I sat down to begin chapter one of book two last week. The blank screen looked back at me . . . well, rather blankly. I had a three-page outline sitting right next to the computer, with all the important plot points so neatly delineated. I had envisioned the beginning multiple times in my head. Characters and voices and emotions and undertones and plots sang in my ears.
But my fingers, poised above the keys, were frozen.
What was I missing? This wasn’t writer’s block. I knew what should happen, or at least had a rough idea of it. The screen was blank, but my mind wasn’t. Hesitantly, I typed out a few sentences.
Beginnings are hard. You have no momentum yet, nothing tangible to spring off of. Even if an outline is in place, the question of where and how and when to start a story is a challenging one.
The sentences morphed into a few paragraphs. It felt odd, because I was juggling more characters in an opening scene than I was used to, and they all had specific emotional and mental states to bring across.
Is this too much of an info dump? I wondered. Should I have started with this character by herself, alone with her thoughts? Is lumping an entire family together at the start a bad idea? Does this sound right? Is this character being proactive enough? It seems like everything is just happening to her so far; she’s not taking action.
I deleted half of what I’d written.
A few days later, when I had time to sit down in my writer’s chair again, I picked up where I had cut the scene off. I tweaked things a bit and typed on. It felt a little less odd, but the questions and doubts still poked at my thoughts as the words spilled onto two pages . . . three pages . . . four.
Am I doing this right? Is what I have in my mind translating properly onto the page?
I fumbled around, feeling the scene out like a blind woman introducing herself to a new room, unsure if I was perceiving things correctly.
Book one has spent a long time in the editing stage. It was a baby born prematurely, and so required plenty of care and nourishment to bring it to full health. It’s almost ready now, and I don’t regret a single hour spent poring over those tattered pages. I grew so much as a writer through that process.
That being said, I’ve been in editor’s mode for quite some time. I drafted a novella or two in between edits (and those novellas were revised too!), but overall, my biggest writing focus of the last couple of years has been on editing. So to sit down and try to draft something new feels a bit strange.
But it’s a bit like riding a bike—you never really forget how.
It usually takes some time for me to slip back into the groove when I’ve taken a long break from writing, or when I switch gears. I’ve learned to be lenient with myself when that happens. This time, however, I had to do more than just let myself progress slowly—I had to turn off my inner editor.
With everything I put on the page, I struggled with the impulse to change it, to rework it. To make it better. This is something many writers struggle with, this voice of perfectionism in their heads. That voice is crippling, because it prevents progress, inhibits creativity, and stifles the story. First drafts are messy. Unless you’re the sort who makes a fifty-page outline, your first draft will be rough.
And that’s okay.
Accept that. Embrace it. Don’t be afraid to write messy—the beauty of the first draft is that it’s not final. The point is to get it onto the page, however ugly or sloppy the words are, so that you have something to work with later.
I saw a sign in a greenhouse a few days ago, and if it hadn’t been $23, I would’ve taken it home with me. It read:
To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.
That resonated with me, because that was exactly the problem with my most recent writing efforts—I was scared of doing it wrong. Scared to skew the image I had in my head of the perfect story. Scared to see the words fall flat. Scared of not living up to the book before, of creating something that wasn’t better than its predecessor.
I’m telling my inner editor, in no uncertain terms, to shut up for now. “Go to your room. I don’t want to hear a peep out of you until you’ve thought about what you’ve done.” (More accurately, until I’m finished playing in the mud and I need some help fashioning the slop into pies!)
So who’s with me? Have you been listening to that voice that insists on immediate perfection? Are you ready to kick it in the teeth and write freely? Let’s do this together. Let’s lose our fear of being wrong, and live creatively. Polishing can come later.