The Incredible Value of A Writer’s First Thoughts
I’ve started reading Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. I’ve got to tell you, this book is fantastic so far.
It’s really a big collection of essays on how to set your true writing voice free.
In my own experience, I’ve found that my true voice, my best one, the one that’s the real me is living in those first thoughts that hit the page.
But that’s dangerous, isn’t it?
You’ve probably heard lots of writers say that your work sucks until you write it over and over again.
I’m not going to say you shouldn’t edit. I am going to say that when you listen to that advice you’ll probably edit the life out of your words.
I used to do some epic drawings. I’m talking 20–30 hours to do one. That’s a huge time investment.
Editing for a visual artist is erasing, blending, and repainting. You can do that as much as you like. But here’s one thing you must know.
After you’ve rubbed the paper in one spot 15 times, it starts to deteriorate. In other words, each additional erasure takes a bit of paper with it.
So you can either rub a hole in your painting or just resign yourself to the fact that it’s good enough to ship.
Or you can throw all those hours of work away and start over.
Your art is special.
Only you can portray your friend on paper the way you do. Only you can capture her smile and draw out her essence.
Don’t take that lightly.
So what if everyone doesn’t like it. You can only sell an original portrait to one person anyway.
Chances are that person has friends that will ooh and aah over your work and want to hire you to do one for them, too.
Now let’s look at how first thoughts are often your best thoughts. And more importantly, how they draw out your true voice.
First thoughts are unfiltered.
When you’re pouring out words in an endless stream of consciousness, your ruthless inner critic will go take a nap.
He knows he can attack you later.
That’s why you have to work fast. Don’t stop to admire yourself. Don’t get sidetracked with wanting to polish. Just write and let the words fall wherever they may.
I think you’ll find that when you write with abandon, you’ll be a lot happier doing it. You won’t be sitting around wondering if your writing sucks. You’ll be having fun.
And when you’re having fun, your readers will, too.
Your work will be a ton more interesting.
What happens when we edit?
If you do it too long, trying to make every word absolutely perfect, your writing might read like a school paper.
Did you keep any of those in your scrapbook?
I’d say if you’re going to edit, make your words conversational.
It’s fun to read stuff that sounds like a letter from a friend. If it’s a really good letter, you might read it twice or maybe even ten times. You might even keep it in your top drawer to inspire you, give you a quick laugh, or allow you a quick mental visit with your friend.
There was a hot dog stand near my work many years ago. The first place offered hot dogs bursting with beefy flavor. Then they’d add some spicy, good-as-homemade chili, and even chopped onions if you wanted some. Then they finish it off with a line of ketchup and mustard.
Then suddenly the place disappeared.
A few months later, another man started selling hot dogs. He played it safe since some of his customers were older than my parents. The hot dogs had a hint of flavor, but not enough for me to identify if there was beef or spam inside. The chili was as bland as ground up cardboard. It was positively awful.
So I opted for a cool soul food place run by a short guy named Frank (not me).
Bring on the flavor!
Don’t serve your readers bland words. Add your personality into them. Give us your brand of spice. Pour your life into your writing and give us something that only you can.
Then you’ll always write stuff that’s worth reading.
At least it won’t be boring.
Take a risk.
I’ve just told you to be bold and leave a lot of your first thoughts in everything you write.
But what if doing that fills you with so much fear you can’t go out in public?
Here’s a great rule of thumb to judge whether you should write that spicy stuff or not.
If you wonder whether or not you should say something, there’s a good chance that’s exactly what you should say.
If you know you shouldn’t, don’t.
Take a verbal risk that might stir people up. You’ll get their attention, won’t you? And if you mean well, I think most people will see that.
And you can just ignore the haters.
Be glad you made an impact.
Now Go Explore Your Own First Thoughts
This week try to write a blog post in 20 minutes.
This will just be a draft.
I think you’ll be amazed at what you can write when you turn your censor off. Don’t worry, you can invite the censor back when it’s time to edit.
Just don’t let him overstay his welcome.
Seriously, try this if you haven’t before. If you have, I want to hear how it changed your writing. If you try this for the first time this week, I want to know how it went for you, too.
I hope you find your true genius and let it write everything going forward!