A co-worker stopped me in the aisle at work today.
“Hey you write books, so I bet you know the answer. How do you go from storyteller to writing it down? When I sit down in front of paper, I just know it’s not going to be perfect when I write it, so I can’t even start.”
It wasn’t the first time I’d heard the questions and thought about my own Internal Editor. “The Editor” starts giving people a hard time right out of the gate, at the very first thought of writing. The Editor is that voice that attempts to defeat you before you jot the first tittle. The one that says, You better get this perfect the first time or it will not be worth doing. (Really?) The one that says, You don’t belong in the league with the writers; who do you think you are? The voice can be so pervasive, so loud, that many people, like my friend at work, won’t even try.
My advice: Don’t fall for it! Your writing doesn’t have to be perfect. That’s what revisions are for. My favorite quote of all time–the one that lets me slide under the wire and join the writer’s team–is from James Thurber: “Don’t get it right, just get it down.”
When you revise, you’ll tweak dialog, explain the story a little more clearly, paint in a few more details, extract what fails to move the story forward, polish and refine. It’s okay if you don’t get it right the first time. No one will know or have to know (or probably care to know) what it took to get your piece to the point where you were happy with your writing.
Whether it’s a book, article, a poem or a play, I encourage you to give yourself permission to write a crappy first draft. Let yourself off the hook. Perfection is not a requisite to start, but! you don’t have to show it to anyone until it’s exactly where you want it, either.
If you’re a storyteller, like my friend, maybe you could gather your audience (hers were children) and record the story while you tell it. Then it can easily be transcribed when you are alone. Make corrections as you have time. It’s so much easier to work on something that to begin with a blank page.
So, is there anything keeping you from putting your pen to paper?