Friday, February 19, 2010

Going for the Gold?

by Barbara D'Amato

I play online games. Even when I should be writing, or paying bills, or cleaning a closet.

One involves shooting colored balls at moving targets. My all-time best in this one is a score of 4400. I was near 4200 this morning when I made a dumb move and the game ended. I was NOT pleased with myself. But I got to thinking, am I enjoying the game less because I make it such a challenge? After all, there is probably a limit to what score I might optimally make, so am I beatying me head aainst the wall?

I do crossword puzzles against time too. And jigsaws.

Why fight it? Who am I competing against? Just myself.

Isn't this like writing?

When I'm working on a book, I find the characters occupy a lot of my thinking, and pace is the aspect I worry about most. But there's always the sneaking question--can I make this book better than the last one?

Once in a while a description or a piece of dialogue is so right that I go "wow." But pretty soon I experience the fear that all the rest of the book may not be as wow.

Of course you are writing your best. Be all you can be, right?

It's yourself you're competing against. You aren't competing against Rex Stout, or trying to out-Wambaugh Wambaugh. [Actually, I did try that once, in GOOD COP BAD COP, and I thought the results weren't too bad, but it was more of an homage than a competition.]

Still we are always competing against ourselves, aren't we? Against books we've written in the past and against what we think we can do now. It's why we try something entirely different now and then, even though we aren't sure we can bring it off.

Writers--do you ever type a page and think "It's perfect. But I'm never going to be able to do better."

If you really believed that the book you just finished was the best you could ever do, would you go on writing?

5 comments:

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Mike Dennis said...

Each time I finish a novel, I think it's the best thing I've ever done UP TILL THEN. I don't ever think it's the best thing I'll ever do. Obsessing over that will drive you crazy if you let it.

Dana King said...

Mike beat me to it, virtually word-for-word. I'm glad it's like that. Not that he beat me (it's not the first time, not that I'm keeping track or anything), but because if writing a perfect anything was possible and I was able to do it, everything after would either be too frustrating, or too boring.

Barbara D'Amato said...

Dana and Mike--I quite agree that you can't be worrying every minute about outdoing yourself. You'd be like the centipede. But don't you stretch yourelf, thinking of doing bigger, better--? And don't you wonder sometimes whether THIS scene is as alive, as wonderful, as you want it to be?

Mike Dennis said...

Barbara--
Making every scene and every line of dialogue as good as I can make it? You bet. And as I said, when I finish that novel, all that fussing over scenes and dialogue will have transformed it into the best novel I have ever written.

Then I start another one, and, because I'm a better writer for having fussed over stuff in my previous novel, the new one will be even better.