Thursday, November 06, 2008

New Beginnings and Rough Drafts


Alternate Title: 
Everything I Learned About Writing,
I Learned at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

With the election over and a fresh excitement in the air, there is much talk of new beginnings. A chance for America to start over. To fix problems and overcome challenges. It occurred to me recently that living life  is a constant process of starting over. Not to quote a corny cereal commercial (OK, I will...today is the first day of...you know ...), but in this sense, writing is very much like life - every time we start a new writing project, we are in a sense, solving a new problem, or at least looking at it from a new angle. No matter what we are writing - a memo, a novel, a position paper, a letter, an e-mail -- we are doing it because a question needs to be answered, or asked.  And we revise it until we get it right, because that is what life allows us and expects us to do.  

There is a new urgency in the air, and the message these days is, now is the time. So if you have a project on the table that you've been putting off, just do it. Allow your thoughts to flow freely, and don't edit yourself on the first draft. Get your main ideas flowing, and the rest will follow. Keep in mind that some of your most important ideas may pop up at the end or the middle, while what you wrote at the beginning may be expendable by the time all is said and done. Keep in mind that you may need to read your work in progress out loud to a friend or colleague, or to yourself. You might need to put it away for a while, and then revisit it with fresh eyes, if time allows. 

When I returned to Cleveland years ago for my Oberlin College reunion, I took a brief visit to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which was quite memorable. I saw Jim Morrison's report card (not great), John Lennon's glasses and cap, (don't get me started) and early drafts of  Stephen Still's "Love the One You're With," scribbled on a napkin from some coffee shop 30 years earlier, with lyrics that only vaguely, if at all, resembled the original. 

So...just because what you end up with may not be what you started with, is not a good reason to not start. In fact, it's all the more reason, because the best reward in the writing life, is the surprise you get at the end. Kind of like the prize in the Cracker Jack box. Or the rose in the fisted glove. 

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