I wasn't always this way. I don't think I was, anyway.
I have vivid memories of getting cross-stitch kits from Wal-Mart when I was a kid and meticulously working on them until the very last stitch. I started reading books and then, in short order, finished them. I persevered through crossword puzzles and brain teasers and exquisitely complicated math problems until the very end.
But then, at some point after I became an adult and got busy, after I had kids and got even busier, my husband came up with a nickname for me. Eighty-percent Kadilak.
Oh, my. It's embarrassing to even write those words. It feels indicative of some shortcoming of mine, the inability to see something through from start to finish. In reality, it's more of a commentary on our times and the constant barrage of priorities I've got coming at me with no real means to sort them out.
Regardless of the reason, without meaning to, I somehow turned into a person who gets really excited about something and throws all my energy into it for a while, and then gets distracted by some other new, shiny object and casts it aside. Kind of like how I'll get really into cleaning the bathroom and get most of the way finished with it, and then have to go attend to the dishes and call the bathroom with a clean shower and toilet but a dirty counter good enough for now.
Back in 2018, I started writing a book. No, not The Other Women. Another book. It's called The Space Between, and it took up all my mental energy for several months. I loved that book. I loved the characters, I loved the story, and I loved the setting (a lot of it takes place on a college campus in the 90s). I worked on it on the train to and from work, and I worked on it after my kids went to bed for the night. I talked about it and sent sample chapters to practically everyone I know.
Then I got this other idea and followed it away from dear Evan and Audrey and toward this new dystopian utopia I'd imagined.
I drafted TOW over six weeks at the end of 2018. Start to finish, I worked on that story every single day. Even the days when I was sick in bed with strep throat, or norovirus, both of which happened that month. Even the days when I was in Disney World with my family, I managed to get a few hundred words down. It was hard work, and it took a lot of redirection, but at the end of those six weeks, I typed the magical words, "The End," and I felt a rush like I never had. I'd finished it! I'd written an entire book!
I'm going to have to pause for a second here and say that I was always a terrible student of the writing process. As a perfectionist, I refused to believe in revisiting an assignment after it was finished. I was perfectly capable of doing it right the first time, and my grades were evidence of this point - I never made any changes to my work after that first draft, and I got As all around.
The first draft of The Other Women was not A-level work. If I'd published it as-is, I can imagine all the one-star reviews it would have earned, and for good reason. There was so much missing.
I spent another couple months revising. Or editing. I'm still not sure I know the difference. I had no idea what I was doing. I took a novel writing class, where I learned to be a thousand-times better writer, and during which I did another round of edits. I had a baby, and there was a pandemic, and still there I was, writing and revising and editing. I wrote "The End" at least four or five times during this process, and each time the phrase came with a mix of elation and disappointment. I was so proud to have finished something - but it seemed like I'd finished it over and over again, and I still wasn't really done.
When would the real end come?
And then I talked to a writer friend, Peter, who gave me some advice I think every writer should keep in mind - especially the ones who think it's possible for every single word of their work to be perfect. He said, "Everything you write has the potential to become an eternal work in progress. Don't let it! It's like cutting hair, you can't keep cutting it."
All those edits had made the work better, and there are still improvements to be made, which is why I'm going through one last round of minor edits before calling the manuscript done-done and leaving it the heck alone until the inevitable professional edits that will be required if I sell it to a publisher.
I've gone from refusing to take a second look at my work to being unable to move on to a new project because this one's not perfect. From abandoning projects to sticking with this one for perhaps too long at the expense of other work I could be doing (and neglecting some ongoing projects like my blog, my articles, and my newsletter as I fuss over the right word to describe the shape of someone's face). At some point I have to find the balance and confidence to stand behind my work and move on.
Thanks to Peter, I'm almost there.