Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

Just Start

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.


3 Responses to “Just Start”
  1. Beth says:

    This sounds very much like the thoughts that informed my frequent claim when I was in college/university that “I write best under pressure”… 😉

    “Just start” is such good advice. If a person can somehow circumvent the prevaricating and just start, it might be easier on the nervous system. I find that if I “just start,” I’m amazed at how the words just start to flow. Yes, there needs to be editing afterwards, but it’s often as if the ideas are lined up behind a locked door and simply sitting down at the computer and writing the first few sentences, even when one doesn’t know where one is going with them, is the key to unlocking that door and getting the ideas to “just start” — and they come tumbling through that door and onto the screen as if to say “I was wondering when you were going to let me out!”

    I have so many ways of procrastinating. I think a sign on my desk that says “Just Start!” would be a good thing.

  2. Suzie says:

    Love this post, Emma! Thank you for sharing your law with us. 🙂 I may adapt it a bit for myself and call it “Stop Goofing Off Already and Write Something!” 🙂

  3. Diane says:

    LOL… oh my Emma, your routine sounds so like mine, up to day 5. Especially Day 4, I thought you had been reading my mind. I am usually one who needs an idea to start, and usually come at an inopportune time, but you are right, one should just put their fingers to the keyboard and see what happens. Think I will give this a go later.
    Thanks Emma.

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