The summer before last, I became a student in the Southampton MFA in Creative Writing and Literature program where I am also a faculty member. (I know, it’s a little crazy, but it’s actually great.) Since then I’ve had the good fortune to take courses with such gifted writers and teachers and Billy Collins, Jules Feiffer, Peter Reynolds, Julie Sheehan, and Roger Rosenblatt, among others. I have also been challenged by weekly writing assignments, something that I am often hard-pressed to find the time (or the space in my brain) to do.
Another one of our faculty members, the biographer Neil Gabler, refers to what he calls “Gabler’s Law”: First, you just sit there.
I love this, since I can come up with a thousand excuses as to why I can’t yet sit down to write – my favorites being, “I’m not ready,” “I don’t have an idea yet,” and “I’m still stewing.”
Recently I’ve been experimenting with a law of my own: Just start.
Since I’ve incorporated this law, an amazing pattern has begun to emerge with respect to these writing assignments. It generally goes like this:
Day 1 – “OK, I’ve got the assignment for this week. It seems do-able.”
Day 2 – “What was I thinking? This assignment is the hardest yet! Ack. I’ll think about it tomorrow.”
Day 3: “I might have an idea. I’ll let it stew a bit.”
Day 4: “It’s a terrible idea. Never mind. Help!”
Day 4: “This is impossible. It’s actually out of the question. I don’t have a single idea!”
Day 5: “This may be the week where I have to call in sick. Is there any valid excuse I can come up with for not doing the assignment this week?
Day 6: “God, class is tomorrow. Just sit there and begin – something, anything!”
Day 7: “What time is class?”
What this has taught me is that I can afford to be patient while all those little gremlins in my head cycle through their strange but apparently necessary routine. But then, if I just sit there and START – just put my fingers to the keyboard and begin, something, anything – stuff begins to happen. It doesn’t matter where I start, just that I do. And of course it’s all about editing – but the miracle is, once I start, I have something to edit, and once I edit, I (usually) have something to present.