All writers have a process that allows them to create. However, the art of "Writing" is often mistaken for that "Process." Hopefully this blog explains the difference, and inspires people to develop their crafts, become writers, or just keep on writing.

Friday, May 12, 2023

Those Big Firsts

I am pretty sure none of this can be held against me anymore, so here it goes. The first time I drove a car on public streets was when I was 12, in a 1977 powder-blue Ford Maverick. Also, I quietly and inappropriately got into a Driver's Ed course when I was 14. I worked at a bar when I was 16, which included running spotlight for the exotic dancer shows, and my first real alcoholic drink (a Long Island Iced Tea) was at that same bar at that same age. I reached a lot of big "firsts" in my life well before I should've, and for the most part, I regret nothing.

Okay - no regret might be a strong comparison. I will say, however, that these moments still stand out for me all these decades later, and at least with that part, I have no shame. To prove that, I did what every writer should do to help develop their skills: Write about those experiences with the full disclosure and depth-of-detail worthy of a best-selling tell-all autobiography. Put them to the page like a confession.

However, I would up the stakes by one more notch, just because it will bring out even more richness and depth. For every big "first" in your life that you are willing to write about, write it twice. Do a draft of that event in the way you would discuss it now to your children, your nieces and nephews, your younger cousins. Write it down with all the wit and wisdom that you've accumulated over the years, and this might even include a few regrets or passive apologies. This draft needs to be introspective, thinking about back then from the place you are at now. I would accept that it was probably not a good idea to teach me how to drive a 3-speed before my feet could really hit the pedals, and taking Driver's Ed too early did not help either. As for working at the bar at such a young age, well, that's a lot to unpack. I do, however, apologize to everyone who saw me throw up.

The next draft is likely the difficult one. The next draft should be very present-tense. Write as that 12-year-old behind the wheel, the 14-year-old in Driver's Ed, the 16-year-old at the bar, shining the spotlight on the exotic dancers. Reconnect with that mindset, with that language, the thoughts, excitement, and even tensions and anxieties coursing through your younger self. At least for the writing of this draft, detach yourself from the present and relive that youthful moment in whatever way possible - the more, the better.

You might be asking yourself, "Why am I doing this again?" Well, first and foremost, it gets you writing. What it also does is helps transfer your thoughts and perspective into other positions, other characters, with each one being relatable but very much different. After you have done this exercise, compare the two drafts and feel for what is different between them (hint: it should be a lot) and how the characters stand apart from each other. If this doesn't happen, try again. At least in my case, I like to think that the person I am in my fifties is different from the person I was in my teens (and I mean more than just the notable lack of hair). 

Placing ourselves in situations different from where we are now is a good way to stretch out our writing muscles, and makes for a great way to gain some personal introspection as well. And the truly fascinating part of this exercise is that everyone has those experiences to explore. It's just a matter of going back into that mindset.       

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