Lynda Barry’s post, “The Two Questions,“ came at the perfect time for me, and I suspect, many of the aspiring writers I know. According to Lynda, “The Two Questions came from trying to write something good, and not getting very far because I had forgotten that trying to write something good before I write anything at all is like refusing to give birth unless you know for sure it is going to be a very good baby.” Her two questions:
- Is this good?
- Does this suck?
They’re perfectly good questions for any writer to ask. At some point, preferably when our stories are done, we’ll of course want to know the answers to each. But where we go wrong is asking the questions too early in the creative process, and killing, or at least severely limiting, the creative process itself. I’ve done it. And I know other people that have done it too. It might be difficult to find anyone who’s ever done anything creative that hasn’t.
People in general want to know how things are going to turn out, and hope for the best possible outcome. The University of Kentucky (UK) and The University of Connecticut (UConn) men’s basketball teams play tonight for the national championship. Let’s say UK takes an eight point lead in the first five minutes of the game. UK fans will think, “This is our night,” while UConn fans will start to think about next year. Five minutes into the game, you can’t tell how it’s going to end. But both sides want to remove the uncertainty, and get to the final outcome, to see the final scene, even before the game is actually over! Fans do it. Players and coaches too. It’s human nature.
I think writer’s put themselves through something similar. The only times I ever struggle with writer’s block happen when I try to perfect what I’m writing as I write it. Stephen King wrote, in On Writing, that we should write, “as fast as the Gingerbread Man can run, getting that first draft down on paper while the shape of the fossil is still bright and clear in your mind.” Write the story first, and fix it later. Create, and then revise. But it’s just so tempting to cheat, and mentally revise things as I write. For Stephen, Lynda, me, and I suspect for everyone else, it’s a mistake.
King himself has recounted how he came up with his novel, “Carrie.” He came up with the concept, wrote several pages, decided this sucks, and threw the pages away. Fortunately, his wife later found the pages in his waste basket, convinced him he was onto something with the idea, and “Carrie” became his first big seller, changing his life forever.
I suppose if Stephen King can’t tell if he has a bestseller on his hands after the first few pages, maybe I should give up on the idea of grading on the fly, and just write. And while I’m thinking about it, maybe check my trash can for any discarded pages… (OP 4/7/2014)