A few months ago a friend told me she wanted to write a book. I asked her what was stopping her and her answer was that she wasn’t sure whether to complete all of her research and then start writing, or start writing and correct facts later. It got me thinking, and the more I thought, the more I came to realise that the answer was simple…write. Anything else is procrastination.
The only way to be a writer is to write, it’s what separates those who want to, from those who do. Of course research is important, as is planning, plotting and editing, but none of those are actually writing nor can they happen without words on paper (or screen).
For me, I’ve found starting any large project is difficult and can seem daunting, whether it’s a project to redecorate the house, get back into shape or write a proposal to the board of trustees at work. I’ve had to do all of them and peeling off that first bit of wallpaper, or doing that first set of exercise is the hardest step to take.
In fact, I’ve spent a lot of time creating all manner of reasons to not start writing:
- I need something to eat
- There’s a programme on TV I want to watch and might not get another chance to see
- I’ll just check my emails
- I need to ring my mother, brother, friend, long lost cousin
- If I have a quick 20 minute snooze, I’ll feel much more invigorated to write later
- I should do the washing up
- I need to take the tools back to the neighbour I borrowed them from (and secretly hope he’ll ask me in for a cup of tea)
- So what if I watch TV for half an hour, I’ve earned a rest (Really? A rest from something I haven’t even started?)
I’m sure we can all add other things to the list. But it all boils down to me creating excuses to avoid starting.
As a slight digression, but still relevant, I had the fortune of attending a conference a few years ago and the guest speaker was an adventurer athlete named Mark Pollock. He has raced across polar ice caps, climbed mountains, run the most gruelling of ultra endurance desert races, and is blind. Struck by sudden blindness at the age of 22, Mark’s philosophy became “Make excuses, or make it happen.” For me, that was one inspirational speech that did what it said on the tin. Cruelly, Mark’s challenges didn’t stop with blindness and I commend his website to you to find out more.
One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learnt in my career, which I try to adopt for all aspects of life now, is to tackle the job I least want to do first. In writing, that means starting to write. It can be the first paragraph, or a sketch plan, or a piece of dialogue that is somehow going to fit in the middle of your novel/play/manuscript. The most important thing is to start. Whatever the project, once I do start, it feels great; and once I get into the groove, I don’t want to stop, especially when I start to see results.
You don’t just have to take my word for it. Stephen King, said that the “scariest moment is always just before you start [writing]. After that, things can only get better.”
Or as James Thurber simply put it, “Don’t get it right, just get it written.”
So, back to the original question posed by my friend; thinking about that question led me to realise that sometimes we just have to get on and do something. We might not know the route we’re going to take, but unless we start moving, we’re never going to get anywhere. It was that philosophy that led me to start writing the play I’m now working on, and to create this blog – so I guess it works, for me at least.
Anyway, my reason for starting this blog was to pass on things that I learn as I go down the path of writing a play, and avoiding procrastination is one of the things I’ve learnt, perhaps this will help anyone else who is in two minds about whether to start writing or not.
Final words to Mary Heaton Vorse who said, “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.”