Does this sound familiar?
You go to the bookstore and browse the shelf, past the day planners and address books, around the corner from the photo albums, until you see them. The towering display of gorgeous leather-bound diaries and illustrated, glossy journals almost shines despite the bland retail lighting. They tempt you, these tomes. They seem to whisper, “Herein will lie your masterpiece.”
Don’t believe them.
Here’s what actually happens. Once you arrive at home with your thirty dollar, four-hundred page blank book, its siren song changes into a more sinister tune. The pages are so soft and lovely to the touch that you can’t imagine having anything worth adorning them with – no words of yours could possibly be good enough. With a sigh, you place it gently on the shelf with all of the others that have come home with you before it. As this pile of unused, empty books grows larger, so does the monolith sitting in the way of the stories you need to tell.
Free yourself from the pressure of writing your masterpiece. The first step is simple — stop buying beautiful journals. Buy the unassuming, thin notebooks on the other side of the store. Go to an office supply store and get legal pads or school notebooks. Write on napkins at restaurants, or paper bags from your kids’ lunch. Choose the ugliest, most tacky journal you can find…one that almost offends you with its design.
Notice how much easier it is to write a first draft in something that doesn’t look like it should contain a precious manuscript (to be discovered after your untimely death.)
See how freely your pen will move over the pages when the pages themselves don’t try to direct the show.
A great piece of writing rarely starts out great, and it’s even more rare that it springs fully-formed from the head of the author. Rather, the writing meanders and explores itself. It goes off in strange directions and circles back around to the point. It reveals its themes and character through the process of writing it.
Eventually, you’ll feel confident in your ability to write Shitty First Drafts in any and all notebooks, and you can start to whittle away at the pile of gorgeous books collecting dust on your shelf. But until then, choose plainly and free your words.