Life, Standing Still

This little cat often comes to visit me in the winter.

I had the idea the other day that if you intend to portray life as it really is, you have to be quick. You can’t dither, or wonder if what you’re doing is right, or if you are doing it the right way.

Life won’t stand still long enough for you to nail it to the page with words. It never does. It moves fast, like summer swallows flickering through the yellow grass of a late August afternoon, and you have to go after it. Drop everything and run. Go! Hurry, hurry.

I think creative people – I include myself in this – lose a lot of time wondering if we’re doing it right. In the very early stages, that doesn’t matter. Just put it down on the page. Author and creative writing teacher Julia Cameron says that creativity “isn’t about making it up; it’s about getting it down.” I try to remember that, so I can get out of my own way, so I can manage to make something halfway decent. I don’t always succeed. I’ve started lots of projects, thinking ‘this will be really great!’ only to have it sputter and die miles from its intended destination or worse, to go madly off in all directions – jubilant, perhaps, but completely mad and inarticulate.

I’m forever wondering if I’m doing it right. Am I messing it up? I often think that by now, with so many years of writing behind me, I should know how to proceed. It should be very paint-by-numbers, right? Maybe it’s like that for other people. It’s never like that for me. I worry that I’m messing it up. Much of the time I do mess it up, which is why I have a ‘graveyard’ of failed manuscripts underneath my desk, gathering dust.  I suppose in some sense those failures are necessary, because they show me what doesn’t work. What I’m not able to do. Where I can’t, in fact, reach.

I usually fail to hit the mark if I’m trying to write something that isn’t me. Trying to write whatever I think will sell. Trying to write what people want – and of course it’s important to bear your intended audience in mind. But there’s no point in me trying to pull off something that isn’t part of my métier. I’m just wasting my time.

There are days I think I’m just wasting my time anyway. Doesn’t everyone have days like that? When you look at what you’ve made and something deep inside you (something that believes it’s always right, of course) looks at it and goes Ugh, what the hell? In the early stages of a project the best thing you can for yourself is to ignore that voice. Write something. Show it who’s boss.

I never want to be afraid of the empty page. Even if what I write isn’t what I had intended, it’s something, and writing something is better than writing nothing at all.