One thing about getting older is, unfortunately, that large-scale bad things start happening to you and/or people you care about. This isn’t a surprise or a tragedy, it’s life. This week has been personally awful, and then, this morning, on CareBridge, I read a post from a friend whose husband has been locked in a multiyear, multicontinent battle to not die. Today, his wife learned that he’s going to lose. He may not have learned – he’s not conscious. “A bone marrow biopsy this week showed that Michael’s MDS has progressed to full-blown leukemia and is no longer treatable. We have moved to comfort care.”
By contrast, I got a short video clip from a young friend about her day-to-day life this morning. It’s carefree – the video shows her two roommates happily playing video games and smoking weed, in a sunlit room, with shorts and t-shirts on, oblivious, at the moment, to all the suffering and misery out there. This isn’t a surprise or some kind of tragedy, either – it’s also life. It’s what young people should be able to do. It’s not unlike what I did at that age.
My friend’s soon-to-be-dead husband is (or was – now he’s motionless and silent in a hospital room until he, you know, stops breathing) a truly good person – nice, hardworking, a terrific father and husband, the kind of guy you can believe never said anything cruel or unkind or untrue in his life. The fact that his life is about to end is beyond horrible. If I think about it, I will start crying, right here in this coffee shop, all 6’2” of me.
But I still have to write. It’s what I do. I have to produce, and in that, perhaps, lies a lesson for other writers.
Most of my clients are lawyers, and most of them suffer from the disease of overthinking. They will fuss, and stall, and prevaricate and tinker with stuff until they’re exhausted, trying to get it, as Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead would put it, just exactly perfect. As a result, they usually produce nothing.
This all-too-human behavior is a mistake. You’re exhausting yourself chasing your own tail, which you’re not going to catch, believe me. The key to writing anything is to just spit it out. Just start writing. Assume that your first draft is going to be total crap, but until you get it out there, you’re not going to have a second draft.
Type anything. Nursery rhymes. The names of trees. Or try to write one decent sentence. Not perfect, decent. But stop trying to make it perfect. Perfect, or even good, comes from editing, refining, adding the Old Bay and oregano later.
But if you want to write, you have to write. Anything. Write for the wastebasket. The magical stuff happens when you have some kind of idea or verbiage to provide traction. You can then start saying “Well, that doesn’t work, but this might” and you’re off and running.
Particularly when you can’t even imagine writing, it becomes a game of momentum, and you have to do whatever it takes to get some going. Once the flywheel’s spinning, it’s a lot easier, but just like cleaning the house, paying your taxes or going to the gym, 80% of the process is just getting started. It doesn’t matter what the result is. Just get started. Get started. Get started. And don’t overthink it. In fact, if you can, don’t think at all. It’s better that way. I think I’ve done enough thinking for today.