When I was a kid and then a preteen, my father and stepmother had the habit of telling me and my siblings that “if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” In our case, “right” often meant “perfect,” at least in terms of what my parents deemed an acceptable job.
Of course, I understand that they didn’t expect absolute perfection from my child self, but it didn’t feel like that at the time. At the time, it felt like they were constantly hanging over my shoulder, pointing at any spot left on the window I had just cleaned, telling me over and over that “if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.”
Well, I’m in my twenties now, and that feeling of self-doubt and hyper-criticism still bounces around in my head when I try to write a first draft. I’m constantly picking apart the sentence I just wrote, telling myself that I hadn’t done my job right. I picture myself living in a cramped studio apartment while I work a draining office job for the rest of my life, never seeing my work published, never knowing if what I’m doing is worth doing at all. The self-doubt doubles with every scenario.
But then, after taking a deep breath and closing my eyes, I gently lead my mind back to the sphere of logic I try to inhabit daily. I tell myself that all first drafts are shit, that the real job I’ll be doing is the rewriting of whatever I’m working on, that when I go back over the things giving me grief now that it will be like retaking a test with the answer sheet next to the exam paper. I tell myself that, to get to the level of quality that I want for my work, that I first have to let myself mess up. I have to be raw and playful and absurd and just plain crap if I want to ferret out the core of the project.
Then, I can start the real job.
The editing, the reshaping of what I’ve dropped on the page, the careful dissection of each scene and sentence. By investigating what I’ve let myself reveal, I can present what I really want to say, complete with the precision and dedication to finding the right words for what’s in my head.
That is the job worth doing right, but that’s a job that doesn’t inspire that same feeling of being observed and judged as my daily chores did. This is a job that I do to my own expectations, to my own expectation of what is “right.”