I think I’ve lived a pretty charmed life. Most pursuits in life came easily to me—not the lottery or boys, unfortunately—but things like doing well in school and getting into university, or starting my career and making new friends.
My first piece of writing after a decades-long hiatus was published in a national newspaper without much fuss, so I assumed all my writing projects would be like that. Easy-peasy.
It never occurred to me that there might be things that I’d actually not be stupendous at right out of the gate.
I’m not good at letting myself be bad at anything. God forbid I fail at Ultimate Frisbee. Or backgammon. Or that cute Ponycorns game. I’d be terrible at something like golf, a sport most people spend their lives trying to do better at. I’d want to be the best right away. I hate that I’m not perfect at everything I undertake. And that means it’s hard to even get started.
I’ll read a novel—something like Tom Robbins’s Jitterbug Perfume (which, if you haven’t read, will completely change your life when you do)—and think, if I can’t write like that, if I can’t blow people’s socks off with my writing, why even try? So my current writing project is coming along very slowly.
Fellow Restless Writer Lori Dyan thinks it’s hilarious that I sometimes compose my tweets in Word before transcribing them to Twitter because I don’t want to make any mistakes. Her advice to me was to “tweet dangerously.” (She might have followed it up with you silly bitch, but she meant it with love.)
I know that if I ever want to let the characters in my head see the light of day, I need to retrain myself. To start, I need to give myself permission to “tweet dangerously,” so to speak. To proceed imperfectly. I have to learn to let go of my big, tender ego. Just toss it in my sock drawer or some other dark corner, and write with abandon.
As Anne Lamott urges in Bird by Bird, I have to let myself write a shitty first draft. “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts” (Anchor Books, 1994). I can burn it afterwards if I want. But only by writing that shitty first draft will I ever go on to write that improved second draft, that impressive third draft, and that astonishing final draft.
They say that walking is a controlled unbalancing. I suppose writing is the same thing. Every time I approach the blank page, I’m like a toddler taking those first hesitant and reckless steps. Wobble, topple, fall over, stand up, get my balance, and keep moving forward.
Here’s my lesson to myself: Proceed imperfectly. Walk with controlled unbalancing. Write without caution. And maybe, with practice and perseverance, I might just blow someone’s socks off.
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