Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Getting Started

There are significant moments in everyone's day that can make literature. ~ Raymond Carver I once read a book by Nicholson Baker called "The Mezzanine" that recounts a man's experiences while riding an escalator in a shopping mall. The entire time frame of the book is about 90 seconds. What made the book intriguing was not an epic scope of time or journeys to exotic places. It was the wonderful landscape inside the human mind. Sometimes as writers, we put off the inevitable (getting started) because we are waiting for some perfect idea or grand plan to grab hold of us and draw words and phrases out of us and onto the page. This is a clever ruse for procrastination. Great ideas sometimes grow like giant sequoia trees from insignificant little seeds. Starting to write about the curtains might develop into a story about two murderers hiding out in an abandoned summer cottage. Writing about postage stamps could lead to a tale of a serial killer who is also a philatelist. The most important thing about writing is to suspend all judgments and criticisms until the words are actually on the page. It is impossible to edit a blank sheet of paper. Worrying about editing before the words actually are written is analogous to measuring an infant girl for her wedding dress. It is impossible to know the right measurements before she finally grows up. And while it is easy to think we are ignoring the voice of the internal critic, it has numerous ways of rearing its head through unconscious routes. Judgments of any kind, even well-intentioned ones, serve only to stifle the creative voice. This applies to appropriate corrections such as grammar, punctuation, spelling, and structure. These concerns are valid but only after the idea has taken form on the page. Similarly, the content of an idea does not deserve to be questioned while it still germinates inside the brain. I am fond of thinking and talking as much as anyone, but I have learned to simply funnel the words onto the page and then examine them, like the obstetrician in the delivery room who rates the newborn according to the Apgar scale once it is delivered. Natalie Goldberg (author of "Writing Down the Bones") encourages writers to fill their notebooks (or computer memory) with lots of "bad" writing so long as they are writing. I have found wonderful grains of ideas within old exercises that have blossomed into luxuriant fields of stories. Whether my final product is fiction or non-fiction, prose or poetry, it came into being because I was willing to risk committing something to paper. As the oft-cited Chinese proverb states, "the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Be willing to leap onto the page with whatever spills out of your head and something good will result. I hear the raucous rhythm of the Blackeyed Peas singing, "Let's get it started." Follow their advice and get started on your own writing right now.

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