I have a two-inch peacock and he’s only visible through my story window. I’m not crazy. I’m a writer.
This month, I’m reading Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. If you’re serious about being a writer, or just like a well-told narrative, this is that book. I’m nearly a quarter through, and loving every page, every paragraph, every sentence.
Now here’s something you may not know about me: I’m a perfectionist when it comes to my writing and media. I want it to always be right. I don’t want just the end result to be perfect, I want it all to be right. And that often gets in my way because I find myself editing as I go. Which sometimes makes for longer sit-downs at the computer than necessary.
I’ve been coached, often, on just moving forward. It’s not in my nature to run rampant over the keyboard and let typos, incomplete thoughts, and mismatched storylines flow like too much wine. Because then it reads as though I’ve had too much wine.
But the truth is, I’m starting to see the beauty in the #CrappyFirstDraft. There’s something freeing in just letting my fingers go at it without worrying about is this spelled right or did I get the vernacular correct?
So to my critique groups, my writing mentor, and Anne Lamott, I say
I hear you.
I’m moving forward. This week, I’m starting with Chapter Fifteen of NOLA as though all the changes in my head are already on paper. No more revisiting Chapter One. Just. Move. Forward.
It does help to have a plan. At last week’s Orange County Christian Writers Conference, my first session was with Sharon Elliott. It was a hands-on workshop titled ‘Breaking Your Book Into Manageable Bites’. And it was amazing. The very first step in creating a storyboard/outline is to know your topic.
The topic isn’t the same as the title or the outline. It’s strictly the topic. Until that moment, I’d not had a concise logline or description of my book. Sure, I know what it’s about. And if you give me half an hour I can tell you start to finish. But Sharon was asking us to write our topic on a three-by-three post-it note and I didn’t even have it in my head yet.
I grabbed my stickie stack and my pen and applied pressure. I prayed more quickly than I’ve prayed in quite a while. I didn’t want to be the only person in the room with a blank note. So I wrote the first descriptive word that came to my mind, and the rest followed.
Boom. There is was. And there I was, standing next to Beckie, beginning to cry. Five minutes into my first conference, and I’m in tears because my writing life has forever changed.
I’m a writer. And I have a topic.
Two more take-aways from Bird by Bird is how the book got its name, and how to not be overwhelmed. Write just this piece. Write just this much. She illustrates this concept as a one-inch photo frame on her desk. Her task, when she sits to write, is to write only what is visible through that one-inch frame. No more. No less.
Who cares about the world at large? Write about that one corner your character is in. Who cares about the voices calling the shots from outside the border? Write only what your character hears.
I love this. I love this like the day is long and sugar is sweet. It gives me freedom to fail. And that’s what we really all need, don’t we? The freedom to find out what doesn’t work, the freedom to change this when they need to be changed. The freedom to discover what we don’t like, and then the freedom to expand it.
Start small. Focus. Then shift. Then embellish. But start.
To remind myself of this, I created my own one-inch frame. Okay, it’s more like a two-by-three because the craft store didn’t have anything smaller. And it’s not empty, because I want to be reminded that right now, my focus is on finishing NOLA. So it’s not perfect. But isn’t that the point?
After picking out my supplies, I came home and assembled my own story window.
There were too many stickers and embellishments to choose from, even in the stock I bought. With the limited room allowed, I chose the peacock and fleur-de-lis. And there’s that lesson, again: you can’t do everything at once, and sometimes you can’t do everything at all. Just piece by piece. Bite by manageable bite. Bird by bird.
My reminder now sits on my side table. It’s a symbol of everything I need to be reminded of. And the best part? It’s small enough to fit in my suitcase so I can take it with me to Blue Ridge next week.
My goal is to have my own Crappy First Draft finished by the end of June and then start the editing because, as they say, that’s when the real writing happens.
And Frankly, My Dear . . . that’s all she wrote.