I didn’t think about anything, and yet I thought about everything. It was a special kind of thinking, the sort I’d always done when I was getting close to writing a book…
It’s like some guys with a big truck have pulled up in your driveway and are moving things into your basement. I can’t explain it any better than that. You can’t see what these things are because they’re all wrapped up in padded quilts, but you don’t need to see them. It’s furniture, everything you need to make your house a home, make it just right, just the way you wanted it.
When the guys have hopped back into their truck and driven away, you go down to the basement and walk around touching a padded curve here, a padded angle there. Is this one a sofa? Is that one a dresser? It doesn’t matter. Everything is here, the movers didn’t forget a thing, and although you’ll have to get it all upstairs yourself, that’s okay. The important thing is that the delivery was complete.
All I had to do was get it upstairs, pull off the furniture pads, and put it where it belonged.
Stephen King, BAG OF BONES
The quote above didn’t come from King’s excellent non-fiction book on writing (called, appropriately enough, ON WRITING), but instead from a passage where his fictional author protagonist, Mike Noonan, is describing that feeling of getting that idea for a new novel. I love this quote because, for me, it really does sum up how an idea comes to me when I’m also getting close to writing, either a book or a story or whatever. Even these blogs.
I get a bunch of scenes, somewhat formed, very much like the padded up furniture in the basement, and it’s up to me to uncover those scenes, make sure all the furniture fits together, that they match, and they’re placed perfectly.
Ah…placed perfectly…that’s the hard part, right?
And it’s also what I find kills those that are just beginning to write. I know it did me.
The fact that you want to get it down perfectly right from the get-go. You want brilliance to flow from your mind to your fingers and onto the screen or page. I mean, hell, it’s just writing, right? Anyone can do that, right?
So when eloquence and beauty and truth and brilliance doesn’t land in the first few pages, I find that many would-be writers get frustrated, stop and then do one of three things…
- They go back and endlessly rewrite that which they’ve already written.
- They drop it and move on to something else, never to return.
- They stop writing. Period.
So, when I’m talking to beginning writers, one of the first couple of ideas I try to get across is first, to not worry about how good or bad it is. I want them to give themselves permission to write crap. And the second is, to get the entire thing down before going back and changing anything. So, you’re pounding out that novel and suddenly you think of the most perfect subplot or backstory but it should have started fifty pages back. Fine, then either write it now with appropriate notes on where to place it later, or make a note somewhere and keep going. Don’t stop for anything. Be the juggernaut.
And I truly believe that’s the first big secret to writing. Pounding through it. Why? Because if you “beast” through it (as my son would say), then you’re constantly breaking new ground, so it’s harder to become bored or disillusioned with whatever it is you’re writing. And if you’ve given yourself permission to write crap, then you don’t have to worry if you write crap. You can always improve it with the next rewrite. And you’ll also come at it with some fresh new ideas that you thought of along the way.
To leave you with some quotes…
It might take me 10 pages of nothing, of terrible writing and then I’ll get a line and I’ll think, ‘That’s what I mean!’ What you’re doing is hunting for what you mean, what you’re trying to say. You don’t know when you start. Anne Sexton
Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. John Steinbeck
The first draft of anything is shit. Ernest Hemingway
So…what are your thoughts?