#9. Hurry Up & Wait
A series of contradictory but mostly sensible writing lessons for kids, business folks, teachers, and other humans.
Hey. Greg again. I'm testing out this writing tips newsletter / series in a new medium. You're here because you were okay with getting emails from me about book news. I'll keep sending out those occasional posts. The idea behind this newsletter is to dole out writing advice suitable for teachers, kids, business folks, aspiring writers, or anyone who stresses out about writing texts, emails, essays or stories.
The name of the newsletter? Hurry Up & Wait.
Which brings us to writing tip # 9:
Hurry up and wait.
In my last note I wrote about the importance of thinking before you write, and working out as much as you can in your head. Now I'm going to contradict that a little. The 40+ rules of writing I talk about in schools are full of contradictions. I am, too. I have an unruly beard but I’m afraid of chainsaws. I love swimming but I’m allergic to fish. My head’s really long, too. Not sure what that has to do with anything, though.
Back to writing.
Yes, you have to think first, but when you have an exciting idea, or you're feeling incredibly passionate about something and really need to get it down in written form, go for it. Don't wait. Hustle. Hurry. Dictate, type, grab the nearest pen.
I wrote the first line of my 2009 book, The Truth About Santa: Wormholes, Robots, and What Really Happens on Christmas Eve, on the front of a Vietnamese takeout menu. I was so inspired that I forgot to grab the food, but then I swung the car around and picked it up so I wouldn’t arrive home with a shiny new sentence and no spring rolls.
Get. It. Down. Here's Ray Bradbury on the idea:
“Some new thing is always exploding in me, and it schedules me, I don’t schedule it. It says: Get to the typewriter right now and finish this.”
OK, but then? Well, then you wait. Advertising legend David Ogilvy advised this as well. He wrote:
“Never send a letter or a memo on the day you write it. Read it aloud the next morning — and then edit it.”
The passionate text can always be sent later. Just last night I dashed out a frustrated email to one of my editors, then saved it as a draft. Did I want to hit send? Of course. It would have felt great. Only for a few seconds, though, because when I clicked back to my Inbox, a very nice note from that editor addressing the issue in question awaited me.
Draft deleted. Minor crisis avoided.
Waiting is great for the writing itself, too. I always find that letting a story rest allows me to come back and see it with a new perspective. I'm a little less enchanted with myself. More critical. That’s what Ogilvy is talking about above, and here's the writer Jane Smiley on the subject:
"I read an article about how to learn to play a musical instrument. You practice, practice, practice on Friday, then you walk away. And then when you sit down on Saturday, you’re better. Not only because of all the practice, but also because of the walking away. I’m a firm believer in walking away.”
If you have a good idea, or an argument you need to make, a written punch you need to throw, write it down. Absolutely. Then walk away. Come back and edit another day. You might find that your piece is finished, and that you really were inspired by some clear-headed muse. You might make a tweak here or there. Or you might delete the work. But neither the hurrying up or the waiting will ruin the job.
That book I mentioned in the last note comes out this Tuesday. March 23rd. Weird. Check it out here if you have a minute. The photos are beautiful.
How am I doing? If you like these notes, please share the newsletter with friends or colleagues via one of the buttons below. Or give me a few more weeks to prove myself, then consider it. And thank you, as always, for reading!