Notes from a dining room chair.
You tend to get stuck when you’re writing. Moreso when you’re writing something long. (Or at least, much longer than you’ve written in quite some time.) And even moreso when you’re writing about something you care deeply about, but don’t have a lot of direct experience with. Interviews and research help a lot, but still: you get stuck. Worried, anxious, and stuck.
In her book Bird by Bird the writer Anne Lamott…well, writes about writing, and her practice of it. And there’s one section that’s helpful to you in times like this:
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.
Lamott argues that a shitty first draft is really the only path out of feeling stuck — in fact, a shitty first draft is the antithesis of stuck. Giving yourself permission to write shittily is, she argues, literally freeing. In fact, it’s the only way you can really free yourself to stumble into something better. Maybe even something brilliant.
But at this point in the process, you don’t know about better, or brilliant. You just open your draft, find the section that needs work, and start typing. And all the while, you’re muttering the phrase shitty first draft aloud to yourself, under your breath, over and over again, like it’s a prayer only you can hear. As though Anne Lamott literally wrote the fucking Litany Against Fear.
And then you keep typing.
And then, you keep typing.
(The “you” above is really just me, but I’m sure you already guessed that.)