You Are Going to Get it Wrong
Every year at least one student comes to me despairing because her story, or essay, or poem, won’t do what she intended. Don’t despair! Your first conception will evolve. Your plan will change. You are not entirely in control of your own material, and thank goodness, because what we intend in the first flush of inspiration is rarely as interesting or as original as what emerges unconsciously, with labor, over time. Feel free to outline and story board—I love to outline—so long as you understand your job is not to control, but to serve the story as it emerges, and to shape it.
And yes, you will get it wrong.
In an essay called “Shitty First Drafts,” Anne Lamott writes: “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something -- anything -- down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft -- you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft -- you fix it up.”
Says coaching legend John Wooden: "If you're not making mistakes, then you're not doing anything. I'm positive that a doer makes mistakes."
“We learn by doing,” says Aristotle, “Men become builders by building houses and harpists by playing the harp.”
Writers become writers by writing, by writing poorly, by re-visioning and rewriting.
You will get it wrong. Getting it wrong is the first step—the most important step—toward getting it right. Don’t despair over those dead ends and discarded pages. Words are the world’s most renewable resource! You cannot waste words.
Think of those discarded pages, all those hours of work, all those wrong turns as compost. That smelly heap of banana peels, pizza crusts, egg shells are what remains of material that nourished you. It is the soil out of which your book will grow. Rejoice in that.
License to Write
Your vision will change. You get it wrong again and again, before you get it right. The doubt you feel when you’re stuck, when you’re dejected is natural and as necessary as the faith you’ll need to keep going.
If you’ll indulge me one more athletic analogy: novel writing is an endurance sport, a marathon. Think of your faith and doubt as equipment you need to compete. Think of them as running shoes: right shoe faith; left shoe doubt. Doubt keeps you honest, faith keep you going.
Keep going. Remind yourself why you write—why you are writing this book. And if you need written permission to pursue this mad obsession, click on this link and print the document. This my friends, my fellow writers, is a license to write. It is your license to write.
Now, pay attention because this is important. ..
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(Tired of 2016? Why not get a jump on 2017 by registering for the 2017 Sierra Writers' Conference and by following this blog series, curated by Joyce Wycoff. The series features writing advice from Catharine Bramkamp, Bob Jenkins, Kim Culbertson, and myself.)