Don't tell the 8,457 kids I spoke to this year, but I don't practice what I preach.
Here's what I preach:
Don't be afraid to write something that isn't very good.
I then go on to tell them:
You can always make it better.
But you can't fix what you haven't written.
I actually stole that first line from singer/songwriter Paul Simon. I watched a documentary once that showed him teaching a class on songwriting. He told the students: "Don't be afraid to write something that isn't very good."
That has stayed with me ever since.
But the truth of the matter is that I HATE writing something that isn't very good.
It really, really, really bothers me.
In fact, it often paralyzes me.
Stops me right in my tracks.
Prevents me from moving forward.
I have struggled with this miserable phenomenon for a long time.
25 years and 16 books, to be exact.
I like for my writing to be neat and tidy and as nearly perfect as it can be while I'm working on the first draft. I go over and over and over the same sentences, paragraphs, pages without moving forward. But then I get stuck and stay there, spinning my wheels. This can be a bad, bad thing.
Critique partners often tell me to "just move forward" and "you can fix it later." I know that. I really do. But it's still hard to do.
I just don't like those s***ty first drafts that Anne Lamott talks about in her brilliant book on writing, Bird by Bird.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for this, my hero and idol and inspiration.
Sometimes I'll just find any way at all in the world to avoid writing a book. I think it's because I think every single word is so important; I find it daunting to write. And so I couldn't do it every day. … Cynthia Rylant (click HERE to read about my obsession)
Dear Barbara O'Connor:
I really really really like your craft move of repeating words three times.
Check out this writing from a FOURTH GRADE writing workshop
The assignment was to write a paragraph showing a setting.
This one is summer at the beach.
Carly shut her eyes and let a light breeze whistle past her ears, caressing her lightly. She picked up a beautiful conch shell, then listened to the unique song it sang when she pressed it to her ear. She felt the yellow-white sand grind beneach her feet as she stepped lightly across the beach.
She looked at the beautiful white-capped waves. The smell of the salty, clear-blue water wafted into her nose as she rushed into the ocean. Oh, how the cold water lapped against her ankles! Beautiful refractions threaded across the bottom of the sea like a constantly shifting spider web.
Dolores and I watched a Shirley Temple movie together yesterday
So, here's the plot:
Shirley is an orphan.
She lives in a beautiful orphanage owned by a handsome rich man.
She has an older sister who is beautiful and who works in the kitchen of the orphanage.
Their parents were actors who died in a car crash.
Shirley has a pony and a duck that her parents used to use in their vaudeville show.
She is so dang cute that the handsome rich man adopts her and buys her a pony cart for her pony and gives her hula lessons.
Shirley wants to raise money for the poor orphans who are not as cute as she is and didn't get adopted, so she puts on a musical and sings Animal Crackers in My Soup and her beautiful sister plays the ukelele.
The handsome rich man falls in love with the beautiful sister and marries her.