Too Many Tennis Balls
"But what if it was a big f-in waste of time," my friend asked. We're on the phone. She's unsure whether or not she's doing what she should be doing. Sound familiar?
A professor once told me we're like a dog with too many tennis balls before him. Long gone are the days of "dad was a farmer and thus I am a farmer." We're often told we can doing. We can be anything. Sky isn't even the limit anymore in this age of space exploration. Sometimes all the options can feel overwhelming. Grass is Always Greener syndrome sets in and those tennis balls begin to pile up.
That looks fun. Ohhh, I could see myself doing that. But maybe THAT'S what I should be doing. To infinity and beyond.
Then there's the fear that we're wasting our time. Carpe diem and you've got this one life live it and the innumerable photos out there with out-of-context "inspirational" quotes posted below them start to feel like a whip. What if I'm not doing the right thing? What if over the last month, year, decade, half century I was doing the wrong thing and all that time has been misspent.
I Threw Half of It Away
SO. I've been working on THE BOOK for three years now. Last February, I finished it. I called my friends and family. We're getting drinks. We're celebrating. I'm sending THE BOOK off to my ideal agent and she's gonna sign on and we're gonna find the most baller publisher and I'm gonna be rolling in da monies.
Four of my top eight agents wrote back. Things needed to change. Big things.
I spent the summer in denial. I had finished it. The book was done. There was no way I was going back into the cave. YOU CAN'T MAKE ME.
I became sulky whenever I thought about THE BOOK and didn't look at it again until September. Okay, sulky is an understatement. My husband read it and offered keen feedback that wasn't THIS IS PERFECT and I drank a bottle of wine. I climbed rocks, drank more wine, contemplated going back to school for a PhD and becoming a professor of history.
When I did return to the manuscript, I realized everything the agents had said, everything my husband had recommended in fear of his own life, had been true. I'm rewriting the first half of the book. Nearly 50,000 words will be tossed.
Now, to put that into a currency non-writer folk can relate to, I average about 2,000 words a week. Sometimes I feel electric and spew out 5,000, sometimes I slog through a meager 500. But with that average of 2,000 words a work, 50,000 words equals about 25 weeks of work. That's one week shy of half a year.
Half a year of work was "wasted."
But hold that line. Without those 50,000 words, I'd wouldn't know my characters as well as I do now. I wouldn't have figured out where the story came from and where it needed to go. I wouldn't have internalized the classic creative writing adage "show, don't tell" to the extent I have now.
Life's 50,000+ Words
There's a lot of 50,000 word stories out there in the world. Often times it's way more than half a year of effort. Sometimes it's thirty years of marriage. Or a PhD whose biggest use in life was as shreds of diploma for kindling.
We just never know if one tennis ball will be flat. But we bite in anyways, hoping for the best. And from my experience of throwing half a book away, I know the time spent to write it wasn't wasted effort. Rather, it has helped me in finding the best version of the book. In writing, in life, nothing is wasted; all effort builds into being the best version of ourselves.
In Summary: Five Things I Learned From Tossing Half THE BOOK
And when it's time to fold them, i.e. those chapters, that friendship, the job, etc.., be prepared to suffer. Sorry. That's just how it is. And try not to rush through the this-hurts-process, pushing it down so it can return as a three headed slime monster ready to eat all bystanders.
2. If you're writing a book, I recommend not telling anyone it's done until you have the publishing contract in hand. Get a drink to celebrate everyone's effort in life. Like, weekly. But hold off on The Book is Done Shibang until the curvy lady sang and you've got a launch date planned.
3. If you're an inspirational quote poster, stop. Please. You're stressing me out.
4. Sometimes you need time away from something to know whether or not it's for you. In the case of my book, it took a summer away to gain clarity and know the difference between necessary material and shit that needed to go, stat.
5. When you're doing something that you're not sure you should be, try to revise the negative "wasted time" narrative. Maybe you won't use those words in the final story. Maybe you won't end up in that relationship in ten years. If we can be kind to ourselves now, I'm sure our future selves will be thankful.
Because if there's any effort that's wasted effort, it's the time we spend beating ourselves up for shoulda coulda wouldas.