As I start a new book project, I admit, I have been analyzing how I can make this book better than the last two I’ve written. So I took time out this summer to do some “continuing education” by reading books, websites and articles on the writing craft. My main source has been James Scott Bell’s book, Plot and Structure.
It’s been very good, very helpful. I’m learning a lot. I am not merely reading Bell’s book; I am taking notes, I’ve done some of the exercises at the end of each chapter, and I’ve kept a journal in another notebook, applying the principles to my next novel.
I suddenly hit a wall. The destructive forces kicked in, telling me how bad my last two books were and how I could never, ever write the way James Scot Bell was telling me I ought to write.
And thus, the paralysis began to cramp my creative muscles. Or, as I scold my girls sometimes, I’m over-thinking. I need, as I tell them, to just go do it.
Whenever we start a new project, change a behavior or step into a new lifestyle, facing change is hard. It might be something simple like my husband’s reluctance to throw away a misshapen, dust mite-eaten pillow. It might be as major as an elderly person giving up lifelong activities and possessions because, they hate to admit it, they just physically cannot manage anymore. The flight or fight syndrome we all studied in Psychology 101 kicks in with a fierceness we didn’t know we possessed. Others of us dabble our toes in the shallow end of the pool of life, promising we’ll get to the business of change – sometime – our passive-agressiveness apparent to all. We ain’t fooling nobody by our secret belief that if I ignore the change long enough, maybe it will just go away.
Others of us are like little kids who gallantly jump in the pool only to skitter and shiver because this was all harder, colder and messier than we expected. In spite of the reassurances of others who have tread the waters of change before us, we despair that we will ever get used to the cold – or the fear that we’re in over our heads.
So my head tells me that, if I’m ever going to get this book written, writing that first rough draft is like jumping into the deep end of the pool all at once. It’s not pleasant. It’s messy. My hair might get in my face and water will get up my nose. My protective layer might balloon out, exposing to the world things I’d rather keep hidden. But, oh, the exhilarating thrill, that electrifying surge that will propel me forward past the water’s resistant force!
So, to paraphrase Anne Lamott, I’m going to go write a really yucky first draft. Really yucky first drafts can always be revised. I can always clean up later. It’s a “well duh” to say that I can’t revise no draft at all. As my hair stylist told me, time will pass whether I write that book or not. Why not fill my time by writing the book?
I like best what Steve Saint, author of the book, End of the Spear said: “The question is what are we going to spend our lives on, not how are we going to save them?” The apostle Paul said it this way to the elders at the church in Ephesus: “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace (Acts 20;24).”
When I resist change, when I falter at something new, I am, in essence, trying to save my life as I know it. As a Christian, however, the question I need to most ponder is, “How will I spend my life in a way that will honor God?” I am convinced He will take me out of my comfort zone. But that’s ok. He’s been there before, the path is familiar to Him, He knows just how cold and deep that water is, and He will let nothing happen to me that He can’t get me out of. He will never abandon me to flounder on my own.
The first step is the hardest. But I know what I need to do. Grab His hand, take a deep breath and dive in.