Monday, June 2, 2014

It doesn't have to be right the first time.

To those who don’t write, writing can seem like a colossal waste of time.  Sort of like doing push-ups.  And, much like push-ups, when you spend a lot of time writing but don’t really seem to get any results, the evidence sort of points to the idea that it is, actually, a waste of time.

It’s not.  If you are a writer.  Which is to say that, like anything (push-ups?), if you obsess it is a bad thing and a lack of balance in your “workout” or failing to use proper form will keep you from getting any positive results.  I really don’t care for push-ups.  Lots of fitness type people have told me, over the years, that if I do nothing else, I should do push-ups and sit-ups every day.  (Sit-ups being the only thing worse than push-ups and an exercise I freely admit to skipping whenever the person forcing me to do them isn’t looking.)  Funny thing here – people say the same thing about writing.  “Do it every day.”

This is not a “write everyday” post.  The lesson is that if you do something habitually, when you need it, it’s there.  Like this weekend when I fixed my garage door.  You read that correctly, I FIXED my own garage door.

What does a challenging carpentry task have to do with writing?  The lesson I’ve learned over the last year.  It doesn’t have to be right the first time.

It doesn’t have to be right the first time.

I didn’t realize how my perfectionism and fear of failure had snuck into so much of my life.  I was terrified of carpentry because I don’t know what I’m doing.  I’ve tried several projects that have failed miserably.  There’s a few things I’ve done, simple things or things I’ve done many times under the watchful gaze of an expert, but something new and complicated?  Forgetaboutit.

But Friday night when my kids hit the button for the garage door opener, the bottom of the door fell off.  First thing I did was look at how much new garage doors cost.  Then I looked at the price of a 10’ 2x4.  That’s when something interesting happened.  I thought about all of the other projects I’ve worked on.  How this should work.  I examined the structure of the door.  How the piece had fit there before.  I made a plan.  I knew what had to be done, I just hadn’t tried it before.

This is not my garage door.

The next morning I went to Lowe’s and bought what I thought I needed.  I ripped a groove down the top of the 2x4.  I put a bevel on the top edge.  I attached it with lag screws and liquid nail adhesive.  I cut out a corner of the new board because something isn’t level and it was binding.  I painted the new board, the rest of the door, and the trim a matching color.  My wife said, “That looks really good.”  I heard a lot of surprise in that.  I was surprised too.

What that has to do with writing is this: The broken garage door was a blank piece of paper.  The longer I stared at it doing nothing, the longer it would take to fill/fix.  Starting got me closer to being done.  I would learn what worked and what didn’t.  I would make corrections.  I would walk away and come back with fresh eyes.  But regardless of how it turned out, I would do it.  And if it needed to be done again (another draft(!)) I would do that.  Because I’m a writer and I’ve learned that it doesn’t have to be right the first time.

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