There are two bits of advice about writing that I return to time and time again when I am feeling stuck with my work.
The first: “Write drunk, edit sober.” This saying is attributed to Ernest Hemingway, that master of brevity and flourish-free language.
And the second: “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts.” This piece of advice is from Natalie Goldberg in the classic Bird by Bird.
Both of these insights speak to me, because I have a tendency to clam up before I really get going. Maybe you have this tendency too. I am often so caught up in the desire to tell a great story, to dazzle my readers with wit and charm, to surprise them with something unique, that I find it hard to get going. The pressure gets to me, and hello writer’s block. I get stuck striving for perfection and elegance right out of the gate, instead of doing the actual work of writing.
Writing a “shitty first draft” (Goldberg’s term) and writing drunk are not excuses for me to churn out bad, careless work. But it does mean that I have the freedom to write the raw material of the story that I need to write, without the fear of judgment. No-one will see my first draft except me. I have to remind myself to simply get the story on paper, in all its beautiful, terrible, first-glimpse glory—and then shape it into something that someone else might want to read.
Don’t worry about perfection or form or style or commas. Produce the beginnings of something that excites you. Write fast and sloppy. Let your characters do whatever they want. Use simple language and un-fussy descriptions. And write every day or as often as you can manage it, until you have a lovely messy first draft in your hands. Save the polish until later.
Writing is hard. Getting started is harder. Allow yourself the freedom to churn something out, poke around in the mess, and see if you can create something shiny and beautiful from it.
Photo by Amauri Mejía on Unsplash.