Anne Lamott has advised writers to first “get it down,” and later, “fix it up.” The important piece of her counsel is to keep these two sessions separated—you don’t want Editor You to interfere with Creative You.
Writing Tip for Today: Let’s take a look at the first part of the writing equation—getting it down.
Blinking Cursor Syndrome
We’ve all felt our anxiety rise as the cursor blinks disapprovingly, as if tsk-tsking our inability to get writing to flow. In my experience, it’s only after a writer agrees to let failure be part of the effort that creative juices begin to allow words to flow. In other words, as you draft, don’t be concerned about your writing’s quality. A s****y first draft is fixable—a blank page is not. The high expectations we put on ourselves to produce writing that is publishable, poetic and popular can stop us, leading to that dreaded blinking. We shouldn’t forget that all the great writing in the world started out as a draft. There were tweaks and changes and many times, many overhauls. What you read in a bestselling book has been through rounds of refinement as well as editors and more editors. When you begin to write, it’s tempting to think you’ve failed if your first drafts have problems. The best writers have these same problems—but they accept the fact that their first tries are just that. Allow yourself to “get it down” any way you can.
Writing is Rewriting
Some writers get caught in the myth that if they can write it right the first time, they’ll save themselves a lot of work of rewriting. Then these writers often tinker with the opening sentence or paragraph, but never get to paragraph number two. Don’t be afraid of the rewriting process. Let’s say you took your draft to your critique group and they tore your work all to pieces. Instead of feeling as if you failed, you can be glad that you now see at least some of the ways you can improve your work so it will mean more to more readers. This doesn’t mean you must always accept others’ criticisms, but seeing general reactions from readers is a good way to pinpoint places where you could be clearer, ways you’ve digressed from your topic or other snags. If you end up revising a draft fifty times, think of all you’ll learn in the process. Yes, it’s hard work. But the simple adage is spot-on: Writing is Rewriting.
How to Get It Down
So what’s the reluctant writer to do? Here are a few simple ways you can increase your word count, put in your required hours of practice and settle into the REAL writer’s life: Be consistent. Show up and write according to whatever schedule you set for yourself. If you have trouble starting, retype your last paragraph, type stream of consciousness for five minutes, do a writing exercise from your favorite book or resource, reread your last written scene. Do whatever it takes to get past that first plunge into your document. And as the words start pouring out, remind yourself that when you DRAFT, you are allowed to write badly, with all kinds of stuff that you will fix later on. That’s why Lamott calls it your s****y first draft. Because this way, first you get it down. Do you have a favorite way to get started writing? What is it? Now go put your BIC and get it down.