“There was no hesitation as I vomited.” Pamela Hodges said. You don't read opening sentences like that often. For some reason, few writers choose to lead with vomit. There is something about that word that packs a punch. I couldn’t turn away from a blog post opening with such vivid imagery. My inner child no doubt was jumping up and down with glee. Grabbing the reader's attention is key, and Pamela had done her job.
It took only seven words to reel me in. There wasn’t a chance I was going to miss seeing how this story played out. What followed was a torrent of writing advice I need to remind myself of on a regular basis.
Don’t think, write. This is my number one struggle. Most writing sessions comprise a dance with words on a screen that’s painful to watch, much less perform. I start and stop, pause and think, delete and rewrite. It is a wonder I ever finish a piece of writing.
‘When you write a first draft,” Pamela said, “you have one mission: Get your words on the page.” Nothing else matters during your time behind the keyboard. You go in with a blank page and work to fill it with words that convey real, deep emotion and truth.
You’re not there to mess around, play games or kill time. You’re there to write.
What makes this so hard? Why is our writing life overflowing with moment after moment of head-numbingly painful episode after episode?
We want everything to come out perfect the first time. If anyone asked, we wouldn’t admit it, but deep down that's exactly what we want.
“No wonder you tighten;” as William Zinsser said, “you are so busy thinking of your awesome responsibility to the finished article that you can’t even start.” It’s this preoccupation with perfection that keeps us from moving forward.
We’re many things, but perfect isn’t one of them. Perfection is a crazy standard we’ve got to let go of. We must ‘embrace the suck’ as I once heard a guy say. We have to be ok with our first draft being terrible. It’s a first draft for a reason. It gives us the chance to say everything we’re thinking without fear.
Writing is a process consisting of two parts; writing and editing. We can make it more complicated, but at its heart, these two remain. Despite what mom told us, we can’t do two things at once. Multi-tasking isn’t a real thing. It’s only a way to look busy without getting stuff done.
Why do we suppose writing is any different?
It’s not. Trying to edit while your write, will only lead to heartache and frustration.
So what’s a guy to do?
“Writers, never waste a good first draft,” Jon Acuff said, “by trying to edit as you write it. Get it out first. Cover the page, don’t correct the page.” Let it all hangout. Write whatever comes to mind. Don’t worry about spelling, grammar, or anything else except trapping everything swimming around in your head on the page. You can return to tinker, fiddle and fix it later, but approach your first draft without hesitation.
The next time you sit down to write, give it a try. Write for ten minutes without correcting or editing anything that comes out. Let your mistakes remain on the page. Focus on writing, editing can come later.