At one point, this blog post was over 1,500 words. (Clearly, I’m still in novel-mode.) Technically, I suppose it still is, but because I’m a kind and benevolent writer I’ve done you the courtesy of splitting it into two separate posts. In the first, I’ll be discussing some of the life lessons I learned from doing Nanowrimo. In the second, I’ll share some writing-specific tips that I picked up during my wrist-shattering literary frenzy. I’m not usually a list guy, but in this case, it feels like a valid means of enumerating the things I’ve learned.
1. Your inner-editor is a freaking jerk.
If you’ve ever attempted a creative project, you’ve heard the voice of your Inner Editor. It leans against the back of your skull with its arms crossed, judging your work. At every decision you come to it tells you that you’ve chosen poorly and have ruined it. It tells you you’re a fraud; not an artist. It compares your work to others who have been working at their craft longer than you’ve been alive and then berates you for not measuring up. It’s harsh, mean, and if I may be so bold: a total bastard.
Your IE wants to convince you to step away from the keyboard, guitar, paintbrush, microbrew beer, home made soap, knitting needles, or whatever else you’re thinking of experimenting with. But your IE is just confused. It thinks it is protecting you from scorn and ridicule by dragging your work through the mud.
The trouble is, art, in any of its forms, starts off ugly. Every great novel grew from the seed of a lackluster first draft. Every masterpiece was birthed at the cost of an untold number of canvasses. You must give yourself permission to create something ugly. Something awful. Something that you’re ashamed of, because this is how art happens.
If you’re going to make it as a creative person, you have to learn to sneak up on your inner-editor, sap it over the back of the head, toss it into your trunk and LEAVE IT THERE until you’re done with your first pass. Your inner editor wants to maintain the status quo. It wants to get through life with as little turbulence as possible. But art is revolution. Every piece of art you create lifts its fist in defiance of an ordinary, dull, bland life; and not just for you, but for every person that sees it.
2. JUST FREAKING DO IT.
Your duty as an artist is to create. That is what you are here to do. Once you learn how to tell your IE to “shove it”, the ball is in your court. More important than anything else, more than reading about your craft, more than sampling offerings others have crafted, more than thinking about and planning your craft, is participating in you craft.
Make stuff. All the time. Pour your soul out through whatever means you have handy and don’t settle for daydreaming about how nice it would be if you could. Just do. I know, that sounds really exhausting to some of you. But once you manage to shut out your editor, you will be absolutely amazed at how many ideas begin growing and taking form. In the two days since I won NaNoWriMo I’ve scribbled down three ideas for movies I want to write and I’ve done some further tweaking of ideas for another book I’ve been toying with.
It’s like my editor was in control of a dam that held back all of my creative juices. Somewhere in the past month I’ve rigged that dam with dynamite and flooded the valley of my brain. I promise: The more you create, the easier it gets to continue to do so. Once you realize that perfection doesn’t exist, you can sink your hands into your craft up to the elbow and revel in the simple glorious messiness of it all. It comes down to a simple question… Would you rather have an imperfect thing that actually exists, or spend your days imagining something you’re too scared to attempt calling into existence?
I’ll choose imperfection every time. Why?
3. You can fix it later.
This is the reason we knock our inner editors unconscious instead of simply outright killing them. They have their purpose. After you’ve created something and it’s staring back at you, all dark and wobbly and ugly, but there because it exists, that’s when you let your inner editor out of the trunk.
Your editor has an amazing analytical mind. It knows how to word sentences to have a stronger impact. It knows how to tune that melody perfectly. It can figure out how to rebatch that bar of soap. Your inner editor is desperate to sic itself on something; that’s why you had to knock it out in the first place. If you drop a tantalizing morsel like a first draft in front of it, it will go to town. And that’s what you want. Because while perfection may not exist, your editor is capable of bringing your art in that direction. You just have to teach it to recognize that things will never start that way.
Eventually, your Inner Editor will learn to step in line. It will begin to trust that when you begin a creative endeavor that perhaps you know what you’re doing. It will learn to remain silent instead of criticizing your every move. And as it does, you will recognize that you are beginning to improve.