I am sure you have also been here before – blank page, flashing cursor, no words. For me that is the hardest part: starting. There are many things that make the treacherous beginning slow and painful, yet for me, it is mostly the image I have in my mind of what the end result should look like and the chasm that lies between start and finish that just seems too great. This was very apparent when I successfully completed (50,000 words yay!) NaNoWriMo in November 2011. What became obvious was this: I expected myself to deliver in my first draft the kind of quality you see on the book shelf.
Now, logically, you know that it is an unrealistic expectation. Professional and successful authors do rewrite after rewrite, sometimes before another living soul even sees their work for the first time. I read once that Stephen King can sometimes do nine rewrites before he is happy to submit to editors. What you get in the final product has gone through extensive revision, editing and polishing. Yet why do we expect ourselves to measure up against that benchmark in what should be a very rough first draft?
I suppose one reason is that we do not get to see what successful authors’ first drafts look like. This might actually be a blessing – who wants to lose that magic that comes from the belief that their favourite authors are perfect! I believe another reason is that we have been conditioned that creativity is an end-result and not a process, that being perfect is more important than being transformed through the writing process, and that you are simply not good enough if you don’t go straight from A to Z.
I really battled with this through NaNo. The hectic pressure to get the words down helped. There literally was no time to dwell too much on the sheer panic of imperfection. I had to dig deep to accept that all I was doing with my 50,000 words was throwing sort of the right colours onto a blank canvass in roughly the areas I thought they should be. The time for detailing and layering would come later in the rewrite after rewrite. Even ignoring squiggly red underlines was a massive amount of effort. I had to curb my desire to read and re-read the sections I had written. I knew that doing so may derail even a few basic splotches of colour.
The lesson was huge and it took me a long time to go back over my work after the challenge was over and read what was on the page. There were parts that were embarrassing beyond belief and others that I really enjoyed. I suspect the first rewrite will bring challenges of all their own. Yet for now I am happy to embrace this importance lesson in creativity – let go of the outcome, see yourself as a work-in-progress, and know that whatever you may believe about your inadequacies not writing at all is far worse.