When I was in the eighth grade, I fell hopelessly in love with a girl who sat two rows in front of me. She always spoke in a way that let me know she read books outside of school like I did. And because I knew how smart she was, I realized I couldn't approach her just any old way - I wanted to show my intelligence and poise as well. Or at the very least, I knew I needed to say hello without melting into my desk.
So, I went over what I was going to say in my head for days. I knew I wanted to work in that I read a lot and had started writing my own stuff, but then I thought she might ask to read some of it and that terrified me. So I kicked that idea from my mental Rolodex and decided to start from scratch.
Days turned into weeks until I finally put my foot down. I told myself I was going to say hello and ask for her phone number. I arrived early for first period and to my surprise, she was sitting alone, digging for something inside her backpack. I didn't think it would leave a good first impression to startle her by appearing suddenly when she was sitting alone in a room (plus, I still needed another moment to gather my thoughts). I walked into the nearest bathroom to wash my hands and took a few deep breaths. I told myself I would just say hello and go from there. It had only been about two minutes, but I already felt a lot more relaxed going into the conversation the second time around. I left out of the bathroom and walked back in to see her surrounded by three of her friends, chatting happily about some television show I had never heard of. Feeling like I'd lost my chance, I decided not to interrupt and walked past towards my desk. There was plenty of time left in the day, so I still had time to ask.
Second period was gym, so after I dressed out, she walked into the gymnasium with a good friend of mine. They were laughing and having a great time, which wasn't a total surprise because my friend was just as witty and interesting as I was. But I didn't want to disturb their conversation, so I just settled in my mind that I'd just go up to her at lunch. It made the most sense - the gymnasium wasn't the best setting for an intimate conversation and people were more social during a meal anyway.
But at lunch, she was nowhere to be found. I searched both exits and the courtyard to see if maybe she'd decided to eat outside, but still nothing. I didn't want to ask around and give off the suspicion that I was looking for her, but I wasn't sure what else to do. We had been near each other all morning and now that I was finally ready to ask for her number, she had disappeared. I decided to drown my sorrows in chocolate milk and a cardboard pepperoni pizza from the school cafeteria while I mulled over what to do next.
By the end of the day, every attempt at courting this young woman had been met with opposition and disappearances. Just 45 minutes remained in the day and I was determined to make them count. Time crawled by as the teacher lectured for the first twenty minutes, but then sped up as we were spread out into groups, inevitably setting me clear across the room from my muse. Before I knew it, there were just sixty seconds left in the day and it was now or never.
I told myself I could still catch her once the bell rang. At least if she said no, I could just run out of there and hop on the schoolbus.
The bell rang, I grabbed my bag and sprinted towards her desk, but an obstruction in a Yankees hat blocked the aisle and I couldn't fight my way though. Why did this keep happening?! By the time he moved out of the way, I checked her desk and she was already gone - I had lost her forever.
Or at least until tomorrow when I told myself I would arrive early again and make another attempt at attempting to ask.
But as you can probably guess, that didn't happen.
And that's how most people write first drafts. They have all the best intentions and tell themselves that one day they're going to sit down and ask that girl for her phone number. Or ask that girl to the prom. Or ask that guy on a date, but they never muster up the courage to actually stand up and say what they have to say.
In order to write a first draft, you simply have to put the words on the page. Don't worry about making everything sound perfect - that's what editing is for. Don't obsess over trying to find two hours to write everyday. Or even writing everyday. Start with ten minutes every Friday during your last break at work. And then just go from there.
The conditions are never going to be perfect. You're never going to find the perfect notebook or the perfect pen. You don't need a brand new computer first. You don't have to wait until next year. Use what you have and do what you can.
If you want to write to a book, you have to write a first draft. And to write a first draft, all you have to do is write.
Gregory Hedgepeth II is the founder of Vital Narrative Press. Garvey Hemisphere is his literary-inclined alter-ego. At least one of them wrote this.
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