Friday, August 28, 2009

Writing Discoveries #1

One of my dad's favorite movies was Gumball Rally, a 1976 film about an illegal car race from New York to LA. One of the racers, the owner of a red Ferrari Daytona Spyder, hires an Italian driver (played by Raul Julia) to help him win the race. The first thing the Italian driver does when he gets into the car is grab the rear view mirror, yank it off the window, throw it out of the car and say, “The first-a rule in Italian driving: what's-a behind you, doesn't-a matta.”

For years, I wanted to write a novel. I would get started by writing two or three chapters, then go back and revise. You see, I am cursed with the perfectionist gene. I couldn't stand having an imperfect chapter sitting there. The problem was, after I spent all that time trying to tweak and fix it so that it was perfect, all of my forward momentum on the novel was lost. I don't know how many books I started this way.

Then the concept of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) came to my attention. The idea was to write 50,000 words in 30 days. When I tried it, in order to meet my daily quota, I had to not spend much time on what I had previously written. My perfectionist gene screamed at me. But a miracle happened: I finished a novel. It was awkward, confusing, and worst of all – imperfect. At the same time, it was wonderful. I had actually finished a novel! The secret? What's behind you, doesn't matter.

Now, I know that at some point you have to go back and fix things. That's called editing. When writing, especially the first draft, you are not an editor. You are a creator. You need to first get the lump of clay onto the potter's wheel so that you have something you can mold and work with. We can't take just a little lump of clay and work it and work it until it is the perfect part of a vase. We need to get the whole lump on the wheel first before we start shaping it into the form we want.

So, my first major discovery was applying the, “What's behind you, doesn't matter,” to writing. It freed me up. It taught me to turn off my perfectionist gene long enough so that I could get a manuscript out. And, yes, my perfectionist gene still whines at me when I ignore it, but I let it have it's way in the second draft. This keep it very happy.

Assignment: Just sit down and write whatever comes to mind. It doesn't have to make sense. Just push forward and don't look back.

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