This post originally appeared on my tinyletter, Where is my Mind?
I got an email the other day from a reader who had found some of my posts and wrote to tell me how much they resonated with them. They are also a writer and thinking of graduate school and wanted to know how I managed to do it all. Here’s what I said:
Thanks for reaching out! I’m glad the pieces resonated with you. It’s been a long, strange journey for me. I have written in fits and starts over the years. There was a great outpouring on my blog, and then dry spells that lasted a lot longer than I would like. I’m in one of them right now, even with a ton of projects I *should* be working on. But I’ve always loved to write, I’ve always written, I’ve always had to write, to a certain extent. So I made time. I woke up early, I stayed up late, I hid in my basement, I put off doing other things so I could write. I wrote in bursts and starts and on anything and anywhere I was. I’m terrible at editing, however, which is the harder part of writing (the part I can currently avoiding). I have an incredibly supportive family who know how important writing is to me, and a community around me that encourage me and read me and value my voice, which keeps me going. Writing never goes away. It has always come back to me, come back for me. That’s not to say that it hasn’t been hard, that I haven’t cried or forced myself sometimes, or failed (I’ve written some real crap). But I keep at it. It’s been the one constant in my life, the thing I have always done. I can’t imagine NOT writing. So I write. I know that’s probably not helpful to you, but that’s the best I can do.
It’s incomplete, to be sure. And I cannot emphasize how much I hate editing. I am truly terrible at it. Blame it on the ADHD; I can hyperfocus when I write, but I cannot bring myself to edit and revise. It just isn’t how I’m wired.
(That’s not to say that someone with ADHD couldn’t be a good editor, if that is what they can hyperfocus on. I’m just saying that that ain’t me.)
I’ve been reading a lot about ADHD in women, and one of the interesting things is that ADHD women tend to try to be perfectionists, to overcompensate for the disaster that is our internal lives. I never, never had that. Ever. I am so far from seeking perfection; I’m barely seeking good enough. And if there is one reason I have been successful (or at least productive) it’s because I believe in good enough. I never cared about having the highest grades in school, as long as they were good enough to keep swimming. The dissertation was good enough. The MA was good enough. The final papers were good enough. My blog posts were good enough. So I hit submit and publish and share, etc, because, fuck it, they were good enough.
My son and I share this approach to life. One day, driving home from one of his friend’s elaborately organized birthday parties, he turned to me and said, “That was fun, but I never want a party like that. It was too much work.” That’s excellent news son, because I am your mother and I will never be throwing a party like that. But I digress.
This good enough approach makes editing so much harder, because I think most of the time my writing is, well, good enough. I hate slowing down and seeing all the ways that my writing isn’t. Or even that I have to care enough to make it better. I’m editing a book of essays, a collection of my old blog posts. I thought it was good enough. My editor thinks it can be great.
I’ve had many teachers in my life who told me I could be great if I just applied myself. I could get into the complex reason why, as a teen, I didn’t care about being great (it was the 90s; no one in my family particularly cared, and in fact told me daily how useless I was so why bother; I really just wanted to be normal), but there were plenty of teachers and professors who would shake their head at my perceived wasted talent. Now, there were classes where I could be brilliant, but I had to care enough to try. But good enough in those courses was good enough for me.
This book, it could be great. My editor was saying that to me to be encouraging, unlike my teachers who would often say it with a sigh. But I have to get over being ok with good enough. Good enough, though, has gotten me this far. Good enough, in a lot of ways, saved my life. Maybe I’m scared of being great? Maybe I am as lazy as everyone always said I was. Maybe it’s the ADHD making it so hard to focus long enough on re-reading and revising and editing. Maybe its all of these things.
This book…this book means the world to me. I’ve always wanted to be a published writer (look, I get that I am a published writer, but try telling my mom that blog posts count – print is not dead). I write because I don’t know how not to write. I want to be read because I want to make a connection with someone, somewhere so that they feel less alone. I saw a meme, well, a t-shirt slogan shared as a meme, saying: Be the Woman you needed as a Girl. This is the book I needed when I was a grad student. I wrote the blog that I needed to write because no one else wrote it. I am making it into a book because no one else has written it yet.
My editor thinks I can be great and I believe her and I care about this book. Great could be amazing. Great could fail immensely. Daring to even pitch and send off the manuscript was brave. The kind of bravery and self-compassion and patience and forgiveness I need to edit this work is daunting. Overwhelming. Telling someone with ADHD to just do it doesn’t help (message I have to remember when dealing with my kids…). I have it up by my monitor, waiting for me to make changes.
I felt like I wrote all the things this summer, and I am exhausted. But the work is just starting. It’ll get done, it’s just going to take time.
That’s got to be good enough.