What’s the matter with you?

My marriage involves a certain amount of horsing around. DP is a big tough man, and I’m a weedy copyeditor, so I rarely have the advantage of strength, and, according to DP, I telegraph my moves. Also, I’m ticklish. So usually I’m at a major disadvantage. Yesterday I was amusing myself  by play boxing him across the kitchen. Finally he grabbed my arms and asked (affectionately) “What is the matter with you?”

It was a fair question. After a weekend of strife and struggle and a pathetic post about how I will never again write, I sat the fuck down and wrote. And I wrote 1,000 motherfucking words. Excuse the profanity, but it was necessary.

What did I learn?

1. Confusion is sometimes the only physical advantage I have.

2. Long live the shitty first draft!

I wrote 1,000 very very terrible words. But I don’t care. I’d been in heavy editing mode, and I needed to do something new. I’ve been reading Philip Lopate’s “To Show and To Tell” and he says something like “to be a good writer, you have to be willing to write badly,” and it’s true. You have to be brave enough to put something on the page, and then sit with it for a while, and to then make it better.

3. As Lyra said in her comment:

Focus on the small. Don’t think about structure. Don’t think about the larger picture. Don’t think about publication. Don’t think about chapters. Take one paragraph and write it. Write one idea. Write it badly, I dare you.

4. Don’t go back

I’m always tempted to put something back in that I wrote in an earlier draft, but this is a terrible error. I become committed to the old order and the old phrasing. I forget to include myself. My chapters begin to resemble essays. These may not be your problems, but they are mine. Old drafts can be helpful, but you must remember that they contain old habits. Use with care.

What did you learn?


9 responses to “What’s the matter with you?

  1. I’m so happy to hear you’re reading Phillip Lopate. I think he’s such a smart cookie. It’s interesting you say your chapters begin to resemble essays. I’m just now embracing the essay. Perhaps this is your subconscious trying to redirect you?

  2. I’ve learned that if I open the file, I write or edit or make notes. If I don’t open the file, I not only don’t write, I forget I’m writing a book.

    Dangerous, this.

  3. Old drafts contain old habits. This, dear Indy, is fantastic.
    Thank you for the much needed reminder. I’m not who I am when many of those first awful words were written. And thank God for that.
    (And if you get stumped, could you do a post on favorite books on editing? An editor’s take if you will.)

    • I don’t tend to read books about editing for writers because it’s too much of my daily life. However, if you wanted to guest post about such books, should you be reading them, I’d be more than happy to give you a forum.

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