Thoughts on Beginnings 2 – On Starting, The Gap, and Letting It Suck.

I am sitting here in my living room, trying to get back into some sort of writing groove.

I had nearly two weeks of time with my kidlets home from school, and it felt like there was no time at all to write.  I did manage to get a rough draft of most of a short story banged out in various fits and spurts over that time.  I’m proud of that, because I didn’t think I’d be able to do it, and I didn’t think I’d even try to do it, but I did it.

But, in addition to not getting a ton of writing done, I haven’t updated this blog so much either.  I’m not going to beat myself up over that.  I got off to a good start a few weeks ago, posting somewhat close to daily, but I never set myself to any deadline or goal of how often I would post.

This leads me to today’s topic.  We’re sticking with beginnings (for a little while longer, at least).  Today, I’m going to think out loud a bit about why it takes me so long to get started writing on a daily basis.

Starting

I sit down to write more or less first thing once the family is out the door in the morning, but it can often take until well after lunch before I actually start banging out any words.  That’s not a recipe for success in the long run, but I’m working on turning that around.

So, why does it take me so long?  And what am I doing all the rest of the while?  Is it all just procrastination?

Time was a few years ago, I would have said that it’s just that my creative brain takes several hours to shift into gear.  That my subconscious mind is churning, and once it finishes and goes *ding*, then most of what I need in order to actually get the words down on the page will be right there at the forefront, ready to pour out of my hands.  And I would have believed every word of it.  That it takes me 2-3 hours to get started.  That I need that time to get into the right mindset, to clear my head of distractions.  That to let the deep down part of my brain work, I have to let the surface part wander free and unchaperoned.  So I would goof off.  I still think there’s a core of truth there, but that isn’t all of it.  You can train yourself to get to a place where that 2-3 hours is as short as blinking.  I’ve had 8 months or so, and I haven’t yet.  So, I ask again, is it all just procrastination?

Sure, I spend way too much time on the internet – Facebook, fandom and genre news sites, watching Netflix and Hulu.  And I play video games.  And I putter around the house – playing the piano, teasing the cats, etc.  But those are the symptom, not the disease.  The real problem is that staring at the page hurts.

I think a lot of it is fear, if I’m going to be brutally honest, and if my writing is ever going to resonate or make people feel the feels, then it needs to be honest, so let’s start there.

I am afraid of how disappointed I will be in myself when I read what I write.  It’s not going to say what I want it to say, even though I wracked my brain for the words, the phrases to say it right.

The Gap

I’ve seen this video of Ira Glass’s advice from a handful of sources, including the original interview that has a lot of excised parts intact.  The crux of it is that when creative people first get started on creating, there’s a gap between their taste, which is refined, and their talent, which is underdeveloped.  And since it takes years and years of hard work, practice, and failure to refine the talent to the point that it equals the taste, the majority of the people that try get so disheartened that they quit.

I am currently well entrenched in the gap Mr. Glass talks about.  I’ve read great books, great short stories.  I’ve read decent ones.  And I’ve read some real dross too.  And I look at the things I write, and I see which end of the spectrum the majority of it falls closest to. It’s definitely discouraging.

But the thing I need to keep remembering, when I see the cursor crawling across the screen as I try to put the clear, crisp, vivid images in my head into blocky, coarse, clunky words and I despair – the thing I need to remind myself of is that I am comparing my rough draft with other people’s polished finish products.

Let It Suck

Of the many writing-related podcasts I listen to (and will undoubtedly plug repeatedly on Here I Go), Children of Tendu is from two television writers, Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Jose Molina.  The thing about writing for episodic television is that, during the course of the season, you can’t sit around waiting for inspiration.  You can’t let yourself get stuck because the ideas aren’t coming.  You have to keep working at it and keep plugging along.   The show needs to get written and produced every week without fail, whether you have a great script or not.   And they have mentioned that one of the mantras they have employ to keep them moving is to “Let it suck.”

Now, don’t get me wrong here.  The point isn’t to write crap and move on.  This isn’t about giving up or deciding something isn’t worth doing well.  This is about getting past that little voice inside your head shouting “God, this is all a festering pile.  No one is going to want to even wipe their asses with this, let alone read it.  Why even bother writing any more of this story, when even your wife and kids would have stopped reading 200 words ago if you bothered to show this to them?”

I’ve read interviews with successful authors.  People whose books I adore.  And if I’ve learned anything, it’s that that voice doesn’t shut up.  It doesn’t go away.  It’s always there.  So there is no stopping it.  There is only ignoring it.  All you can do, when you look at the steaming crap pouring out of your fingers and onto the page is to just acknowledge that it sucks – for now.  Know that it is going to suck.  First drafts always suck.  But first drafts are not published novels.  First drafts are not filmed T.V. scripts.  They are just that – drafts.

The trick is to remember that once you get it out, then you clean it up.  It will get better.  It will suck less.  And less.  And less.  With revision, and refining, and honing, that first draft will become a real story.  And with all that refining, something else happens too.  The next first draft will suck just a tiny bit less.  And the next even less.  But only if you get those first drafts out.  If you let the voice telling you how bad you are at writing stop you, then you will never get better.  So, let it suck.  Just long enough to get it out and onto the page.  Then make it better.

Parting Thoughts

So, with all of that said and kept in mind, where do I go from here?

Well, first and foremost, I have to remind myself every day to let it suck.  I can’t let the fear of being bad keep me from getting better.  That’s easy for me to sit here and write down.  But doing it, well…  Do or do not, there is no try, as they say on Dagobah.

Every day it’s going to be a one foot in front of the other type of road, until the first step of the day becomes easier than it was the day before.  And hopefully before too much longer, getting started in the mornings won’t be so painful.

I’d like to leave therefore with a different video today.  While Ira Glass’s words were helpful, they weren’t what I would call a springboard.  This video says many of the same things Ira said, but ends with more of a forward motion, and right now, I like that thought a lot.  So, watch the video, and while you do, I am going to go make more awesome crap.

Here I go,

Matt

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About Matthew Shean

Matthew Shean is the author of several forthcoming novels and myriad short stories. He received his Ph.D. from the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences in New York, NY, and spent 20 years as a research scientist throughout the northeastern United States. He now lives in Long Island (against his will), with his loving family and disdainful cats.
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One Response to Thoughts on Beginnings 2 – On Starting, The Gap, and Letting It Suck.

  1. Karen Thickman says:

    I’m an ass and all, but Malcolm Gladwell’s practice idea is wrong. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20121114-gladwells-10000-hour-rule-myth

    Like

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