Monday, April 16, 2012

Just Pull Off the Band-Aid

"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what."
-Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

July 2011 was the month that slammed me with the knowledge that I would never be a writer. Never, never, never never never. I read Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird that month (in less than 48 hours) and the book left me feeling depressed. Not because of the story (which was amazing) not because of its length (only wish it had been longer) and not because of the characters (loved them!) but because of the way it was written. I finished TKAM and decided then and there that I would never, ever be able to write as well as Harper Lee, and I might as well stop trying.

Ah, melodrama.

I felt the same way in seventh grade, when I finished The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare. For nearly a week, I didn't even touch my journal because I felt it was useless to write anything. A few days later, my resolve broke and I wrote a stormy, dramatic passage in my diary about how much I wanted to be a writer and how that was never going to happen. Then, of course, in due time I completely forgot about all that and went back to scribbling.

I'd like to say that was the only time I ever got discouraged about writing. I could say that, but I'd be laughing too hard at the sheer idiocy of such a statement. I get discouraged about writing almost every week, resolving almost every time to put aside my pen forever. (Sad violin music, please, maestro.)

But then... but then... I did something completely different, in November 2011. In the past I had always come up with an idea for something, scribbled (or typed) a few pages of it, then promptly forgot about the whole thing or else lost interest. Sometimes I'd begin writing something that I was sure would be good--whether it be a short story, the Great American Novel, or a lowly blog post--and would give it up before it was half over because I couldn't think of anything else to say. And then came NaNoWriMo.

When I participated in National Novel Writing Month this November, I was hesitant at first. I didn't think I could really write 50,000 words in 26 days. (It's supposed to be 30 days, but I didn't write Sundays, so I ended up doing it in 26). I started writing, found to my surprise that it wasn't as hard as it looked, and joyfully flew through the first two weeks of writing. Words, characters and dialogue came to me faster than I could write them down, and I was thoroughly enjoying myself.

Then came the third week, and I hit rock bottom. Suddenly everything seemed dry. My story was going nowhere. There was no plot, no driving force, nothing to get this pitiful little not-even-a-novel off the ground. Then I got a cut on my forearm.

That last sentence probably struck you as odd and out of place, but bear with me. I put a Band-Aid on the cut along with some Neosporin and let it heal for a day or two. After a little while, the Band-Aid started to curl at the edges and get damp from soap and water, so I decided to take it off. Naturally, it was one of those super-sticky ones that cling to your skin like a baby koala. (Off topic, but haven't you always wanted to hold a baby koala?) Anyway, after some gentle tugging, I finally closed my eyes, counted to three, and ripped off the Band-Aid in one motion.

It hurt for a couple of seconds, and then the stinging was gone and I put on a fresh Band-Aid. Within minutes, I'd forgotten any discomfort. But some of the analogist (it means someone who likes to make analogies; yes, I made it up) in me was thinking, "Hey, this would make a great illustration."

Because maybe writing is something like pulling off a Band-Aid. Sometimes it's necessary to do it gently and slowly. Sometimes you have to sit back and ponder. But then there are other times when you just need to rip off the Band-Aid... or pour out a couple of pages' worth of words without thinking about it. There are times when you need to just stop quibbling and write. Just write. Maybe it'll sting a little at first, maybe you'll look back later and think, "Ew, did I write that?" But then maybe, just maybe, you'll land at the end of a whirlwind month with two hundred pages in your hands. Two hundred pages that you are actually proud of. (And maybe you'll even look back and say, "Whoa, did I actually write that?")

Who knows? Maybe Harper Lee couldn't decide what to name Scout. Maybe Jane Austen wrestled with dialogue in the Netherfield ball scene. Maybe Charles Dickens had trouble deciding whether he would kill off Miss Havisham or not. This is all speculation, but the fact is that Lee, Austen and Dickens didn't give up. They wrote. They stuck with their stories. They saw them through to the end.

Even if it stung a little sometimes.

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