Day 2 of #1000wordsofsummer 2019
Today you will write 1000 words. You will do this because it can help you build strength – artistically, intellectually, professionally, and emotionally. You’re doing real labor here: creating a space for yourself out of thin air, each word on top of another. Stairs to the sky, a bridge to a fantastic location. It’s heavy lifting, these 1000 words every day. But you will see real results.
It’s evidence of some sort of achievement, this accrual of words. I love having something to look at the end of the day, flipping through the ink-stained pages of my notebook, scrolling down the screen of my laptop. As of yesterday, I have 7,008 words. A pittance. But the more time I spend with the work, even if I’m making my way blindly, awkwardly through the story, I feel a little more in control of this other universe. I close my eyes and picture the physicality of what I’m doing. Today I saw a swimming pool that hadn’t been cleaned in years, and an empty motel lobby offering an anemic continental breakfast. And I saw emotional distance between characters. All of this was starting to feel palpable. I’m building a future with my words.
Today’s guest post is from Celeste Ng, author of Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere, both critically acclaimed smash bestsellers, not just in America but around the world, where she has been translated into more than two dozen languages. Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington are making a TV version of Little Fires Everywhere. Also, Celeste knits beautifully.
“I am a perfectionist by nature so the drafting stage is hard for me. It is really hard to just move forward and put something down on paper because part of my brain is always screaming, ‘But it's not quite right! Erase it! Erase it NOW!’
But I've also learned that it is very rare to get something completely right on the first try – and that it's approximately 9 million times easier to revise something from ‘not great’ into ‘actually kind of decent.' So for me, the key is getting something down, and even when it's imperfect – which is always – it usually points me in the direction I need to dig in.
Over the years, I've collected a bunch of analogies for the writing process that help me override that Type-A instinct in my brain, at least temporarily. In Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott talks about the first draft being the ‘down draft’ (just get it down), and the second draft being the ‘up draft’ (when you fix it up).
Another writing guide described the drafting process as ‘making clay’ – maybe your end goal is to make a perfect sculpture, but the first thing you do, in your draft, is just to make the clay: the stuff you're going to work with. Figuring out how to shape it can come later. (I cannot for the life of me remember where I read this analogy, but maybe some reader will know where it came from.)
And then there's a sign I have over my writing desk, which I glance up at as needed. It just says WORRY ABOUT THAT LATER.”
Worry about that later, friends.
Right now, just write.