A few days after I finished the first draft of a book — for the first time in more years than I’m ready to admit — I started writing another story.
I’m not sure I could have stopped it from happening even if I’d tried. And I certainly would not recommend anyone do this. Heck, I wish I hadn’t. I know my brain needed more rest, and I’m doing the best I can to make sure it still gets as much as time will allow.
But it happened. It’s still happening. The story I’ve temporarily set aside isn’t finished yet. But I have, I’m hesitant but not embarrassed to say, already fallen in love with another.
This is the way of creativity. Sometimes the sky is dark. Sometimes it lights up with color, and you have no choice but to reach up and touch it.
There is something different about this story. There is freedom in it — freedom I neither asked for nor expected.
Perhaps it is a story that has been on my heart for a long time — though I’m sure I said the same thing about the one before it, and the one even before that. Maybe that is why it feels so familiar.
I’m trying something different with this story — because you’re never too “experienced” to experiment, even in writing.
I’m not going to let myself hesitate. Not even a little bit.
We all do it, even if we don’t realize it — even if we end up going forward with the thing that made us stop and think. Is this really what that character would/could/should do? Is this how I would want the story to go if I was reading it? Does that make sense? Is that taking things too far?
None of that. Not this time. I’m just going to sit down in my free time and write the story that comes to me. And whatever comes of it, all I can do is allow myself to think of all the things I am learning along the way.
Already I am reminded of a lesson I have been taught many times: That if you want to write the best story you have ever written, you first have to give yourself permission to write the worst you’ve ever composed.
Giving yourself permission to fail, to suck, to write terribly — it changes you. It shows you what creative freedom truly feels like.
I don’t want to experience this wonder alone. You should come along.
I want you to experience what it feels like to write something that is completely and unapologetically yours. It is, I am convinced, a sensation like no other. And everyone deserves to know what it’s like.
To write without fear may be impossible, but to write without boundaries is magical.
We’re so bound by rules and “best practices” and experts telling us right and wrong that we forget a story can be absolutely anything you want it to be. It can do anything and everything you want it to. It doesn’t have to follow a straight path. It doesn’t have to subscribe to a particular formula. True, every good story has some things in common, but you don’t have to know what those things are. Not yet. Not now.
Now, all you have to worry about is telling the story that’s on your heart. Getting to know the characters in front of your eyes. Taking things in directions you never imagined they could go.
Write it all down as it comes to you. Even if you immediately know you’re going to change or delete it later, don’t. Keep it there. Keep up your momentum. Keep moving forward. The original version of a story wants one thing and one thing only: to exist. To be told. To be finished. We’re the ones who worry about making it perfect. All a story cares about is that you’ve given it the space and opportunity it needs to someday grow and thrive. That’s all it will ever ask of you.
Don’t deprive your story of the only chance it has to become something magical. It deserves better than that. And so do you.
So when the fear sets in, when the self-doubt tries to take control of your hands and every negative thing you have ever been told about your storytelling rushes to your mind, know there is no avoiding it. You cannot erase fear, you cannot escape anxiety.
But you can write straight through it.
And the feeling of freedom that results is worth every hesitant keystroke.
I can’t promise that writing the words will get easier as you go. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it only gets harder as the doubt in your mind tries to fight off the slowly growing confidence.
But I can promise that even though there will always be parts of your story you don’t like and/or are determined to change, there will also be plenty of parts you love. At the very least, there will be segments of your story you will wholly enjoy writing even if they’re not the greatest sentences ever put onto paper. Even if they eventually get cut. Even if you one day forget they ever existed.
For right now, they are yours, they are fresh, and they are wonderful. It doesn’t matter if they’re publishable. It doesn’t matter if you’re the only one who will understand their deeper meaning or they don’t say what you want to convey exactly right. These are all important considerations — essential, really. But if you’re not careful, they can and will hold you back.
Not everyone is comfortable with total freedom. Concerns about time and perfection and plain and simple personal preference don’t always allow for writing without parameters. At the end of it all, your best way is the way that works for you, and no one should be allowed to tell you your way is “wrong.”
Just know the option is there. A first draft doesn’t have to be a good draft. More times than not, it isn’t. It’s a mess. It’s like a bunch of random pages of different magazines cut out and pasted together into the same document attempting to tell a story with half-finished sentences. It’s a start, but it’s not technically the finished product.
I will tell you this: It is much easier to take a mess and transform it into a masterpiece if you have all the scraps and loose ends in your hands. It’s so much easier to tame a wild story when you know it well enough to recognize which parts will need the most work, which parts shouldn’t be tampered with, and what you want it to look like when you’re done with it all.
Personally, I have found that I have the most fun writing when I’ve mostly let myself go on autopilot. Of course I still worry. Of course I still cringe at the bad dialogue and the lazy descriptions and every time I use the wrong words or spell the same word the wrong way 30 different times in one chapter. You can’t turn off your inner editor.
But you can train yourself to make it wait patiently in the corner until you’re done. You can turn to your story knowing it might not be perfect. And you can dive into it and do whatever you want with it. You can have fun. You can surprise yourself. You can laugh. You can cry. You can create something beautiful.
For at least a little while, you, too, can be free.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.