Saturday, November 6, 2010

Object Lessons on Writing, and Follow Your Instinct

Object lesson #1: Writing is not like following a recipe. When I follow a recipe, reviewing instruction and measuring is a good thing. And I never substitute ingredients. It saves me from making something that would cause my family to raise their eyebrows yet again and ask if I have tried another experiment at their expense.

Really, it’s too bad you can’t just follow a recipe for writing. Heaven knows, I want to. I’ve searched dozens of books on writing looking for them. The problem is, I’m a follower. I’ve never been one to trust myself. Back in high school, when I worked out a problem, even if I was sure I was right, I often changed it if someone else disagreed. And it was more often than not a mistake. The message has always been there, it seems. Trust your instincts.

Using the recipe analogy, I find another thing to be true. The way you assemble the ingredients is not nearly as important as the ingredients. When self-editing, I often focused too much of my revision on the cutting and dicing, so to speak, rather than the ingredients themselves. Yet, if the ingredients are good, and fresh, and you enjoy that particular combination, the way you cut and dice is secondary. In other words, I wasted SO much time in perfecting form rather than really looking at what I was working with. Ironically, the latter takes far less time and effort. The work of perfectionism is set aside for the time being to make room for play.

Object lesson #2: Writing is a lot like golf. I saw an article about putting entitled, “How to See the Line”. I knew instinctively that if I read that, I would putt worse than ever. I’ve never been a measurer of spatial things. If I try to measure, for instance, to put pictures on my wall, things go horribly wrong. Similarly, while golfing, if people tell me to stand a certain way, to look a certain direction, blah blah blah, I freeze up. So I’ve learned to listen to the inner voice that tells me “that feels right.” I tried it one time, while miniature golfing, just hitting what felt right. Sometimes I felt better about hitting the ball slightly to the right or the left of the hole, even though I couldn’t see a break. When I followed that little voice and did it, I was surprised more often that not to see it turn and go into the hole. Instinct, I tell you. I think it’s a force we can all tap into. And, can I brag, just a little? Out of 18 holes, 6 were holes-in-one.

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