On my computer there is a folder labeled “Short Stories”. In that folder lie 20 or so opening paragraphs to short story ideas I’ve had the last few months. They range from a delusional bus ride, a sleep-running businessman and my dog’s neurotic nature when he can’t find his toys. The one thing they have in common is that they’re all unfinished.
I’ve always been one to shoot for the moon and be really pissed off if I land amongst stars. It’s a problem I think most young writers and artists in general go through, setting lofty goals for ourselves and getting angry when they aren’t met.
My problem is that I want to be published in the New Yorker right now. Every time I start a story I feel I must write something that will be heralded for years to come, otherwise it is a complete failure––hence the 20 unfinished stories. My problem extends beyond short stories too. In school I slave over essays that take others a few hours, with the delusional goal that my essay will be the best essay my professor has ever read––every single time. I spend so much time constructing the most captivating introduction imaginable that by the time I get to the substance I’ve forgotten what to say.
I try to deny this compulsive nature at times, chalking it up as an intense drive or ambition. But recently I’ve come to realize what it truly is: a barrier. Aiming too high makes attainable goals seem foggy. I become so distracted by the grand outcome I seek that I lose sight of the small accomplishments I make along the way. Young writers like myself often look for the express lane to success. We forget the most inherent rule in human life, which is that practice makes perfect. The most revered authors didn’t just get there, they practiced their craft––some for a very long time.
Those of us trying to break into this business must realize that every small step is something to build off of, similar to building a brick wall. The wall that I want is a mural with the front page of The New York Times, The New Yorker and a book deal on it. Right now, I’m desperately trying to build that wall, ignoring flaws in it and not worrying about the structure. But I’ve realized that’s the wrong way to go about it. What I should be doing is focusing on each brick, and laying that brick as perfectly as it can be laid until I eventually have my wall. One story at a time.
The lesson I’ve learned, and the one I hope to impart on anyone as compulsive as I am, is that there is no gain in writing with the intention of changing the world with your pen. All it does is create impossible standards and promote a slothful pace. Instead, just write and build from there. Take your time and go after attainable goals, soon enough you’ll be where you want.