A bunch of crazy friends of mine and I are about to embark on a 30-day writing challenge called JuNoWriMo (June Novel Writing Month).
It strikes me as I dive into this adventure that writing or really any sort of creating we do is an exercise in courage. To create requires we put ourselves on the line, bare our souls for others to see.
And it’s damn scary.
When I write a novel, somewhere around the one-third to one-half mark the novel starts to talk back. And it tells me that it’s a horrible story, that it’s dumb, contrived, no one will ever want to read it, and what’s the matter with me for wanting to write it in the first place.
That spot used to stop me dead. The story would die and I would leave it to break it up for parts later. Novel after novel I started only to have them die at almost the same point every time.
Until I learned from Anne Lamott and started to talk back.
In her book on writing, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott has this to say about first drafts:
For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.
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 just 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 great 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.
And so what I do around this point is to tell my novel, “You’re just a shitty first draft. I’ll fix it on the next round, but being a shitty first draft is your purpose and you’re doing a marvelous job at it.”
My novel then shuts up, and I can continue writing it. And that’s enough.
I’ve gotten great solace from Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection where she writes on belonging:
It’s so much easier to say, “I’ll be whoever or whatever you need me to be, as long as I feel like I’m part of this.” From gangs to gossiping, we’ll do what it takes to fit in if we believe it will meet our need for belonging. But it doesn’t. We can only belong when we offer our most authentic selves and when we’re embraced for who we are.” –p. 27
I believe that one of the major ways we seek to fit in is to suppress our creativity. It’s far easier not to put oneself on the line, not to have to deal with other people’s responses to who we are. But to do that is to kill our creativity, for creativity that is squelched will eventually die of starvation, die from lack of light and air. And something essential in us dies with it if we allow that to happen for without our creativity, we lost the ability to cultivate meaning.
From Brene Brown again:
If we want to make meaning, we need to make art. Cook, write, draw, doodle, paint, scrapbook, take pictures, collage, knit, rebuild an engine, sculpt, dance, decorate, sing–it doesn’t matter. As long as we’re creating, we’re cultivating meaning. –p. 96.
I’ve said for years that I don’t think there’s any such thing as a non-creative person.
I’ll get bolder about it. That line that we use so much? You know the one… it goes like this: “I’m not very creative.”
It’s just not true.
We like to hide behind it to protect ourselves, but the sad irony is that in trying to protect ourselves in that manner, we lose something at the very core of our being.
But to find the courage to create I think we need three things:
- A practice of refusing to compare. It’s a practice because we’ll have to work at it all the time to make it work.
- The knowledge that it’s enough to show up, and enough to try.
- Some supportive people who will love you through your attempts to create and who are capable of celebrating and seeing the beauty in the mess. Because the rest of the world might not. But that truly doesn’t matter.