Having recently dropped a kid off at college for the first time, I know what it’s like to put together some IKEA furniture…with the added handicap of trying to read the directions through a film of tears. Not joking.
Something about the directions for her bed struck me as useful for writers. In an early step (#5 of #21), they tell you not to overtighten the hex bolts. This is because one piece has to fit into another and there has to be some give — you get to the tightening of both pieces later.
You see where I’m going with this, right? I see a lot of writers overtightening their first draft: wordsmithing, agonizing over the perfect dialogue snippets or vocation for a minor character. Those answers will come over the course of the drafting process if you leave things a little loose. If you overtighten, you will just have to go back to a much earlier step and undo everything you have done between now and then — or worse, snap a piece off in your hand and have to go back to that giant parking lot with the weird trolley carts that don’t hold a damn thing comfortably.
How’s that for a bold title. And now we only have 120 words left!
Quickly: meditation for writers involves following the breath. You follow the breath, you settle into concentration, you release the ego, you open up to your inner prompter spooling out the words into your mind just as you become conscious of them.
Good? So the secret to meditation is your posture, specifically one thing: opening your bottom belly. Find the place two inches below your navel which is the lowest your breath goes. Below your chest where you hyperventilate or fight on Facebook, below your upper belly where you wax poetic but are still somewhat on the defensive.
Find the bottom belly. Stay with it. And now write what comes to you in the order in which it comes to you.
Revision is not something you do after you are done writing. Revision is writing.
A paragraph does not come tumbling out in perfect form the first time you glimpse its need and some of its contents. You (might) get one perfect sentence.
And then in the next draft, you follow the clues and nail another one.
And then in the third draft you have lived an extra day or week and you get another sentence that fits into the groove left by the first two.
And then maybe you show this paragraph to someone you trust and they say, what about?… And you say, Can I use that? And you have your fourth sentence. And if your paragraph was only supposed to have four sentences — you’re done.
In their short film, the Tucson Festival of Books asked a dozen writers the best piece of advice they ever got coming up through the ranks. I was caught saying this:
“All the people that quit are contained inside that bigger circle of the people who don’t make it. If you quit, you’re done.”
I don’t have that much to add to this, except I love Venn diagrams.
Okay, I do have something else to add. You can read it here as part of a keynote speech I gave for the PennWriters conference (and from which I clearly plagiarized myself for the Tucson Festival).