Some thoughts on writing (and some news!)

Summer break is here! I’ve so badly wanted to use my vacation from teaching to get down to some serious writing, but somehow I haven’t done quite as much as I’d like. I have excuses, of course, the biggest being that I’m moving. I’ve packed up my New York apartment, and this fall I’ll be going to Fredericksburg, Virginia to teach journalism at the University of Mary Washington and continue my own journalistic work. I get nostalgic just thinking about it because, well, New York is the best. Really, it is. So, yes, I’ve been busy with cardboard boxes and movers and logistics at the new school.
 
But I think the real problem getting in my way is perfectionism, a killer for basically every writer I can think of. We all know that the key to goodwriting is rewriting, that we can’t expect our thoughts to come out fully formed and gleaming, that we have to start with somewhat messy first drafts and then work on polishing those words. But still, when dealing with a blank page, it’s always a bit of a challenge to allow myself to just go ahead and write something really, really bad. So, starting now, I’m giving myself free license.
 
The, ahem, “shitty first draft” is something that Anne Lamott writes about in one of my favorite books, “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions onWriting and Life,” and I’ve been re-reading parts of it as I gear up for my next few weeks, which I’ll be spending at NESCent, the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, a nonprofit cross-disciplinary research center jointly operated by Duke University, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University. I'll be a journalist-in-residence, a job with no real requirements except that I get my work done. I get giddy when I think about having day-long stretches to spend with my nose in my laptop. No distractions. And I hope that by the end of it, I’ll have two-thirds of my book ready to go to my editor. Fingers crossed. I’ll leave you with a few words from Lamott, which really do apply to life outside of writing:
 
 “Very few writers really know what they are doing until they've done it. Nor do they go about their business feeling dewy and thrilled. They do not type a few stiff warm-up sentences and then find themselves bounding along like huskies across the snow… We all often feel like we are pulling teeth, even those writers whose prose ends up being the most natural and fluid. The right words and sentences just do not come pouring out like ticker tape most of the time. Now, Muriel Spark is said to have felt that she was taking dictation from God every morning—sitting there, one supposes, plugged into a Dictaphone, typing away, humming. But this is a very hostile and aggressive position. One might hope for bad things to rain down on a person like this.
 
For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts. The first draft is the child's draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page. If one of the characters wants to say, "Well, so what, Mr. Poopy Pants?," you let her. No one is going to see it. If the kid wants to get into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory, you let him. Just get it all down on paper, because there may be some thing great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means. There may be something in the very last line of the very last paragraph on page six that you just love, that is so beautiful or wild that you now know what you're supposed to be writing about, more or less, or in what direction you might go--but there was no way to get to this without first getting through the first five and a half pages.”
 
Xoxo,
 
Sushma Subramanian