Many of my writing students have become familiar with this, my usual signoff line, borrowed from Hunter S. Thompson. What lies behind this admonition?
All of us have a stern, internal censor. Our parents put it there, our school put there, or we put it there ourselves. Writers are, by temperment, an insecure bunch. What if we look stupid? What if people laugh at what we say? What if we’ve got it exactly wrong?
There is a saying that good writing tells the truth about the characters, bad writing tells the truth about the author. I’m not sure who said that, but it sure lays a burden of guilt and fear on us, huh? How can we lay that burden down?
I wrote a post a few days ago about the dreaded slooooooowww start. Writers starting out have a tendency to polish and re-polish their first draft before they move on. A little of that is fine, but it soon stalls your project and you realize you’ve spent four months on your first paragraph. Just can’t leave it until I get it right.
Here’s a tip: take a break from that feverish first draft and look around at your lonely writer’s room. See, there’s nobody watching, not even the ghost of your sixth grade English teacher.
There’s plenty of time for revision and polish and reworking–after you have that first rough draft finished. My fellow Oregonian, Ken Kesey was fond of saying, “Junk it through.” Just get the darned thing down, then go back with your magnifying glass and your thesauraus.
When I tell you, “Write at absoulute top speed,” I’m talking about getting that first draft done, letting your most honest, inner self do the writing, not that carefully controlled ‘correct’ person you like to show the world. Allen Ginsburg said, “First thought, best thought.”
How can we break through to our strongest inner voice, say what we really mean? It’s a scary task, but the rewards are substantial.
Lombard Street in San Francisco is so steep and winding that many people are afraid to even drive down it. Picture this: It has just rained and it’s one of those rare freezing winter days in The City (as the locals like to capitalize it) You stand at the top of the street. You’re wearing high heels (or cowboy boots, if “heels” makes you nervous).
You start down the hill. You slip, you slide, your foot goes upside your head, you do an involuntary split. You may look ridiulous, you may look akward, but you will discover moves you never knew you had in you.
Keep that in mind as you start to write. You’re trying to keep ahead of your internal censor. Get that stuff down before that other, more cautionary voice creeps in.
A clear, inspirational treatment of this subject can be found in, Writing From the Body, For Writers, Artists and Dreamers Who Long to Free Your Voice,” by John Lee, St. Martin’s Press.
Let us close with the words of Walt Whitman. “Dismiss what insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem.”
By the way, remember to WRITE AT ABSOLUTE TOP SPEED.



2 thoughts on “

  1. I have also heard that a good way to get past that dreaded first sentence is to write longhand with your non-dominant hand. It supposedly activates the normally dormant parts of your brain and brings out amazing things. I have yet to try it, but it remains in my bag of tricks if and when I might need to pull it out.

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