I used to over-plan each chapter—it had to be perfect, do everything, and be worked out in advance.
For Makeshift I’m more modest, each chapter is one thing done well, in 6,000 words or so. Rather than trying to do too much, each chapter is short and does one thing. A scene, linked to analysis, woven into an argument. Together, these will create the book.
The first chapter begins with a scene of me lying on the linoleum, sweating, hot, unsure of how to proceed and trying to work it all out in advance. There is too much information and no easy solution. My mistake was trying to work it out in advance. The solution? Write the book. Do the work. Think on the page.
The trick to writing is not thinking about writing to much. It’s like the trick to flying, that Douglas Adams describes in his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:
“There is an art to flying, or rather a knack. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss. … Clearly, it is this second part, the missing, that presents the difficulties.”
I might rephrase:
There is an art to writing, or rather a knack. The knack lies in learning how to throw yourself at the page and write. … Clearly, it is this second part, the writing, that present the difficulties.
The Guide goes on:
“You have to have your attention suddenly distracted by something else then you’re halfway there, so that you are no longer thinking about falling, or about the ground, or about how much it’s going to hurt if you fail to miss it.”
You have to have your attention suddenly distracted by something else then you’re halfway there, so that you are no longer thinking about writing, or about the book, or about how much it’s going to suck if you fail to finish.
In other words, to write, you absolutely cannot think to much about the fact you’re writing. Writing is something done in the world, embodied, an act best performed without too much cerebral activity.
That’s the essence of the book’s argument: Writing is done, not contemplated.
I think, with some serious dedication this week, there is no reason I can’t finish the chapter, and move onto the next. But, of course, I can’t think about it.…