What’s in a Name?

Maybe I’m part Fey, or maybe I’m Rumpelstiltskin’s great-granddaughter, but just like those creatures of myth, I believe names are extremely important.

Or maybe it simply comes from having been graced with a somewhat unusual name myself. Wait, did I say graced? I meant cursed. Doomed to endure countless mutilations and variations including “Keisha,” “Kissah,” “Kye-sha” and my favorite, just plain old “Lisa,” because obviously that “K” has to be a typo. There was even an unfortunate incident with a telephone set-up person, where, after explaining the spelling of my name as “Lisa with a K,” he responded with, “ok, Ms. Withakay, will there be anything else?” Seriously! No joke. I actually do give my name as Lisa now, at fast food places or anywhere they’ll be calling it out randomly, just because it’s easier. As long as I remember I’m answering to that. And who knows, Lisa Withakay might just make an excellent pen-name someday. Everyone needs a good alias, right?

For the record, my name is pronounced “Key-saw.” Difficult, isn’t it? But I respond to pretty much any variation thereof, as evidenced above. I think I already mentioned that it’s Russian for kitten, didn’t I? Well, it is, as confirmed by several people I’ve met who actually speak Russian. And no, I’m not Russian, nor is anyone in my family tree that I’m aware of. German, English, a little Scottish, yes. Russian? Sadly, no.

So how did I end up with this charming pain-in-my-ass name?  Let’s just say this is what happens when soon-to-be parents stumble on those lovely little baby name books in the bookstore. And trust me, after seeing the other options my parents had circled, I ended up with the best one. As much as it has irritated me over the years.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand– names.

Finding a title for a work can be the hardest part, whether it be a novel, a masterpiece of art, or a choreographed routine. It’s one of the first impressions your audience will get, so it has to accomplish a lot of things. Summarize the plot, theme, and overall tone; provide something catchy that will make your work stand out among the masses; create a lasting impression that’s easily remembered; build a sense of mystery and intrigue about your work’s content. And all in just a few short words. No wonder many people find the process of naming their piece a daunting task.

For me, this is a critical part of the creative process, and often, I have a title before I have anything else. Naming something is my favorite part. It’s the moment when whatever I’m working on becomes a thing of substance, its existence clicking into place like the final piece of a puzzle. It’s no longer just a vague concept floating around in my head– it’s a declaration of identity. And I rarely change a title once I’ve found it, whether it’s on a story, an image, or a character.

Others aren’t so lucky, struggling under the burden of working titles or simply leaving something as “Untitled.” And still others completely miss the mark, dubbing their spectacular work with a lame, uninspired, or just plain retarded title that dooms it to obscurity forever. They say you shouldn’t judge a book (or artwork, or choreography, etc) by its cover, but the truth is, everyone does. And the title is as crucial to your work’s success as the rest of the packaging. How often have you picked a book off the shelf solely for its title and cover art? Or browsed Itunes and found new artists solely because their album covers looked cool? Or rented a movie because it had an interesting name? And how often have you done the opposite? Scoffing at something because of a lame title, stupid cover, or lackluster blurb? I think you see my point.

So what’s in a name? Everything!

Which is why you should spend as long as it takes to create the perfect title for your piece, whatever it may be. I’m afraid there aren’t any sure-fire techniques I can share for how best to choose a title, though. I’m sure there are others out there who would gladly try to tell you the correctness of their own process, but I believe creativity is too personal for that, and every artist, dancer, martial artist, writer, musician, has to find their own way of doing things. What I can offer you is a succinct version of how I go about it.

I remember reading somewhere, (and I apologize that I don’t have a direct quote for you), during my research of Disney’s story process, that they try to sum up each film’s plot in a single sentence. Being the complete fangirl I was back then, I thought that was a brilliant idea, and adopted it for myself. It’s actually a lot harder than it seems to boil a complicated premise down to a simple sentence, but eventually you get good at it. How does this pertain to titles? Well, once you can summarize your work with a single phrase (and this generally works best for writing, although it can apply to the concepts of art and choreography too), you can take it one step further and chop it down to only a few words. Something that single-handedly conveys the heart of your piece to your audience. Sometimes that will be the name of your main character, sometimes it will be an integral theme central to your work, sometimes it will be a metaphor summarizing the subtler messages you’re trying to convey. There are no hard and fast rules. The important thing is that it be inseparable with the larger work.

As an example, I’ll dissect the names of my three published short stories and show you the thought process behind them.

The Bardach” was named for the race Amyli (Nameless) comes from. They’re a central key to that world because they have the link to its gods. All the conflict revolves around them fighting against the Mages who want to destroy that link and corrupt the gods for their own purposes. Since they are essentially the heart of the story, it seemed fitting to name it after them. Plus it’s a short, interesting title that might make someone click on the link, buy the magazine, or read the excerpt.

Spinning” has a more complicated meaning. It refers to the sect of people Taylor becomes part of, but it also refers to the ability to morph time that they all have, so named because it literally spins the world around them. It also refers to the emotional turmoil Taylor feels throughout, as his world is completely turned upside down, inside out, and sideways. He’s left with a confusing mess of half-answered questions, and is emotionally off-kilter for the entire story– spinning as it were. It’s also a subtle tip-of-the-hat to the inspiring song by Jack’s Mannequin of the same name. Most of these connotations a reader wouldn’t grasp until after reading the piece, (and some they might never know), but it adds layers to the title for them to discover along the way. Plus, it’s short, to the point, and hopefully mysterious enough to draw someone in.

Confessions” has a dual meaning. It actually does refer to the characters confessing hidden truths, so it’s perhaps one of the more literal titles I’ve used. The thing that makes it interesting is its mysteriousness.  Its vague meaning hopefully makes a reader want to know what’s being confessed and would get them to buy the story to find out. But it’s multi-layered enough that they’ll get the full meaning only at the end. I can’t disclose much about this one without giving away spoilers, so I’ll just say that the obvious confession (Constia’s) isn’t the only one the reader comes across. Plus “Confessions” seemed like the perfect title for a story about losing faith.

Now, my process may not be your process, and that’s perfectly ok. The goal here was to get you to reconsider your own creative process in regards to titles. The lesson in the above examples is that what appear to be simple one or two word statements, are actually layered with meaning and perfectly embody the message of the piece. Which is the ultimate goal of a title, isn’t it? (If you answered “no” to that, then I think you seriously need to reappraise your opinions of titles, and why did you bother to read this whole huge novel of a post? Just saying.) However you go about finding your names, the important thing to remember is that they are just that– important. Don’t spend months or years of your life on a project and then give it a half-assed name. You poured part of yourself into that thing! Give it enough respect to name it accordingly. You’ll be surprised how effective a marketing tool a simple title can be. It may just be the difference between massive success, and complete failure. And I don’t know about you, but when so much hangs on a single decision, I think it deserves a few extra moments of my time to get right.


The Devil’s in the Details

This is a pet peeve of mine, so get ready for a hailstorm of snide.

The devil’s in the details. I’m sure I’m not the only one to have heard this charming colloquialism. And I’m sure there’s a formal explanation of its meaning somewhere. But my interpretation is this: it’s the tiny details that will be the hardest, driving you absolutely insane in the pursuit of perfecting them all and ultimately landing you in the looney bin, where you’ll write them continuously on the pristine white walls until you run out of space.

Basically, it means research, people!

This is important in all genres of writing, but especially in Urban Fantasy, whose very existence relies on believably entwining the impossible with the world we know so well. The difference between a decent fantasy story and a great fantasy story is the details–those little things that ground it in reality. And I’m seeing more and more (mostly amateur) writers who seem to be forgetting that fact.

Personally, I spend far too much time invested in chasing down those small, intricate details. Often longer than I actually spend writing. (Ok, so maybe I also kind of use it as an excuse to procrastinate, but that’s not the point!) For example, one of my newest plot bunnies, (definition blogged about here), required that I road-trip down to California just so I could pinpoint the exact number of the emergency call box featured in the story’s location. Alright, alright, to be fair, I road-trip to Cali quite frequently, but this time I paid special attention to those lovely blue, creepily positioned call boxes. And before I resorted to putting another 1000 miles on my poor over-used car’s odometer and sinking another $300 into the gas tank, I researched the heck out of them. Which means I can now proudly say that I know far more than I ever wanted to about how those emergency beacons of hope actually work. A fact which may or may not come in handy while writing the story and hopefully will never be needed in life.

That dedication to detail isn’t exclusive to that one plot bunny either. My main work-in-progress has had me learning more random factoids about Portland, OR than I’ve managed to collect in three years of adjacent residency. Why do I bother? Because those little details make it feel real, while so many other aspects are clearly not. Also, so natives of the locale don’t bust me for not having done my research. Because, let’s face it, we’re a nit-picky bunch, and nothing makes us feel more smug and superior than being able to point out when an author got something wrong.

It’s not only to avoid the humiliation of being caught taking a few liberties on reality though. Attention to detail will elicit squeals of delight from a reader’s inner-fangirl/fanboy when they discover the exact location their favorite book took place. I’m sure anyone in Forks, WA can attest to this. They overhauled the entire town to capitalize on that tendency. So it’s just as much about providing a solid and memorable experience for your readers as it is preserving your integrity as an author.

As a reader, my suspension of disbelief can only be pushed so far. If I read a story where the lead character is so impossibly invincible that they’ve taken multiple stab wounds to the chest, been shot 42 times and are not only still alive, but kicking ass; I’m out,  you’ve lost me. If you include a piece of outdated technology and use it in a way everyone who’s ever owned said device knows is physically impossible and ridiculous–Sayonara! If your characters are as real as a cardboard cut-out, bring on the eye-rolls. If your female characters are the literary equivalent of a pin-up spread, don’t even bother writing the next sentence. And if your setting is so obviously a real place, but it feels like that moment in video games where you can walk through walls, fall into trees, and randomly float into space, you’re done. You need to go back to the drawing board and spend more time in the world building phase. Trust me.

That’s not to say that I’m an overly critical reader. I’m actually not. I’ll read just about anything, in any genre. I thoroughly enjoyed the Twilight Saga, devoured The Hunger Games, and read a plethora of cheesy romances. (Cue the horrified gasps from the literature community.) So you can’t say that I’m being an elitist snob. I just expect that there be an aspect of believability included. And I don’t think that’s an unusual request.

Not everything in a story has to be 100% accurate. My point is simply that you need to spend the time to make it feel like a fully realized, substantiated place. The geography of your fantasy land should feel as real as the world around us, not as squishy as a mud-puddle. Magic is great. But it should have rules. Just like real life physics dictate the laws of gravity, motion, and pretty much everything, magic should have some kind of understandable parameter too. How you define those laws is entirely up to you. Just make sure they’re consistent. Got aliens? No problem, just make sure they feel like something that could exist anatomically. And don’t even get me started on space travel. Let’s just say it should seem like a plausible thing, not a “cool-factor” moment, and leave it at that.

Just to be clear, though, I’m not suggesting that you cram your story full of so much detail that it becomes an over-wrought, boring soup destined to collect dust in your desk’s bottom drawer. Too many details can be equally as damaging as too few, regardless of accuracy level. I’ve read quite a few published books that bored me to the point of giving up–which rarely happens, by the way. I’m super stubborn like that. And I’ve run into others that were so realistic in describing the disgusting aspects of bodily fluids, and unnecessarily vulgar situations that they were just downright crass. And while I did finish them, (because giving up on a book is never an option), it was done while wearing a disgusted lip-curl and loss of appetite. Violence is fine, as are vulgarity & profanity when the situation dictates, but when your writing starts including things for shock value only, it’s time to reassess if you need all those details.

Temperance and moderation. Those are the key words for today’s rant. There should be a balance between the plot and the details that support it while defining your setting.  How do you find that balance? Research. It really is as simple as that. Sprinkle just enough accurate details into your tale, and you’ll keep even the pickiest of readers happy. On the believability front anyway. Stylistically, you’ll always have to deal with criticism, because, as my husband likes to say, “haters gonna hate.”

Sarcasm; It’s Not for Everyone

By now I’m sure you’ve gleaned that sarcasm and I are BFF’s. And if you haven’t, let me spell it out for you; sarcasm and I are BFF’s. There, don’t you feel enlightened? 😉

But while I’m a huge fan of the cleverly timed sarcastic quip, not everyone is. Some people fail to see the humor in wittily worded insults and beautifully snide observations. (There must be something wrong with them. Who doesn’t love some clever, snarky banter?) Just like I fail to see the humor in Slap-Stick, Blunder or Practical Jokes. (Which no one will ever convince me are anything but dumb and ridiculous.) I mean, really, why is it hysterical when some moron hits himself in the groin? Or falls over trying something that’s obviously going to end with a concussion and broken bones? Or farts. Seriously, just farts. Comedic genius? I think not.

I was often told growing up that I didn’t have a sense of humor. But as I got older, I realized that, no, I just didn’t have their sense of humor. And that didn’t mean I was/am completely devoid of appreciation for all things humorous. I’m just particular about it. Which brings us to the point of this week’s rather short installment.

Humor is subjective.

And I don’t believe that any one type of humor is better than another. Really, I don’t, I swear! (She says with fingers crossed behind her back.) The important thing is that something makes you laugh. And for better or for worse, sarcasm, (along with irony and satire), is it for me.

Why is it the perfect mate for my breed of humor? I’m not really sure. Maybe I was hard-wired that way. Maybe it’s a by-product of growing up on shows like Friends and Seinfeld, (which I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit I still watch daily on re-run). Maybe it’s because it lets me be a snarky ass and get away with it, earning me approval points instead of derision. Or maybe it’s because I can’t resist pointing out when someone does something painfully obvious and stupid.

But most probably, it’s because, in my eyes, sarcasm requires the most intelligence to pull off successfully. And I find intelligence on anyone sexy. To me, it doesn’t seem like it would require much straining of the brain to conjure up jokes revolving around disgusting bodily functions, or to create ridiculous scenarios the audience can see coming a mile away. And don’t even get me started on the number of beyond-retarded things people post on Youtube–a phenomena I have yet to be overly amused by, but that will entertain my husband for hours upon days upon weeks. Half the time, when he shows me a montage of some idiot doing things even idiots should know better than to try, he’s met with the dead-pan stare and raised eyebrow that says, why? Why would you waste my time with that? I just don’t get it. Sorry. But billions of people do, apparently. Hence the long-standing success of America’s Funniest Home Videos, a show whose sole purpose is to crown the royalty of morons with $10,000 for their stupidity. Just saying.

As a writer, I have a fine sense of appreciation for the brilliant usage of words. Which, in the humor department, usually stands hand in hand with sarcasm. I like it because it’s subtle. It doesn’t stand in the room with a neon sign flashing over it’s head screaming, “laugh now!” It’s simply a statement of the obvious. A twisted and bitter version perhaps, but still. It’s put out there and just is. You either find it funny, or you don’t. The validity of the statement isn’t void if no one finds it funny. It makes the person who said it seem like a pretentious d-bag, but the observation still stands. Case in point, I’m sure those of you that adore videos of people doing stupid things would agree that I now sound like a judgmental jerk.

But fear not, the beauty of humor is that it can often be combined, appealing to several comedic preferences at once.

Below is one of the few videos that I’ve found (ok, had force-fed to me because I rarely ever hang out on Youtube) that combines both idiocy and sarcasm, and does it well. Copyright belongs to the brilliant minds of Break Originals and I make no claims to it. I just thoroughly enjoy it and am not ashamed to say I still laugh every time I watch it. Making it the perfect way to close a post about humor. Enjoy!

Warning: Contains heavy sarcasm, people being injured, and country music. And I’m pretty sure a few exercise balls were harmed in the making of this video.

Who, (or Rather What), is the Nightwolf?

I get this question a lot. So in the interest of heading off that curiosity before it floods my inbox with repeated queries, I figured I’d explain for all those secretly dying to know. Which I would guess is currently no one, based on the silence from my Contact page. I was going to put it in my FAQ for those few who might be interested, but as I was writing, I realized it was a longer story than was appropriate for that location, and I wasn’t satisfied with the shortened version. So here goes.

(Warning: Self-Indulgence Alert! The following information is solely about me and will provide no insights into anything but my thought process. Sarcasm will still be included, but if you were looking for tips on writing, art, or opinions on whatever, this week probably isn’t for you. If you choose to skip it, I won’t be insulted. Much.  😉 )

Contrary to popular speculation, the Nightwolf is not me. Well, not in the sense of a pen-name or nickname. Although, to be fair, I have used it that way before. But no, I don’t typically run around printing Nightwolf on those little red & white “My Name Is” badges. Not if I’m trying to be serious, anyway. If I want to be an anonymous jackass, sure.

Nor do I suffer from a Jekyll & Hyde situation, becoming a homicidal werewolf when the moon is full and wreaking havoc on downtown Vancouver. At least, not that I’m aware of. I haven’t seen any news articles about random wolf attacks, so I’m gonna say we’re safe.

It’s not the name of my car (popular theory #2 thanks to the windshield tag and vanity plates that scream it to the world), which has only ever been black while sporting those plates once. And I only wish I was lucky enough to have that be the translation of my name, which is Russian for “kitten”, in case you were wondering.

No, the Nightwolf is a character I created when I was 11, dreaming of owning an animation studio that rivaled Disney. The origin of the name? Well, he’s a black wolf. Brilliant, I know. But what did you expect from an 11 year old?

Originally, he had no personality, or even a gender, although I’ve always referred to him as a he. Maybe he is some version of an alter-ego….a masculine, lupine, super-hero side whose mission is to save the world from lack of creativity? Nah, more likely I was just influenced by the super beefy, anonymous, white wolf in Balto that made me want to animate. Ironically, later movies have shown that wolf to be female, but I still think it’s a dude. That’s one burly girl otherwise.

Anyway, he wasn’t a full-fledged character. As I mentioned above, he was a one-dimensional creature whose sole purpose was to announce the beginning of every movie Nightwolf Productions (the name of my fictitious studio) released. Like the castle image that opens every Disney film, or the animated lamps that herald the start of a Pixar masterpiece. And true to the nature of a logo, it was super complicated. It featured the Nightwolf standing on a cliff, backed by an impossibly large moon. He howled, then turned to face the audience, unveiling the glowing yellow eyes that are his trademark. The company name would illuminate around the edge of the moon and the movie would start. Impressive, right? But, again, did you really expect cinematic genius from an 11 year old?

Eventually he started to evolve, as I realized I wanted something decidedly less bland that would set me apart, transforming into a Living Logo, as I dubbed it. Meaning he would still grace the beginning of every movie, but be integrated into the opening sequence instead of just a static logo tacked on the front. I started to think of him as an omnipresent god of storytelling that dictated what the audience got to see. This was before Dreamworks and Pixar burst onto the scene with their ever-changing logos and subsequently shattered my hopes at originality. But it does show the first flicker of what the Nightwolf would ultimately become.

At this point in the timeline, I was around 18/19/20, and wrapped up in all the emotional drama that entailed. Testing my wings of independence and failing miserably. Trying to find my way through 4 different colleges, and about 5 different majors. Moving out again, then crawling back home with my tail between my legs when that blew up in my face too. You know, all the joys that being a young adult brings. The only constant was my dream of animating/writing/drawing/whatever-as-long-as-it-was-creative. A dream that was embodied by the Nightwolf.

Fast forward to 2005/2006 and the realization that I was short-changing one of the most important characters in my repertoire. Of all the hundreds of thousands of characters I’d created, the Nightwolf was definitely the flag-ship. And I had relegated him to the background. Doomed him to be nothing more than a pretty image without substance.  But he was more than that. He did have an actual story and deserved to have it told! I decided then, that his would be the tale to launch my writing career, just as he had fanned the flames of my animation dreams so long ago. And I’d had enough questions about whether or not Nightwolf was the name of my car, by then, to irritate me into action. A girl can only repeat herself so many times before going postal on some innocent who made the mistake of asking, after all.

My first attempt was actually a poem. Why a poem? God only knows, because I don’t write poetry. Ever. And true to form, it was atrocious. But it introduced the idea that the Nightwolf was a supernatural creature that could be sought, a guardian over the realms of creativity. Sound familiar?

Round two was a marginally better written short story. It was told in first person and centered around the never-identified narrator choosing to become the Nightwolf’s anchor–a link to the “real” world that allowed him to move freely from his realm to the realm of humans. Which led me to realize that to tell his story properly, he required a partner, a woman whose identity was essentially void–Nameless. I’m not really sure exactly where the idea came from, aside from a token nod to Nemo by Nightwish and Main Title by Christophe Beck from the Elektra Soundtrack, but finally, through her, the Nightwolf had a voice.

There was only one flaw with Nameless, (ok, only one notable flaw, anyway); it was boring. Written in overly flowery prose, trying too hard for atmospheric awesomeness and completely devoid in plot. (My writing group co-founder can attest to this.) But I refused to give up on the concept. Even though several iterations and quite a few resounding “no’s” from magazines whispered that maybe it wasn’t a premise worth pursuing.

Which brings us to The Bardach.

About 42 revisions later, (including at least one complete overhaul), a massive boost in plot, a few new characters and a definitive explanation of both Nameless (aka Amyli Farenscal) and the Nightwolf, and I finally had what I was searching for–a story that was as interesting to the rest of the world as it was to me. Or so I tell myself. Please don’t burst my bubble either.

After attaining the seal of approval from my writing group partners, I sent The Bardach (also a short story, by the way, but significantly longer than Nameless) out into the world of publishing. This wasn’t my first foray into the jungle, as I’m sure you gathered, and I already had a hefty stack of rejections for my previous, admittedly weak, attempts. So I was realistic and  expected nothing, while secretly hoping that this time would be the one–the time I got published.

And it was.

True to prediction, the Nightwolf  paved the way for my writing career to finally get off the ground. Marginally. I remember staring at that coveted acceptance letter, unable to comprehend what it said until someone else read it for me. You’d think I’d been accepted to Harvard or won the lottery or something. But I’d finally done it. I’d published something. Which meant that at least one other person thought the Nightwolf’s story was worth reading. Not a family member, who has to like what I write out of obligation, or my writing group partners, whose encouragement is kind of the point of writing group, but an Editor. One of those notoriously fickle creatures that can single-handedly decide whether you suck as a writer or not. It was even deemed worthy enough to grace the cover of Shelter of Daylight‘s inaugural issue, an honor I’m eternally grateful for.

But The Bardach was only a small glimpse of the Nightwolf’s story, an introduction and precursor to the full-length novel I hope to finish one day. In the meantime, though, he still serves double-duty as the logo for my barely-there freelance art career and continues to grace the top of my windshield like a racing tag. So you haven’t heard the last of him. Who knows? Maybe his novel will be the one to land me on the NY Times Bestseller list. Someday. If I can ever get out of the mire of my current novel-in-progress, (which has absolutely nothing to do with the Nightwolf, just FYI).

And that, my friends, concludes the rather long-winded history behind “Nightwolf”. Succinctly put, he’s my muse. And I could’ve just said that in my FAQ, but would you really have understood what it meant without all the back-story? You probably would’ve just thought me insane, and possibly Schizophrenic, hearing voices for a personality that doesn’t exist. And that’s an impression I wasn’t keen on leaving. I have enough shades of crazy without adding Multiple Personality Disorder to the list.

(End Self-indulgence Alert. We can now return to our regularly scheduled snarkiness. )

The Original Nightwolf Productions LogoThe Original Nightwolf Productions Logo Sketch

by Kisa Whipkey

Copyright: 1999
All Rights Reserved

Perfectionism; Bane of My Existence

Confession: I am a slow writer. Bet you didn’t know that, since I consistently post a new blog update like clockwork every Friday. (I attribute that fact to my love of deadlines. Why? Because, well, I’m just sick like that). But the truth is, I am painfully slow when it comes to writing. Especially fiction. Blogs use my “Essay Voice,” as I call it. And I’ve never seemed to have a problem making that one flow. In fact, I used to be able to write “A”-worthy papers for college in less than hour. Shhh, don’t tell my former teachers. 😉

Why is fiction is so much harder for me? Because I’m a perfectionist. Now, a lot of people call themselves that. But I take it to a new level. I think it’s hovering on the fringes clinically certifiable, partying it up with my other obsessive tendencies: Neat-Freak Syndrome, Control-Freak Syndrome, and some weird creature I can only describe as Straight-Things-Must-Be-Straight Syndrome. But while the others are definitely annoying to my family and friends, only Perfectionism really seems to annoy the crap out of me.

It’s the reason I only post once a week. Because I literally spend all week editing and revising my blog posts. According to all the non-perfectionist writers out there, you should only spend up to two hours writing each post, proofread it once, and then send it into the ether of the internet with a kiss and a wave. Yeah, that doesn’t work for me. And not because my initial attempts at putting thought on computer screen are so awful that they can never see the light of day. I’ve been told the opposite by the select few privy to seeing my rough drafts. (I, of course, think they suck, further solidifying the theory that I need help.)  But I obsess over it anyway. Reading and re-reading and tweaking minute details that most people wouldn’t even notice until I finally run out of time and hit publish. Sad, isn’t it?

And it only gets worse when I work on fiction.

I will agonize over the same section of writing for weeks, months, years; adjusting things so tiny that even my writing group partners don’t always notice. And for what? To satisfy the demon of Perfectionism? To tweak and alter and muddle until I push things so far that they wander past the point of perfection and fall off the cliff into a blazing ball of destruction? (Yes, I have actually ruined pieces by over-editing. It does happen.) I think, ultimately, it’s because words are only semi-friends of mine. Bear with me, this is going to get a little convoluted.

I don’t write in words. (Obviously, technically I write in words. So stop scoffing, I can hear it from here. You’ll understand in a minute.) When I write, it’s a movie in my head, set to whatever glorious and often random piece of music spawned the idea. It’s a fully functioning music video, or full-length feature film (depending on the length of the inspiring music) complete with dialogue and sound effects. (Remember when I said I wanted a download button for my brain? This would be why.)  I’m not Super Woman (although the sheer number of things I try to tackle/juggle might suggest I’m maybe a distant relative of her fourth cousin twice removed). I can’t actually write, draw, and animate complete ninety-minute movies on my own, at least not in any length of time that would appease my impatient side. So I write them instead. Meaning I have to send them not through a visual projector, where they could come to life exactly the way I imagined them, but through a translator and into written word instead. Have you ever played around with Google Translate? Yeah, it’s kinda like that.

Doesn’t sound complicated, does it? But it can be ridiculously hard to nail down something that requires visual special effects and cinematography with something as non-visual as words. It’s like trying to force something that only has meaning in another language into its English equivalent and failing miserably, losing all of the nuances and emotional context of the original in the translation. So why don’t I pursue something more visual, like animation or graphic novels? Because Perfectionism requires that I spend upward of fifty hours on any single image, and when each graphic novel has hundreds of images, animation thousands, that means I’d never get it all done. Even if I was one of those amazing artists who can draw anything. Which I’m not.

So that leaves writing. And the painfully slow process of trying to force what wants to be a movie onto the written page. Add Perfectionism to that equation and you end up with one anxiety-producing, obsessive nit-picking fiasco that results in my taking eons to write even a single scene. And because I also suffer from the need to write linearly, I often get stuck when I can’t quite get the written version of my inner movie to sync up. It’s extremely frustrating.

Which brings us to the point of this pseudo-rant. (No, it wasn’t just me feeling the need to vent my frustrations in a massive wall of text.)

I know there are plenty of other writers out there just like me. Writers who agonize over every word they wrote and are frustrated when they see accounts of people finishing 400+ page novels in six months or less, all while they’ve been struggling over the same project for years. And I’ll admit, I’m among the first to be discouraged when reading those accounts, falling prey to the bitter toxin of jealousy and envy. I don’t understand how people do it. I honestly don’t. Which irritates me. How can I possibly emulate them when their process seems like such a foreign creature from mine that they aren’t even the same species anymore? I know I’m not alone in feeling that way either.

Recently, I’ve noticed a trend during my loitering around various online forums — writers asking how not to be perfectionists. And they’re always given the same advice wrapped in shiny new variations:

“Just don’t care.” (Right, because that’s actually possible for a perfectionist personality.)

“Write anyway.” (Uh, isn’t that what I’ve been doing?)

“Know that it will be absolute crap and just keep going.” (But it’s crap! I can’t write crap!)

“You can fix it later.” (But I want to fix it now. Why is that wrong?)

Well, I say that that advice is hogwash. And, as someone I think we can all agree is close to earning the crown for Perfectionist Freak, I can tell you that for a perfectionist, that advice is simply impossible. I’ve tried it for years, and I can safely say that every draft I created under that philosophy has unfailingly found its way into a fire somewhere, being deemed so horrifically awful that it was beyond saving. No, the best strategy for perfectionist writers, myself included, is acceptance. We are who we are, and we write the way we write. The thing we have to remember is that, when those other “normal” writers create a first draft, it is absolute crap. They’ll even say that themselves. And then they have to spend months and months in serious revision, over-hauling the entire thing and polishing it into some semblance of the final product. And then they do it again.

Perfectionist writers don’t end up with first drafts. At least, not by those standards. Because we polish and smooth and revise and agonize over every detail as we go, when we finally get to the end, it’s more like a second or third draft. Which means we actually spend less time in the revision process. It probably evens out to the same amount of time invested in the end, when you compare the schedules of both methods. (I secretly think that when writers brag about finishing a novel ridiculously fast, they’re only counting the first draft. Not all the ones that come after it.)

So the next time you start getting down on yourself, my fellow perfectionists, remember that. We’re not lesser writers, we just operate differently. Don’t worry about killing your inner Super-Editor (although you’ll see that advice a lot), embrace them and roll with it. You’ll be done eventually, and you’ll end up with the story you wanted, the way you wanted it. That’s what really matters in the end. Not how long it took you to write it, or whether or not you conformed to the standard method of draft, revise, draft, revise, rinse & repeat. And yes, Perfectionism may feel like the bane of your existence (it certainly does mine), but it’s also part of what makes us good. So accept it.

My name is Kisa, and I’m a perfectionist.