Monday, April 16, 2012

Writing Lessons - Part One

As I prepare to teach another summer session at the Young Writers' Institute, I find myself thinking about the process of writing and what I have learned - and how I have learned it.  I'm posting this for all of my writer friends out there, as well as my creative and artistic friends since the same lessons apply to all of us.  Happy writing!

Whenever I read something I wrote a few years ago, I feel horrified and embarrassed.  I am painfully aware of each glaring mistake and flaw, but being able to see those things is actually a gift - proof of how much I am learning and growing as a writer. 

I remember very clearly the day I learned a fabulous and yet very simple secret - to write forward, and write that way with wild abandon.  What this means is to stop analyzing every word.  Let yourself be free.  I’d been shackled before, spending so much time on the first sentence of the first page of the first chapter that I never got anywhere.  When I finally let myself go, I wrote three chapters in one day.  Most of it was garbage, definitely, and ended up being cut out of my final edit, but I needed to write that garbage first in order to figure out where my story really started.  Editing is the time you fix mistakes, but I had been editing the whole time I was writing.  Once I stopped doing that, it was so much easier, and more enjoyable.  I was able to focus on the story, and not minor details.

Making mistakes is part of the process.  Editing is the time you address those mistakes.  Embrace imperfection as part of being a writer, and a human being.  Save all of those things you have written in the past, not in order to torture yourself, but so you can realize exactly how far you have come. 

I advise all of my writer friends out there to try this simple exercise.  Set your timer for five minutes.  Light a candle, if you’d like (it’s not mandatory, but it can help!), and start writing.  Don’t try to have a direction.  Don’t overthink it or worry about making mistakes.  Just give yourself five minutes to go where the muse leads you.  You might be very pleasantly surprised.

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