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Well, I hit an Official Writer’s Block my friends, my very first night of NaNoWriMo. I’d done my “research,” and all the kids books I’d loved as a child, all the great classics, had been written in the 3rd person. A lot of good kids books are written in first person – but those seemed to be more modern, and I wanted to write a Great Classic. Therefore, I would have to write in the third person. Now I’ve had a story knocking around my little head for a while, and that story always came to me in the first person. But I dutifully began the story “He lay under the bed . . . ” And I immediately got stuck. I stared at that blank page for about an hour and struggled to make the story work. No go. I finally threw in the towel and went with my initial instinct. I wrote “I lay under the bed . . . ” – and immediately, I started having fun. I added snarky comments. I typed up paragraphs of dialog. I flew through my first night of being a Writer, and I loved it, terrible as the work product was. This experience made me realize a couple of things:
- I’ve got to stop imposing my own Great Expectations on this project, or it’ll never get done.
- When I let go of preconceived ideas of how a book SHOULD be, when I stop trying to control the process and the outcome, when I just let it happen, I have a LOT of fun.
The experience also reminded me of the time when I trained in taekwondo. I had some outstanding teachers at Martial Arts World, and some of the things I learned in class about openness, trust, and staying loose, seem appropriate to remember as I go through this process:
- Stop trying to control everything. The mark of a new student seemed to be a look of intense concentration (or perhaps it was nervousness) AND muscle tightness. As a new student I wanted to do the moves perfectly, right from the get-go. This meant that I watched my teacher closely, then tried so hard to do things “right” that I ended the lesson exhausted, sore all over and, often, frustrated. Part of the problem is that tensing up the muscles in order to better control them just makes you tight – and SLOW. When I learned to loosen up, to try different things out and relax, I made better progress and I had a lot more fun. I think my experience trying to write the way I thought “great writers” do, as opposed to the way I felt comfortable writing demonstrates this as well.
- Trust your teacher(s). One of my most vivid memories of training came when my teacher called on me to assist in a demonstration. I walked to the front of the room, and, at his request, demonstrated an attack move. Before I could blink, he flipped me, hard, onto my side. I had 2 thoughts in that moment, first, I cant believe this guy flipped me! and second, hey, I did that fall pretty good. Months of learning and practicing on falls made me ready – and my teacher knew this from watching me in class. (I suppose it didn’t hurt that he knew exactly how to do the flip in a safe manner) Teachers can come in different guises. Chris Baty, the author of No Plot? No Problem, which is my handbook for NaNoWriMo, specifically warns against setting overly high expectations and repeatedly stresses trying to have fun with the month of writing. If I had trusted him, maybe I wouldn’t have struggled for so long last night (but me, I always gotta learn things the hard way).
- Try things that don’t make sense. This is a variation on the prior 2 points. One of the best lessons I derived from taekwondo was that you might have to do things that don’t feel natural or don’t make sense. My teacher taught us to make a punch faster by thinking about grabbing and pulling, rather than trying to power your arm forward. I would never have thought of that. Let go of your preconceived notions, trust your teacher and try! Every new endeavor has its own rules and mechanics and plays. New techniques often WON’T make sense – because you’re judging them by your old self. Just stay loose and trust your teacher. Not only will you pick up a new skill – your view of the world and all of its possibilities might change! For me, intending to write a crappy book, spending a month working on something with no financial or career payoff really makes no logical sense. But even the fews days of thinking about the month, planning, and my first night of writing have expanded my view of possibilities. Wow! If I can do this, maybe I can do anything.
- Develop muscle memory. Why did we do 1000’s of punches, 1000’s of kicks, 1000’s of jumps? Why do the masters, who have “mastered” all this stuff, keep doing 1000’s of repetitions? We do it, and they do it, to develop muscle memory. When you do something often enough, your body takes over, it can do the act without interference from your brain. The act becomes effortless, graceful, powerful. So, with NaNoWriMo, and with this blog, I’m developing muscle memory. At the end of this, will I have earned the right to call myself a writer? I hope so!
How about you? Have you had the experience of learning more or accomplishing more when you just let things happen, without trying to control them? I’d love to hear about your experience!
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NaNoWriMo status: after a bout of writer’s block – 1689 words, beating my 1667 word target by 22 words 🙂