Anne Lamott

Keep Moving Forward

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bicycle2I should have titled this blog post: How Not to Start NaNoWriMo. But instead I went with something a little more motivational.

Sigh. My NaNo month is getting off to a slow start. Why?

I looked back.

I didn’t really have a choice. See, I was writing my second book when the copyedits came through for my first book. So I had to put book two down in order to finish book one  (which was an exciting adventure of its own!). Now I’m writing book two again (and using NaNoWriMo as my motivator/deadline/piano hanging over my head). But in order to get my head back into book two, I had to read what I’d already written. And then it was really easy to start fixing what I’d already written. Which means I’ve been doing more editing than creating.

Sigh.

Looking back over what you’re writing, while you’re writing it, presents two potential pitfalls:

1. You realize what you’ve written sucks and you lose motivation.

2. You try to fix what you’ve written and you lose momentum (and time).

Unfortunately, I’m guilty of both.

Last night I groaned to my husband about my first draft. “Ugh!” I said. “This is the such a shitty first draft!” (See how I borrowed Anne Lamott’s phrase there?)

He asked, “Well, is it better than your last first draft?” And then he asked, “Is it better than your first first draft?”

Grudgingly, I said yes.

“Then you’re making progress. Keep going.”

(Let me pause here a moment to say: my husband rocks.)

Jumping from copyedits of the first book — which had already been through a few revisions and was pretty darned polished! — to re-reading a partial first draft set me up for failure and frustration. What was I doing, comparing a polished manuscript to a rough-hewn first draft?! Oh silly, silly me. Even though I had to go back and read what I’d written so I knew where and how to pick up the story again, getting back into the game has been like trying to ride a bicycle uphill. Ugh. Thankfully, I feel like I have a handle on the story again and can start picking up speed. I’m eager to see those NaNo numbers rise.

When it comes to creative work, momentum is a kind of tenuous thing. Once you have it, try not to lose it, especially by going back and rereading what you’ve already wrote.

Whatever you do, keep moving forward!

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Confronting Those Negative Voices

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If you’re like me (and every other creative I know), you have a negative voice in your head that whispers ugliness to you every time you sit down to do your creative work.

I call mine the You Suck Monster. He sits on my shoulder. Sometimes I have the wherewithal to flick him away. Sometimes, like a fool, I listen to his lies.

Anne Lamott talks about these voices in Bird by Bird. She writes that a friend suggested she put the voices into a jar, like mice, and tighten the lid. Then she can’t hear them while she’s working.

A good idea.

But what about when they’re so loud you can hear them through the glass?

Not long ago I came across an exercise for confronting and quieting these voices. I can’t remember now where I read about it, but after a difficult writing session, I decided to give it a try. The original context for this exercise wasn’t writing, but I’m pretty sure it would work for any goal you’re hoping to achieve.

Here’s how it works.

  1. Open a blank document or turn to a fresh page in your notebook.
  2. Write down what you want to accomplish.
  3. Write the first negative response you hear.
  4. Write down what you want to accomplish again.
  5. Write down the next negative response you hear.
  6. Write down what you want to accomplish.
  7. Write down the negative response.

And so on. Repeat this until the YouSuck Monster runs out of negative things to say.

Here’s an example of how this might look:

  • I am going to write a novel.
  • You don’t know how to write a novel.
  • I am going to write a novel.
  • You aren’t a strong enough writer.
  • I am going to write a novel.
  • It won’t be as good as others’ novels.
  • I am going to write a novel.
  • But you suck.
  • I am going to write a novel.
  • You’ll be rejected.
  • I am going to write a novel.

Etc.

The first time I did this, my YouSuck Monster sent me negative responses for a page and a half before he ran out of things to say. By that page-and-a-half mark, the things he said started to make me laugh. I found myself starting to think, So what? That’s all you’ve got? The things the YouSuck Monster said were ridiculous.

If you have an annoying negative voice in your head whispering negativity to you, try this exercise. It might just help shut up the voice and let you get back to your creativity.