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Writing Wednesday: On Broccoli, Novel-Writing, and the May First Draft Challenge

“Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.” –Anne Lamott, on Broccoli and First Drafts, from Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Yesterday, my family and I made the drive from Brussels, Belgium back home to Prague, Czech Republic. It’s an eight hour drive—possibly shorter given most of the distance is on the German Autobahn. We’re used to long trips from living in the US, and now, here in Europe most cities are close enough to drive.

A crop of brilliant Colza in the rolling German countryside
A crop of brilliant Colza in the rolling German countryside

Since our car plowed through the path of every bug between the Belgian coast and the rolling German hills, the windshield needed some serious work. I slipped into my black trench coat and buttoned up while my husband pumped the diesel. As I walked, I had to search between cars and people for the window scrubber. As it turns out, I also happened to move into an Interpol investigation. An unmarked black BMW and two guys with loads of concealed weapons cased me and held weapons ready. If we wouldn’t have had 3 kids in the back seat of our car, I think I would’ve been deemed an accomplice ... all while waiting for an innocent windshield scrubber.

Once I saw what was going on, the rubber gloves and the weapons and the pat-down search, it was hard to keep my jaw attached to my mouth. Standing at the open trunk of his generic white Citroen, a young guy in a Panama shirt and knock-off Converse shoes lived out a scene from a great Ludlum thriller. Right before my eyes. Unfolding within arm’s length from me.

I didn’t expect that situation at all, but yesterday, at that gas station in the middle of Germany, I rediscovered that all of life is useful in the writing of a novel. Especially when it’s right in front of our faces.

Now that Spring Break is over and my boys are back in school, I can count on two hands the number of weeks I have until the much-loved Summer break. For the past few months, I’ve been plotting and working my way into the story for my next novel. My goal is to finish the first draft before the end of school (so that I can enjoy the summer without leaving the story hanging).

At this point in the story process, I look to Anne Lamott, famous for her advice on first drafts. Here, a quote from her excellent book on writing and life, Bird by Bird:

“You need to trust yourself, especially on a first draft, where amid the anxiety and self-doubt, there should be a real sense of your imagination and your memories walking and woolgathering, tramping the hills, romping all over the place. Trust them. Don’t look at your feet to see if you are doing it right. Just dance.”

Any writer friends ready to dance? Is anyone else hoping to finish a first draft before school is out? Anyone else want to join in the fun with me?