She’s bad enough when I’m writing, but my inner critic, Miss Midge, got a run for her money this last weekend at The Painting Experience when they took over the Freeland Hall here on Whidbey Island. I spent three and a half days letting paintbrushes lead me, along with a couple dozen other brave souls. My inner creativity coach also got a run for her money. It’s so much easier supporting others in gagging their inner critics than it is to deal with my own nasty voices. But we all made it intact, even though Miss Midge (who is tough as a tractor and built like a fridge) was definitely brought to her knees.
No art ever turns out the way you see it in your head before you begin. That goes for novels, paintings, dances, or any act of creation. As artists (used in the broader sense here) we must let go of expectations, preconceived ideas, and judgments.
An aspiring children’s writer this week asked how to get started actually writing after you do all the research, create a character, and figure out the plot. I’m more of a pantser than that, and what I really wanted to suggest was that she might be avoiding the writing by going overboard on prewriting activities (my method for writing avoidance as a novice was to read about writing), but I refrained. Instead, this is what I shared:
How do you get started writing? You stop listening to the voices inside and outside you and put the pen on the paper! That might sound simplistic, but our perfectionism, expectations, and insecurities can stop us before we even get started. You can even begin writing before you do all that research, character profiles and plotting. Here are a few things that might shorten your learning curve and get the words out:
1. Try free writing (or flow/power/nonstop writing) where you don’t stop moving your pen on the paper. I’ve worked with writers of all ages, and one I’ll never forget was a fifth-grade boy who began writing “She said I had to keep my pencil moving so I will. I hate writing, I hate writing, I hate writing… This is stupid. I can’t wait to get home…” After about a page of that it went on, “I can’t wait for school to get out. When I get home, I’m going to the skate park with Tony…” And he was off and running on a great piece he never would have experienced if that pencil had stopped moving.
2. Join the Society of Children’s Writers & Illustrators and attend their regional and national conferences, sign up for critique groups, and take advantage of their other offerings and materials. You’ll find me at the Washington (this weekend) and Oregon (next month) conferences.
3. Really take in and understand your writing will never be the same story you envision in your head before you begin. Don’t expect it to be. As my good friend and mentor Christina Baldwin says, “Replace judgment with curiosity.” Look at it for what it is, just as a painter will put color on a canvas and then step back to see what’s been created.
4. Beware of showing your writing to too many people before it’s finished. If you stop to consider this honestly, you probably know who will be helpful and who won’t, and if you’re showing it for ego reasons, be prepared to have that ego flattened.
5. This is key, and it’s something I say to clients and students over and over. First drafts are always perfect. Their job is to get the words down on the paper.
And now, I’ve got to get back to my own writing, especially now that this advice is so fresh in my head! Best wishes on yours…