“Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.” –Anne Lamott, on Broccoli and First Drafts, from Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life
Yesterday, my family and I made the drive from Brussels, Belgium back home to Prague, Czech Republic. It’s an eight hour drive—possibly shorter given most of the distance is on the German Autobahn. We’re used to long trips from living in the US, and now, here in Europe most cities are close enough to drive.
Since our car plowed through the path of every bug between the Belgian coast and the rolling German hills, the windshield needed some serious work. I slipped into my black trench coat and buttoned up while my husband pumped the diesel. As I walked, I had to search between cars and people for a foamy bucket and a window scrubber. As it turns out, I also happened to step into an Interpol investigation. An unmarked black BMW and two guys with waistbands full of concealed weapons cased me and held weapons ready. If we wouldn’t have had 3 kids in the back seat of our car, I think I would’ve been deemed an accomplice … all while waiting for an innocent windshield scrubber.
Once I saw what was going on, the rubber gloves and the weapons and the pat-down search, it was hard to keep my jaw attached to my mouth. Standing at the open trunk of his generic white Citroen, a young guy in a Panama shirt and knock-off Converse sneakers lived out a scene from a great Ludlum thriller. Right before my eyes. Unfolding within arm’s length from me.
I didn’t expect that situation at all, but yesterday, at that gas station in the middle of Germany, I rediscovered that all of life is useful in the writing of a novel. Especially when it’s right in front of our faces.
Now that Spring Break is over and my boys are back in school, I can count on 1.5 hands the number of weeks I have until the much-loved Summer break. For the past few months, I’ve been plotting and working my way into the story for my next novel. My goal is to finish the first draft before the end of school (so that I can enjoy the summer without leaving the story hanging).
At this point in the story process, I look to Anne Lamott, famous for her advice on first drafts. Here, a quote from her excellent book on writing and life, Bird by Bird:
“You need to trust yourself, especially on a first draft, where amid the anxiety and self-doubt, there should be a real sense of your imagination and your memories walking and woolgathering, tramping the hills, romping all over the place. Trust them. Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.”
Anne tells a quote on broccoli to her classes as she teaches writing. She says the class always looks at her funny as she opens with, “Listen to your broccoli, and your broccoli will tell you how to eat it.” She means that when we as writers listen to our work, to the characters in our writing, that it will tell us what to write. Intuition. And, as she says, “shitty first drafts” — “Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something — anything — down on paper.”
So, again, in writing this next novel, I jump into getting the story down into the keyboard. Structure and characters and plot-work as my roadmap. I love this part of the journey!
Any writer friends ready to dance? Is anyone else hoping to finish a first draft before school is out? Anyone else want to join in the fun with me?