I’ve run into a lot of walls in this life. I don’t mean that metaphorically. I’ve physically and literally run into walls, doors, rocky outcroppings, and once a gentleman of surprising breadth whose friends called him “Mac.” Do this enough times and, if you have any survival instinct at all, you develop a certain level of caution. You slow your step, pay attention, reach out to feel your way before you plunge headlong into the dark. This is smart. It is, in fact, an essential part of not being an idiot. But it’s also not necessarily the best way to get through walls.
I always feel a little shady handing out writing advice. After all, if I was sure of the alchemy that brought a book from idea to manuscript, I wouldn’t be staring down the barrel of Book 3 with fear in my eyes, right? But this is sound advice and it’s advice I myself need to remember so I’ll offer it up to you.
When I was writing Shadow & Bone, my mantra was “Just finish.” Let’s call this the Get to the Other Side Philosophy. Get through the wall. Get over the ravine. It doesn’t have to be pretty or clever or smart, you just have to get there. When you’re on the other side, looking back at the work you’ve done, you can take the time to refine, revise, obsess. But first you have to make it there.
Recently, a friend was dealing with the daunting process of writing his first synopsis. How to begin? If doctors are taught, “First do no harm,” then writers should be instructed, “First just write crap.” Inelegant? Perhaps. But you didn’t come here for the petit fours, and the business of writing occasionally calls for a battering ram instead of a polite tap at the door.
Being cautious is wise. Being tentative can be outright dangerous. Being cautious is judging the gap, then making the leap. Being tentative is judging the gap, second guessing, slowing your momentum, toppling into the breach.
When writing a first draft, write with abandon. Write fast. Put your head down and charge. I write with an outline because it makes it less likely that I’ll get stuck. But even while writing the outline, I’m just trying to get to the other side. If I get bogged down, I move on to the next thing. Then I go back again and again, filling in the blanks. I move quickly because it helps me to outrun the voice in my head, the voice of doubt and judgment and nitpickery.
In a way, writing asks that you be young, that you be fearless in the way that you were before the world taught you caution and diffidence. Sometimes, the wall is weak plywood, sometimes it’s sturdy oak, but very rarely is it solid brick. Take the bruises. Do some damage. The other side is closer than you think. When you reach it, look back. See? That door was just a wall until you barreled through.