Thursday, April 15, 2010

Leave a Mess, Glean a Draft

Each time I sit down to write I show up at my computer like an excited pup, tail wagging, anxious to play, ready to retrieve the words my unconscious mind tosses out in my line of sight. But just like the dog, there comes a point in the game when the fun runs out. It’s then the thought of retrieving one more word makes my head sag, tongue droop, and my body long to plop down and take a nap for the rest of the day. After I run my little synapses off the romance is over, and I’d rather be anywhere than loping around inside the wordless void between my ears.

Some writers have a bigger challenge than others. I question my abilities when someone tells me they write 10,000 words a day; on my productive days I might pinch out 2,000 words and feel like a train wreck when I finally drag myself from my chair eight hours later. Maybe I’ve yet to catch the vision of free-flow writing. I labor over each word and try to make my phrases sing the first time around.

Call me a perfectionist. I am. And I'll take my punishment now, thank you very much.

Writer Anne Lamott reminds us that perfectionism makes us try too hard to avoid the big messes we'll have to clean up later. However, her point is this: clutter and mess show us “we are living life”. As we allow the unedited words to flow onto the screen, we find more opportunities to glean a treasure or two among the muddle. More importantly, this uninhibited process helps us avoid writer’s block and teaches us to write with more flare while having fun in the process.

Somehow we’ve all got to learn to let the dam in our minds go. Natalie Goldberg suggests participating in writing practice. Fill up notebook after notebook. She tells about the piles of notebooks she’s accumulated over the years. She admits that some of what she writes is trash, but other parts of the writing are some of her best work. The important thing about writing practice is to keep our fingers moving and to lose control.

After struggling with the void today, I’m anxious to try something new, something that might improve my productivity tomorrow. It sure can’t hurt. Who knows, I just might finish a scene or two and feel like I’ve accomplished something. Care to join me?


Unknown said...

Hi Peggy! I was nodding my head as I read your post. It sounds like you write like I do, and I've struggled with perfectionism and trying write past the initial love affair with a new WiP. Writing Down the Bones is one of my favorite books on the craft, although I've not filled one notebook with my writing (longhand takes so, well...long :P)

Thanks so much for following me! I look forward to reading more from you!

Unknown said...

Thank you for stopping by and Following.
You have an excellent collection of posts - the beauty of the perfectly crafted words to create the image or subtly alter one is to be aspired to.
And you know you've got it bad when your notebooks have notebooks ;)
I wish you every success with your writing,

Anonymous said...

I know what you mean about feeling inadequate when I don't write as much as others. I'm with you, 2,000 words is a really great day, and very draining. I don't know how some people can write 10,000 in a day, or sit for 4-6 hours straight.

I'm happy when I write 500 words!

Molly Hall said...

Ooh, yes, I am wrestling down my inner perfectionist all the time! Thank you for this! I am revising right now, so my inner editor thinks she can run the show, keeping things tight and clutter-free. But that's not working out so well. I have just recently realized that I NEED that freedom to explore, *especially* during a revision! The writing is not over! It's just changing shape a bit. So, this is a very nice reminder. Thank you!

Peggy Shumway said...

Nicole- Thanks for your comment. Who taught us to to be perfectionists anyway?

Elaine- I know what you mean about our notebooks having notebooks. Thanks for the well wishes.

Kim- The important thing is that we keep plugging along. We'll eventually get there if we don't give up.

Molly- We'll win the match...eventually. Stay on the mat!

Paul C said...

I like the focus of your blog and the idea that you glean a draft, or find the best with it and improve it.

Unknown said...

Hi Peggy! I found your blog thanks to Nicole over at One Significant Moment at a Time!

I try to avoid writers block but it hit me last week, and not from lack of ideas but lack of steam... I had run out of steam and needed to allow myself to take a break. I am a perfectionist as well and I find that more often than not that is the death of us!

Great post!

Peggy Shumway said...

Paul- Thanks for dropping by.

Jen- My engine runs out of steam all the time. It's nice to take a break from our writing occasonally.