Several years ago, I made a list of ten statements I wanted to live by (prompted by some self-help book I read). I still have those statements posted on my dresser mirror, and I like to look at them from time-to-time. But for the most part, they’ve become ingrained in me–which was the point of posting them.
One particular statement says, “It’s okay to make a mess–it will clean up later.” I wrote this because I don’t like messes, but with two young children (not to mention a whole menagerie of animals), it just happens to be a fact of life. The statement reminds me that messes are normal and also that you shouldn’t let them ruin your day. As the latter part of my statement says, they’ll clean up later. In other words, we shouldn’t be so uptight about disorder, mistakes, etc. that we forget to enjoy life, and especially our kids.
I never expected this statement to carry over to my writing, but it has. And thank goodness for it. I recently finished the first draft of my fourth novel, which I’m tentatively calling THE BUG COLLECTOR’S BUCKET LIST. And you know the absolutely amazing thing about it? I finished the novel in just a little over three months. Three months! This beats my old record by about six months (but who’s keeping track, really?)
It wasn’t because this novel was particularly easy to write–since this is my first book with multiple points-of-view, it definitely wasn’t. I finished it quickly because I allowed myself to make a mess, in a sense. I didn’t worry about the mistakes which are an inevitable part of any first draft. If I realized there was something I would need to change, I simply made a note in track changes. There are even a few places where I forgot a name and put in a ____ instead. There was an amazing sense of freedom in allowing myself to do this. I just kept writing, no matter what.
Of course, this doesn’t mean I was overly sloppy. I still did my research (this book required a lot of it!). I kept my usual notebook full of character and plot notes. But I kept in mind that the book will be a work-in-progress for some time. It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time around.
Some of you may remember me saying that it took nearly three years to write my first book (THE TRAVELER)–partly because I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, partly because I didn’t think I could do it, but mostly because I thought it had to be perfect. I kept rewriting the same chapters over and over instead of just allowing myself to move on. From what I hear, this is a classic bad habit of new writers.
What can I say? I’ve lived and learned since then.
I can’t wait to share an excerpt from THE BUG COLLECTOR’S BUCKET LIST with you, but before I do, I’m going to get through at least one round of edits. I know there is still much work to be done.
But next time you’re feeling stressed about getting things just right the first time or maybe you’re at your wits end after your kids scatter legos all over the living room, just remember, it’s okay to make a mess.
It will all clean up later.