We all know what Anne Lamott says… “The only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.”
Working on it, Anne!
But here’s the thing. She also says this:
The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page. If one of the characters wants to say, “Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants,” you let her. No one is going to see it. If the kid wants to get into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory, you let him. Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means. There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you’re supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go-but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages.
This month, I’m finding myself thinking more and more about what Anne talks about here, and I’m reminding myself to loosen the reins on my writing. I don’t usually have much of a battle with my inner editor over prose, but about heading into a story without knowing pretty well where I’m headed, well, that’s where I get into conflict. Not with my editor, but with my muse. We frequently have words. It usually goes something like this.
MUSE: Just write. Be creative. It’ll come. I promise.
ME: Just write? Are you crazy? I have no idea what is supposed to happen in this scene, who my hero’s supposed to be in conflict with, what she WANTS, where she’s heading next.
MUSE: Just write. Be creative. You can answer those questions in the second draft. (And the third. And the fourth.)
ME: What if I can’t, even then? What if it never comes together?
MUSE: Just write. Be…
You get the picture. She can be annoyingly repetitive.
Here’s the thing. What Anne is talking about above is trust–in the muse, or in the process, or in the skills you have been developing over the years. Logically, rationally, I believe in all these things. I believe it will come, and I will see the patterns, and I will get them on the page. But emotionally…yeah. Trust.
Mostly, I have that, too. It takes me a day or so of scrabbling around on the page, with each new scene, trying to force things into place before I’m ready, but then I whack myself upside the head and say… “Shitty, Becky. Anne said, ‘shitty.'” And the only way to even get shitty on the page is to actually write.
WARNING: HORSE METAPHOR
I’ve ridden a few times. I am not a horse person, although I did my share of galloping around the playground when I was a little girl. I had friends with REAL horses, and you know–they’re VERY tall and VERY fast. When I’m on a real horse, I’m all about pretending I do have control, about holding those reins still and not moving a leg until I’m totally ready to send that animal a signal. And then I’m all about hanging onto the pommel and doing my best to let that horse know I’m perfectly happy at a walk. No trot needed, and we seriously don’t need to gallop.
When I write, I remind myself to loosen up on those reins and give the horse its head. I might fall off (but, honestly, THAT’S not going to hurt as much as the real thing, thank you very much!), and I’m sure to give the horse a few misleading cues, but mostly that horse is going to amble along, letting me lurch back and forth on its sun-warmed back, and it’s going to take me along a few different, maybe confusing trails. If I’m lucky, it’s going to toss its head and run a little crazy.
At some point, though, that horse is going to smell the barn. Or the stable. Or the paddock. (WhatEVER!). And it’s going to head home and take me with it. And I’ll know more about the places that we’ve been together than I could have ever imagined when I put my foot into the stirrup and pulled myself up into the saddle.
And that’s when I’ll start over, pulling all the shit together into something better. That’s what I trust in. That it will happen, even if I can’t see it today.
Right? Of course right!