

So Fuck Plan B.

I don’t mean that people should be completely irrational. You shouldn’t give up your fantastic job to go be a starving artist if you’ve never picked up a paint brush before. You shouldn’t drop out of school to make a living writing poetry. But you should aim high. Don’t give up on yourself or your dreams. You should start learning to paint and practicing on weekends. You should start writing poetry in the evening after you’re done your homework instead of watching American Idol. Fuck Plan B doesn’t get to be an excuse for doing something foolish, but it can be fantastic motivation for doing something awesome.