1) Beating the Inner Critic and Actually Starting
What stopped me from continuing with my novel for a long time, or at best limited my work to a few days a month, was my vicious Inner Critic. She wasn’t exactly encouraging.
“Wait one moment while I throw up.”
My Inner Critic sanctioned only my best work – even in the first draft.
So I’d sit, fingers poised over keyboard, weighing various phrases in my head until… I went in search of coffee. And there was stationery to be bought and plants to be killed and Tweets to be sent.
Then along came NaNoWriMo. Committing to produce a certain number of words per day following Lee Child’s advice of “Don’t get it right – get it written.”
I committed to a thousand words per day and the next morning began writing:
She wasn’t used to politeness –
“TRRRRRRIPE! You can’t begin like that! It has to be perfect. Start again. Better still, get coffee and think about starting again. Maybe tomorrow. Or the next day.”
Cue crying and uncontrollable notebook-buying?
Not this time.
I tied up my Inner Critic and dragged her, snarling and snapping, into a cupboard.
Then I carried on writing.
2) Living with the Drivel
That’s all very well, you say, but was it good writing?
But it was okay.
Perfectly fine for a first draft, and infinitely better than nothing at all.
Take Olympic athletes. They don’t stroll into the stadium from the car park, amble up to the starting blocks and win the hundred meters. They need to warm up first.
So I can’t hang the laundry, stare at a few bills, then open my laptop expecting a first sentence to make Hemingway weep (except with pain).
Because everyone needs to warm up. Even the best people need to warm up, so I certainly do.
And how do writers warm up?
From what I’ve read, it’s by… writing. Who would have thought?
Like turning on the hot tap and letting the cold water flow, then the tepid, the warm and eventually… the hot. Not turning it on then off again, going “Oh my God, that is cold!” Tolerating that cold water / drivelous writing until the better stuff comes. Trusting that the better stuff will come. If I’m writing.
3) Persisting to Flow
Flow is the Holy Grail: a trance-like state of blissful concentration. Living completely in my head. Out to lunch. Not in. Because I’m inside my novel, seeing it, feeling it, living it, writing it.
We lose this ability as we grow up (“Be realistic!” “You need to keep your feet on the ground!”), so it’s something that has be coaxed out to play again. Its poor little legs are atrophied – we have to help it walk before it can run.
And this does feel like work to begin with. At first I could do 15 minutes, then half an hour, then a hour in one go. Stephen King writes two thousand words a day, every single day.
Well, by the end of the month, I’d written my 30,000 words. For someone with my kind of resistance, that is miraculous.
I carried on writing and finished my novel. I’m editing it now – finding some tripe, sure, but also plenty of reasonable stuff I can use. Because, as Jodi Picoult said (or was it Nora Roberts?) you can’t edit a blank page.
At last, instead of hopelessly admiring other writers who are actually writing, I create worlds and destroy them. I hold the happiness of my characters in my hand. I am a writer.