15 Habits of Great Writers: Day 7 – Start

I find myself reading the Day 7 post in the Great Writers Series and thinking “Oh, I got this.”

The habit of Day 7 is to start. In creating something, it doesn’t just magically come out all pretty and perfect. The “it” you’re creating has to start somewhere, and that “somewhere” is usually just getting the perfect idea in your head messily thrown together on paper or canvas.

Jeff says you have to make it ugly first. (The key here is not that you are intentionally making it ugly, but that you are intentionally making it).

“All creation comes from chaos. All works of art begin as splotches of paint on a canvas. It’s never beautiful at the outset. Before your work can reach its potential, it will first have to be bad.” – Jeff Goins, “Great Writers Start Ugly”

The reason I’m thinking “I’ve got this” is because I’ve long understood that nothing is ever perfectly the way I’ve imagined it the first time around. As a technical writing teacher (off and on), I’ve stressed to my students that you never turn in the first draft of anything. Partly, I stress this because I know many college students have a tendency to throw something together at the last minute for an assignment, and I want students to actually put some effort in. And partly, I stress it because I believe revising is a necessary and integral part of the writing process.

This is why I often handwrite in a notebook (which I carry around with me everywhere I go) before I ever consider something sharable.

–          It’s true of blog posts, particularly personal story ones; often, I’ll write those down in my notebook and then sometimes week’s later decide “Yeah, I’ll go ahead and post that.”

–          It’s true of the fanfiction I write as well; all of those stories, first begin in my notebook. Then, if I decide I really do like the idea, I’ll carry it on until I feel I have something ready to call a fanfic. That doesn’t necessarily mean it gets posted though, because it’s still a little “ugly” – like the one I’ve been working on, off and on, for 2 years now. It may always be ugly.

–          And it’s certainly true of the book I’ve been writing for over 5 years. Some of it is typed, in 3 different documents on my laptop; and some of it is still hiding in multiple notebooks. It’s definitely still ugly but it’s started.

And then there’s the BIG project I’ve recently started. It’s in the ugly stage, for sure, too. But I’m trying to move forward. Something else I know from teaching writing is that you’re not supposed to try to write and re-write at the same time. You divide your efforts and confuse your purpose if you’re trying to create and revise/edit at the same time.

“Write a first draft as though you were thinking aloud, not carving a monument.” Patricia T. O’Connor, Words Fail Me

But, even knowing that, it’s something I’ve always struggled with. So I’m consciously, intentionally, purposefully trying to leave my big project ugly. I’m letting it grow ugly but evolving. I’m leaving the prettying up for after I’ve gotten the story out of my head and onto paper. Until after I’ve created. And I just keep writing.

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