by J.D. Rhoades
I’m getting to the end of the current WIP, or as I call it, “the part where stuff blows up.” The creative part of my head doesn’t really have room for much else other than trying to keep track of where each player in a medium–to-large cast of characters is and where they’re going, while a mini-Gotterdammerung is raining death and destruction all around. In short, I am having more fun that a human being is allowed to have in most states, and I’d really like to get back to it. So today’s entry will of necessity be rather short.
One of my daily must-reads is Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blog over at the Atlantic website. Whatever your political persuasion, I definitely recommend it for thoughtful and fair minded discussion on a wide variety of topics. Recently Coates, in the course of talking about a writing retreat he was apparently making, made one of those observations that stuck with me:
There’s a great jazz pianist up here with whom I have shared meals and talked often. The first day we met he informed me that the essence of our work was learning to get out of our own fucking way. I am learning that out here–how to get out of my own fucking way–and really listen to what I care about, what I truly ache to say.
That’s such a perfect (if profane) expression of what it takes to get the right words down on paper: getting out of your own way. Forgetting about marketability, forgetting about expectations, forgetting about “what will my agent/editor/spouse/mom think if she reads this” , and just letting the story come out the way it plays in your head. Trusting your own vision and talent. Listening “to what you care about, what you truly ache to say.”
It sounds so simple, but it’s so hard to do sometimes. Real life intrudes with interruptions, demands, and pressures. Doubt slithers in. Those Black Birds come and perch on your shoulders, second guessing and criticizing every paragraph, every sentence, sometimes every word. It’s so easy to make things hard.
I grew up near a golf course, and way back in my early years, I played the game a little. I haven’t picked up a club since I turned sixteen, got my driver’s license, and discovered a lot of other fun things to do. But I still remember how good it felt when the swing went just right and the club head connected with the ball exactly at that magical place they call the “sweet spot.” I understand why people get obsessed with the game, because that feeling is so powerful, and it comes so seldom–seemingly at random.
It isn’t random, of course. Making that happen consistently comes from constant practice and repetition and learning not to over-think your swing and tighten up at the wrong moment. It takes a lot of work to learn how to get out of your own way. It was more work than I was willing to do to get really good at golf, and it’s a lot more than a lot of people are willing to do to learn how to write well. But that’s what it takes.
Even if you’ve put in the time, it’s still easy to over-think, to balk, to trip over your own expectations and insecurities. So share with us, if you would, what tricks and tips you have for getting out of your own way.