Saturday, 10 February 2007

First thoughts

Here I am, spoiling the virgin blankness of this blog with my first post. Appropriately enough, I thought I'd share a few reflections on getting going.

Beginning a project has always been a big deal for me. I know this is also true for other writers. I invariably experience a mixture of difficult feelings when faced with a blank page or a new notebook, a mixture in which anxiety usually features strongly. At various times in the past I have been completely paralysed by this potent emotional cocktail. When this happens, I know that it's useless to push myself. I usually like to go away and do something physical (fast walking is good, as is kneading bread dough). If time is short and deadlines loom, though, I take a tip from Nobel laureate Janet Frame, who, when faced with seemingly intractable writers' block, resorted to typing "the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog" again and again. Since I usually write my early drafts in longhand, I just make any kind of mark on the paper. Gradually, I begin to write a few sentences. Sooner or later I realise that I am no longer very anxious, and can focus my attention on the task in hand. I have successfully broken the menacing spell of the blank page and I'm ready to start for real. Incidentally, Ms Frame claims that she spent whole days churning out typing exercises before she managed to actually start writing meaningful prose, which is rather reassuring to we of lesser talent.

In case you're wondering, this is what I'm trying to achieve by blethering on here. Some kind of start. I have a theory that successful writers are people who combine an awareness of quality with a very high tolerance for imperfection. They know more or less what they want to achieve, but don't go off in a mighty strop if it can't be done at once or with absolute perfection. Like a WW2 prisoner of war engaged in an escape attempt, they make a start and just keep tunnelling.

22 comments:

monaxle said...

Well done for your first post, the topic of which is spot on for this endeavour.

I am really looking forward to this project growing over the next three weeks. Hope to be able to put something in as well as get something out.

mjames said...

This is an exciting prospect. I look forward to following progress and participating where possible. Mark.

Lynn said...

Thanks. I really appreciate your encouragement and look forward to writing with you.

Philip said...

I think you're dead on target by saying 'a high tolerance for imperfection'. Perfectionism is no doubt one of the main obstacles to, well, completing pretty much any project, not just writing. Good luck with it!

Lynn said...

Quite right. I like Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's book 'Creativity', where he stresses that all those engaged in creative endeavour should seek to connect with the intrinsic rewards of the creative process rather than being too worried with how the work will be received and so on. As you say, Philip, this holds true of other projects, too.

Pete said...

Your post reminds me of the end of Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George... "...a blank page or canvas. So many possibilities..."

good luck with the essay!

alice g said...

Everyone always seems to view the essay process as an isolated written act: you and the blank page. Have you considered avoiding this by just chatting to someone and bouncing your ideas off them? Then you can write these down and see where they get you. It might be more fun than 'the quick brown fox...'

Lynn said...

Hi Alice! Yes, excellent point. Are you a writing mentor by any chance? ;-)

Angeliki said...

Briliant idea!
I can't wait to see this project developing.
I'm studying psychology on a post-graduate level and I'm really interested in writting.
Hope to be able to help you.

jessm said...

What a fab idea! Hopefully it will give the rest of us some motivation to get on and write!

linda said...

I totally agree with your theory of a high tolerance for imperfection. as a study support tutor I realise my students beat themselves around the head for their imperfections. But you have to have them to recognise perfections. As I repeateldy say to them, a draft is just a draft. Happy writing.

Christine said...

This is an exciting project -- doubly exciting because you're working in it across so many platforms. The question of imperfection is an interesting one in this regard -- which platform (wiki, blog, plain old Word Processing) is most hospitable to the types of imperfections that are necessary for productive writing? I hope you share your insights as you work through this process!

Lynn said...

Hi Christine, the Wiki is excellent because it gives visitors the ability to compare drafts. But I haven't yet made use of the really cool technology, Camtasia Studio 4. This is a method of capturing the writing process in realtime. It can then be produced and uploaded as a video for replay on demand. For an example of the potential of this exciting application, visit www.quickmuse.com

TTFN!

Anonymous said...

I've only just come to this web site, & find it v interestings. I quite agree with you on the importance of an 'awareness of quality with a very high tolerance for imperfection'. In case you are interested, i use similar strategies to yours in getting down to writing, but also incessantly chant through my head, 'Any old rubbish, any old rubbish...' . This works for me - i end up writing 'any old rubbish', and then surprise myself that it isn't actually such rubbish after all! It is advice i give studnets too, but i don't know how well it works for them. Dilys

Lynn said...

Welcome, Dilys! Come back lots and let us in on more of your thoughts.

I like the idea that your 'old rubbish' turns out to have merit. This was quite a turning point for me, the day that I began to have faith that there's usually something usable in everypiece of writing I do, even if I have to wait for a long time to see it.

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