When I have a free hour or so, I tell myself, “Okay. Let’s sit down to write a few paragraphs.” I sit down. Then I get up to make some tea, or remember that I must make a phone call before doing anything else. I know what I want to write about: this week I focused on the beginning of the 1987 Peace Walk in Russia. Should I call the first city Leningrad as it was then, or St Petersburg as it is now? Hmmmmm. Take a sip of tea. Start again, leave a series of dots where the name of the city will be. I’ll look it up later. Eventually.
Stare off into space. Keep the fingers moving, I tell myself. Just get your memories down on the screen. A few more paragraphs. Memories of the young Russian musician’s apartment. The laundry strung across the living room. His blind mother waiting serenely to greet us from her deep brown overstuffed chair, her hands folded in her lap.
After half an hour, I give myself permission to read the page – strewn with bright red squiggly lines (whoops – spelling!) and even more ellipses.
I recall something Anne Lamott wrote. “The only way I can get anything written at all is to write a really, really shitty first draft. The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. If the kid wants to get into really sentimental, weepy, emotional territory, you let him. Just get it all down on paper, because there may be something great in those crazy pages that you would never have got to by more rational, grown up means.”
So here I go: writing without looking, the memory in my mind’s eye, and worrying about the edits when I get to them. Eventually.
What do you do to start writing?