Experience constipation. There’s a lovely thought for a Monday morning! It’s a phrase used by Getting Things Done guru David Allen in his latest newsletter, and it’s something I think we writers should consider. It happens, he says, when we stop doing things because of past experience. It’s as if we’re afraid to make mistakes. We want to know that everything is going to work out right, before we even make a start on our projects. If we don’t know, or can’t be certain, then we don’t take the risk and start.
In Anne Lamont’s Bird by Bird she tells readers it’s okay to write “shitty first drafts.” In other words, it’s okay to make a mistake. That’s the whole point of first drafts. How many times have we been told that writing is all about rewriting? Editing is where it all happens. When you write something you have something to edit. When you have something to edit you have something to polish.
As a businessman David Allen knows the importance of good ideas. As writers we need ideas. And Allen’s advice to business entrepreneurs is just as valid to us: “The best way to have a good idea is to have plenty of bad ones.” In other words, bad ideas are okay … as long as you later realise it’s a bad idea, but understand that it helped you to progress to a good idea. In Allen’s experience, many business people fail to have good ideas, because their experience constipation stops them from having ideas. They’ve experienced bad ideas and don’t want another one.
I remember watching a documentary about the businessman Richard Branson where he discussed the benefits of failure. Some of the best business people in the world have been some of the biggest failures. But they’ve learned from those failures. They wouldn’t have developed into the successful business people they have without first being a failure. Those failures were of use to them.
So, write down all of those ideas. Don’t dismiss them now. Judge them later. Write them down. Doing so frees up your brain to have another idea. Likewise, don’t stare at a blank page dismissing out of hand every first sentence you come up with because it isn’t good enough. Stop judging. Just write it down. You can edit it later, when you’ve finally got rid of the naff first line from your brain, giving it the space to think of something better at some point in the future.
If you want to write something, write it. If it turns out to be complete cack - so what? Who cares? You don’t have to show it to anybody. But once you’ve written it, you might find that there’s something there after all. Those initial mistakes - the wrong choice of words, the erroneous starting point, the inappropriate point of view - they can all be rectified.
So don’t suffer from experience constipation. Have a good clear out and just get writing. (Sorry!)