Hi writer friends,
I just heard writer Rebecca Hunter say something that I really related with. I mean I just heard her, about an hour ago. I rushed home to write this email (and to take a nap, but that’s for after I hit send on this).
She was talking about how she’d made a goal for herself to finish a book before she was forty. She hadn’t yet (at that point), because: “I was waiting to write until I became a good writer. That strategy? Yeah, it didn’t work out that well.”
Rebecca finally realized that she would never get better without actually writing. She wrote a book. Then multiple books. She wrote and kept writing.
See, most of us come with some built-in talent. If you’re reading this, I bet you have it, too. People have told us we’re fantastic with words. Why, then is it so hard to actually do the work? We’d better wait till we learn some more — maybe then we’ll be able to figure out how.
I was this way, completely.
I read all the writing books.
I talked to all the writers.
I thought really really really hard about what I was going to write someday.
I wrote sentences (glorious ones! Ones that could light the world on fire!) in my head while I did dishes.
I thought up new plots while I was driving.
But I never did the work, because I was waiting until that magical day when I would wake up a better writer.
The bad news:
That day won’t come unless you’re writing.
How do you write when you don’t feel ready?
My darling, you just do. You write a crappy first paragraph. You follow that with a crappy first page. Then comes the crappy first scene, then the crappy first chapter. Soon enough? You have a terrible book! You let yourself write terrible, awful dreck because it is better than not writing. You’re learning while you’re writing crappily.
The good news:
There are bright, sparkling, magically wonderful words in that draft. You probably won’t see them when you write them. It’s when you’re sifting through the pages later, you’ll stumble on something brilliant, something tinged with filigreed gold at all its edges.
You’ll find words that string together like twinkle-lights, words that sing like garden fairies on a champagne bender.
And from there, that’s where you move forward.
In the memoir class I taught this semester, I asked the students to write the last chapter of their books midway through class. One writer (Hi, S!) had the revelation I knew someone would have.
So, I was writing along, enjoying the exercise, and then my subconscious said that maybe part of what I was writing just then might be a better beginning than the new beginning I wrote 3 months ago. Crud. Was this an evil plot by my writing teacher?
Hmmm. One wonders, doesn’t one?
Being surprised by your own writing is a source of such happiness that it pays for all the dreck we have to push through to get there.
Now, it’s not easy. You will suck.
Personally, I’m exceedingly terrible at writing at least five or six times a week.
(This might be one of them!) I sincerely mean this — I’m not being fake-modest. For every draft of anything I write (a tweet, a Facebook post, a book), I leap into the air, and I’m never sure I won’t land face-first in a mud-puddle. I’m getting better at not ending up wet and muddy, but that’s because I have heaps of practice.
That said, there’s real, true joy to be found in splashing in puddles, isn’t there? If you’re new to the writing gig, or you still feel like you’re waiting to become a better writer before you commit your thoughts to the page, remember: you’re just a kid when it comes to writing. We all are, no matter how good we are, until we’ve written at least two or three books.
What that means is you get to splash in puddles.
You’re not supposed to be able to keep yourself clean and neat and tidy all the time. That’s not how kids learn! Kids learn to walk by falling down. They learn you can’t always tell the depth of the puddle by sight. They fall out of trees. Sometimes it kind of hurts. Sometimes it hurts a whole hell of a lot and you hear yourself doing that hiccuped-forever-inhalation that comes before the scream.
But mud can also be fun, if you embrace it.
I’m in Northern California, and it’s raining here this weekend. Instead of driving (because we don’t know how to drive when the air is even slightly damp), I’m going to take the dogs for a wet hike and splash in puddles. Then I’ll splash around on the page.
- YOU GUYS, Dani Shapiro was on the podcast this week. THE Dani Shapiro. Go buy her book, Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, immediately if you don’t have it. She’s an inspiration, and I seriously fangirl all over her in the podcast. It was a little embarrassing, but I regret nothing.
- If you’re so inclined, come over and say hi at the new Facebook group, Onward, Writers! if you haven’t already! It’s fun!
- If you haven’t already noticed, the subject line of this post is tongue-in-cheek. You are already a good writer. You’re just going to get better from here.
Encouragement, once a week. Free.
Do this for yourself, for the writer you want to be.