I should be done with Chapter 1 of Cocotte (19 illustrated pages, 4170 words, including stage directions), but I’m not. When did I start writing it? How? Its beginning is like a dream in my memory, its origins obscured. It was at least a year and a half ago. I finally finished finished it in January, which means it's almost done. In that time, I’ve been working on numerous other projects: short stories, half-finished blog posts, half-begun articles about food and things that piss me off and whatnot, a novel (at least I think that’s what it’s turning into), yet another comic book, and, of course, additional chapters of Cocotte. What I’m trying to say is, I can’t focus, and I hate finishing. Finishing is so final. Such a commitment. Saying something is finished is saying that I approve of it, and this is rarely the case. My writing, like my real life, remains irregular, jagged and half-done.
Every week before Ryan begins to draw Cocotte, I read over the page he’s about to draw. At this point, it will have been a few weeks since I last looked at it. When I first declared it finished (not because it was done but out of frustration and weariness over the endless minute nitpicks), it seemed okay, or as okay as it could possibly be after 15 revisions. But now I look at it and all I see is substandard. I rush to him on Sunday morning to tell him to stop in order to avert disaster, tell him I need to change it. What part, he asks. All of it, I say.
You’re crazy, he says, it’s fine. He suggests I remove some of the “fucks” uttered by Dave, I tell him that then it’s uneven, that then Valerie is doing all the swearing, and we need some symmetry. Look, we need to get it done, he says. Make a decision.
It will never be right, it will never be done, I can't make decisions (this is why I have no tattoos). I take out a few words, change a few more, cut two whole panels. It’s not right. This isn’t what I wanted to convey. I don’t even know what I want to convey, but I’m sure this isn’t it. A familiar panic descends upon me. This is not who I am; I am not a bad writer, but I haven’t yet learned how to be a good one.
There is no guide for fixing flaws. You can recognize them, and still be unable to know exactly how to eliminate them. You can improve on them, and notice a million other little problems. At some point you have to stop fucking around with it and make it do and present it to the world. It will be unfinished, and not exactly the way you want it, but the terrifying leap must be made. So you have my blog posts, my smattering of published works, my comic. I disown them all. Their public nature does not signify my approval, but a resignation on my part.
I find myself deficient in part because I compare myself to the excellent; this is some consolation. This is why you should read the best books possible if you are to be a writer (you can read bad books, too, but recognize them as such). Such striving will be bad for your soul, good for your writing. With every word you type, you will be mentally punching yourself because you will realize, with pain, that the aesthetics and power of your word bouquet do not equal (say) Joan Didion's, or S. J. Perelman’s, or Haruki Murakami's. I fuss over finishing because, in a sort of perverse optimism, I am convinced that I could write as well as them, if only I spend enough hours tweaking. But, I have not yet reached that threshold.
A method for quelling your self-hatred, of course, would be to read shit exclusively, and to turn around and consistently write better shit. Then finishing would not, perhaps, be such a soul-crushing experience. You will feel better about yourself, but you will still be writing shit. This is why we should be suspicious when we hear anyone sneer, after reading a terrible book, “I could write that.” Sure you could, maybe, but is that a worthy ambition? Is that a fruitful use of your time? I can make Chef Boyardee-caliber food, too, but that’s not really something worth being proud of, and then I would just be spewing more garbage into the world. Better to try and fail to put something good into the world than to intentionally create shit. I guess.