quick note on starting a new draft

the worst part of my job is when i file a story and have to start the next one from the point of a blank page. coming off the high of a structurally-sound finished story, the sight of a blank screen makes doing it again feel impossible. i know and have seen that good work comes from editing, but there is some kind of cognitive dissonance that makes me think i have to set it down right on the first try. the truth is, the sooner you start writing stuff down, the better shot you have at making a good story. the crappiest first draft is still better than the imaginary story you are withholding in your head.

still, it is very hard to start writing. i wouldn’t say i suffer too much from procrastination, but i do often waste a day or two between stories just thinking about a new story without keeping a record of my thoughts. i have improved my work habits a lot in recent months, but this habit is very hard to overcome because it stems from the impulse to judge myself harshly. that feels harder to overcome than plain laziness.

anyway, here is a strategy i’ve found helpful. editing, for me, is always easier and more enjoyable than writing. in order to get some raw material on the page as quickly as possible, i have started using a process i call “thinking against.” basically, you get a book or movie related to your subject matter and “think against” it by taking notes while you read or watch. if i’m writing about dogs, I’ll just get five or six books on dogs from the library and think against them until i have a point of departure to edit for my real draft. try to write in full sentences — this will make the writing easier later — but try not to think of it as writing at this stage. you’re just generating raw material.

you don’t have to write about whatever you’re reading or watching; you just have to write freely and discursively about what it makes you think about. it works better if you disagree with the thing that you’re thinking against. this strategy is less daunting than actually writing because you’re not under pressure to make work; you just have to judge someone else’s, which is always easier.

i think this strategy works for the same reason that people like to tweet but don’t like to write. when you are writing, you are alone. when you are tweeting, you are in conversation with other texts, and that lessens the pressure on yourself.