What's it called when the car won't start and you have to push it down the road with your dad yelling frantically from behind, "Pop the clutch!"? It's a memory I can recall with alarming frequency, and I remember exactly how I felt each time: annoyed, anxious. Scared. Sweaty. Basically, the way I feel when it's time to start a new writing project.
I sit down to draft and end up peering out the window. Soon, I'm trolling other peoples' blogs, vacuuming, shaving my dog—anything to avoid confronting the accusatory blank page. Out of sheer desperation the words eventually come, but I can see right off they're coming from The Bad Place. I'm writing filler that'll end up getting cut. The voice is non-existent. I've chosen the wrong viewpoint. My main character is a putz and why did I ever like her to begin with?
Whether you're writing a picture book, middle-grade story, or young adult novel, getting started is sometimes the hardest part. Why is this, exactly?
1: Writing is messy. We want our writing to be neat, to get it right the first time—a malady otherwise known as perfectionism; fear of failure; the old I-don't-want-to-write-a-whole-book-if-it's-going-to-be-crap malaise.
What to do:
- Embrace the fact that no writing is a waste of time. Even if you write a scene that you end up tossing, that time was spent honing your craft. And learning what to keep and what to chuck is valuable knowledge, too.
- Put bad writing to use. When I worry that I'm not getting any better at this whole writing thing, I pull out the first book I ever wrote, a middle-grade atrocity called "Dirty, Hairy, Smelly Dogs". Reading the first few pages not only makes me want to burn the manuscript to an unidentifiable crisp, it shows me that, yes, I am in fact making huge progress.
- Realize that no one's first draft is flawless. Get the story down on paper and save your perfectionistic tendencies for the revision process, where they belong.
2: Writing is scary, particularly the idea of writing a whole book. Sure, you may get through the opening scene today, but you have three pages of outline notes to draft after that. Christmas is coming, followed by old age and eventually death, and surely these things will cut into your writing time. What if you don't finish?
What to do: Don't focus on finishing the whole project. Revisit the overview periodically so you know where you're going but when you sit down to write each day, focus only on your goal. You do have a writing goal, yes? 1500 words a day? Two scenes a week? Whatever you're able to scribble before the kids start maiming each other? A whole book may seem impossible, but short-term goals are doable. Focus on them. Write consistently and the story will finish itself.
3: Writing is hard. According to a 2002 survey (http://www.jenkinsgroupinc.com/), up to 80% of Americans claim the desire to someday write a book. That's 8 out of every 10 people you know. How many of them are pursuing that goal? How many of those will actually make it?
What to do: Know that you're attempting something that is inherently difficult. It's going to involve some staring matches between you and your computer screen. Pulled hair. Tears. Rewriting or trashing passages that you agonized over. It's crazy, but this is what writers do.
So stop obsessing. Shove your neuroses in the closet during your writing time. Take pride in the fact that you're doing something that few people do and even less do well. Consider this your push-start and get started.
Crap. Now I've gotta follow my own advice…
Thought for the day: The greatest amount of wasted time is the time not getting started. (Dawson Trotman)