My neighbor, Uwe, likes to walk. I mean, really walk. Five, seven, ten miles—it’s nothing for him, and he’s a little shy of 75 years old. Sometimes he’s on the treadmill next to mine at the local YMCA where I run five miles every other day, but I know he likes to get out on the trails at a nearby park and nature preserve. Another neighbor, Tim, often accompanies him on Sunday mornings. So last night, at a backyard gathering, Uwe confirmed that Tim would indeed join him this morning. Then Uwe asked me if I’d like to come along. Normally, I’d pass in favor of my usual run, but I thought, why the heck not. Maybe it would be a nice change of pace. So I said yes. “Nine o’clock sharp in my driveway,” Uwe said, and I assured him I’d be there.
Which I was. We picked up Tim and headed out to the trail. It was a cool late summer morning, and Tim and I followed Uwe’s lead. It was a pleasant day, and we chatted freely as we walked. On the drive to the trail, I’d mentioned that this was my usual day to run.
“How far do you run?” Uwe asked.
“Five miles,” I said.
“That’s about what we’ll do today.”
Okay, I thought. Let’s do it.
Anytime I begin a new piece of writing, I try to have that same degree of confidence. Without it, I’d never write a word. The truth, though, is I really don’t know if I’ll be able to pull it off. I try not to think about the fact that I might fail. I do what Uwe does on his walks. I put my head down and I keep moving forward.
Here are five thoughts, then, about how we can keep our momentum when writing even when deep down we doubt our ability to finish the project.
- Make yourself curious. Often what keeps me writing is a curiosity that I can’t quite satisfy. I write a little every day trying to satisfy it while finding ways to delay that satisfaction. It’s the same thing I want my readers to do. I want them to wonder what’s going to happen while at the same time I’m content to delay the resolution.
- Remember that nothing will ever get written without the first words on the page. They don’t have to be the first words of the final draft. In fact, they often won’t be. But we have to have them in order to move forward.
- Move forward without judgment. Your editor’s persona has no place in the writing of a first draft. The only thing that matter is that you keep putting words on the page.
- Embrace the mess. Our first drafts are always messy. Mess doesn’t mean we’ve failed. Quite the contrary. Mess means we’ve gathered the texture of a lived life, one that resonates with vitality. The time to prune and add and shape will come next. For now, let in whatever comes to you. You never know what gems will rise from what may seem inconsequential.
- Move forward with confidence. Lock up any self-doubt. Put it in a closet, close the door, and turn the key. It doesn’t get a voice in your creative process. Sure, it’s there, but make sure it can’t hurt you or the first draft you’re writing. If that means assuming a persona of confidence, so be it. Wade in to your first draft without fear.
We never know where the writing trail will take us. The only way to find out is to set forth. Uwe and Tim and I set out through the woods this morning. We walked 5.6 miles. We wouldn’t have done that if we hadn’t taken that first step. Courage, confidence, curiosity—the three C’s that help us get those first drafts onto the page.