I went to a party with a lot of writers the other night. We talked about writing, and how many drafts it takes to get to something that is finished and maybe, hopefully ready to be published. The general consensus: so fucking many.
The piece I'm working on now, for example, is only 4,000 words, but I've been slogging through it for nearly three months. Little by little I am reworking, rethinking, revising, reframing, polishing, making progress. Bit. By. Bit.
But it's frustrating to spend such a long time on one relatively short piece of writing. I don't think there is much I can do to make it go faster, especially considering I am still trying to figure out where my own mind is with regard to the subject.
For me, what makes me think I have a compelling idea for an essay is the way a certain topic will brew inside my head. I started thinking about this one in August or so, and then it marinated for a few months before I even began writing it. I had some things I knew I wanted to say when I started out, but I didn't know exactly where I was going with it overall, and though I've made some decisions, I'm still spinning. Second guessing. Calling bullshit. Questioning everything. By now I've been working on the piece for so long I'm not even sure it's something worth saying to begin with. And then there is the fact that because it's a personal essay, I'm revealing details about my own life. (In this case, they are about some not so good times.) Am I comfortable sharing said details? Are the details themselves too much? What am I gonna do with this piece once it is finished? Send it out, sure, but to where? I have some ideas, but I lack conviction there too.
In short, I find it easy to get lost in my own work, and the questions surrounding it. I'm operating under the assumption that as long as I keep writing regularly and trying to get better and better at the whole process, this will be less of an issue, but sometimes the anxiety, the uncertainty about whether I have any idea what the fuck I'm doing overwhelms me. (This is true not just in writing, but in other pursuits too - I'm a great one for stopping myself in the middle of an enterprise I've spent crazy amounts of energy on and nearly throwing the whole thing out.) The answer is that I probably don't, but I need to do it anyway. You can't let that stop you.
And clearly I'm not going to solve this anytime soon. But you know what helps me feel less anxious in the meantime? Manicures. Yes, manicures. I don't especially enjoy the act of getting them (though yes, the massage part is nice), but I am thorougly in love with the result. In a world where I am constantly second guessing myself and everything I do, I know for certain that I always love a professionally filed and polished fingernail that is surrounded by a smooth cuticle. When I'm properly manicured, I can look down at my hands and think, there, I am a self-possessed woman, a woman who takes care of herself. I know what I'm doing in that aspect. And sometimes that makes all the difference.