Ah hah. I have identified the problem. I appear to have found another freaking plateau.
I hate plateaus. Sometimes, it seems like I'm never off the damned things. You would think, eighteen years and twelve books and goddess knows how many short stories in to this writing thing, I would have learned a larger percentage of the things there are to know. And yet, here I am, apparently preparing to learn something else.
I hate this part.
Let me 'splain. No, wait. That takes too long.
I sum up.
There's this plateau thing, when you are learning a skill, especially a challenging skill. And they suck, plateaus do. Here's why they suck.
They suck because what happens is, the little twitchy bit at the back of your brain that identifies Things One Could Be Doing Better identifies some things. But it doesn't necessarily choose to inform the front office that that's what's happened. Instead, because it's a toe-sucking little brown-nose, it sets about trying to find some way to streamline the process, to do the thing better, and to make the system run more smoothly so that it can claim credit for the deal and maybe get a promotion to, I don't know, hypothalamus or limbic sysem or something. Better hours, you know.
Anyway, because the backbrain has identified this thing that could be improved, suddenly, that thing is the only goddamned thing it can possibly care about on. It's the tomato-sauce spot on the white tablecloth of its existence, the dandruff flake on the priest's cassock of concentration. Theis lack, this new skill, this thing that the brain is working on so freaking hard it forgets to breathe eats up all the concentration it has, and all the front brain is left with is this nagging sense that things aren't, somehow, good. That there's something indefinable wrong, but the brain cannot, you know, see how to fix it.
And this is what my brain is doing now. Darned brain. Which is why I keep looking at this manuscript and going "But this has no voice, no atmosphere, no tension, no nothing. It's nothing but endless steaming heaps of careful exposition with occasional snarky dialogue, and now a one-paragraph sex scene that took eight pages of setup to get to. The prose is plain, the characters are shallow, and furthermore, did I mention that it's ass?"
And then I send it to people I trust--some of them, oh, professional writers or agents or editors or very sharp critters, and they pat me on the head and say "Bear, dude, it's fine. Here's this little thing that's drafty, and maybe you could frontload the conflict a bit more, but you know, I'm chomping for the next bit, so write a bit faster, could you?"
And I look at them and blink. And suspect they're mollycoddling me. Or potentially attempting to decoy me into complacency, in an attempt to, yanno, open out Bantam's publishing list a little. Hypothetically speaking.
But no, they mean it, and I'm on crack. Because no, what I'm getting on the page isn't bad at all, but what's going on is that the book I am capable of writing doesn't match the book in my head, because my backbrain has kicked up this perfectionist ur-book, this book of unachievable perfection, this book so good the dragons are likely to fly off the page if I accidentally give them eyespots...
And the thing is, when I go back and look at this in four months, it'll probably look okay. And I won't be able to tell the difference between the spots that were written in blood dipped from the droplets forming on my forehead, and the bits that I wrote giggling over how cool they are.
It'll be the best book I could write at the time I wrote it, just like all of them are. It won't be perfect, and it won't be as good as the standard I hold myself to, and it won't be as good (I hope!) as the book I write two years from now. And there will be people who hate it, and people who love it, and I'll have to pick which ones to listen to. And it won't measure up even remotely against the books that I'm measuring it against in my head, or if it does, I won't be able to see that, because I'll be too acquainted with its guts and blood to see any of the mystery of its existence and accomplishment.
But it will be the very very best that I can do.
That's daunting. But also necessary.
And so it goes. And if we have a tendency to hold ourselves to an impossible standard, well, it keeps life from getting boring. And I suppose that's cool, really. There's more honor in over-reaching and failing with ambition, than in limited success. And if we measure our goals by the best of the best, at least we're unlikely to run out of challenges.
Although, of course, ideally one would prefer to succeed with ambition. But, yanno. *g*