Don’t Pop the Clutch on Your Writing.

English: Diagram of a Manual gear layout (4-sp...

English: Diagram of a Manual gear layout (4-speed). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Have you ever started and finished a project without realizing how hard it was meant to be? Maybe you did a fantastic job, or at least got the job done, but when it came time for a subsequent attempt at the same activity, you did poorly because, in the interim, you realized that that activity (whatever it might be) was meant to be damn difficult to begin with. . .only you were too naive to know it.

When I was 15-years-old I was taken into a large parking lot to learn how to drive a manual transmission. I’d never driven a stick-shift, but being the confident teenager I was, I didn’t walk (or drive) into the situation with preconceived notions about the difficulty of maneuvering a stick shift. When we’re that age, we think we can do anything, and while we were usually wrong, I sure wasn’t. At least not that night.

I got behind the wheel, my parent was fastened in next to me, babbling about “not popping the clutch.” Over and over, I heard, “Don’t pop the clutch.” “Now, you’re going to pop the clutch, so don’t get scared when you do, but try not to pop it.” “Just don’t pop the clutch!” I had no idea what this meant, and quite honestly, I didn’t pay much attention to it. Being clueless really helped, because I didn’t know how hard not popping the damn clutch was supposed to be. I listened to everything else, though: how to change gears, how and when to step on the pedals, and within minutes, I was driving that stick shift like a pro. And guess what? I never popped the clutch. The evening went on and I continued to drive flawlessly, but unfortunately my parent wasn’t very pleased with the situation. Apparently I was supposed to pop the clutch. I had to pop the clutch so I would know what it felt like. This made no sense to me, but hey, who was I to question the clutch? That’s when I was ordered to pop the it, and still having no idea what that meant or how to make it happen, I had to ask how to do it.

To make a very long story short, I did as I was told and popped the clutch. Our necks went lurching forward; a one-vehicle game of bumper cars. Can you guess what happened next? Well, I’ll tell you—I couldn’t stop popping the damn clutch. Every attempt at changing gears failed, and the rest of the evening was dedicated to giving everyone in the car a mild case of whiplash.

To this day, 17 years later—and after several more failed attempts at mastering a manual—I can’t drive a stick. I pop the damn clutch every single damn time. Needless to say I was a little resentful about being made to perform poorly when I had been doing so well. It’s a bit like teaching your slugger of a son to hit pisser ground-balls  when he keeps nailing homers out of the park. That night, had I been allowed to do well and get comfortable with a stick-shift, I may have thought nothing of popping the clutch, whenever that time came—by happenstance.

Now, what does this have to do with writing? I think it’s got everything to do with writing. And here’s why. . .

When I decided to write a novel, I had a very basic idea in my head, like many of us do: I’ll just write a book. I was a lover of books and a very creative person, but that’s all I had: an idea, passion, and wishful thinking. It took a while for my story to come to me. You know, the nuts and bolts. And as cheesy as it may sound, it was while on the cusp of sleep that it hit me. BAM! WHAMMO! There it was, my great premise, and it hadn’t taken months—just weeks. Next was the outlining process. I fleshed everything out: characters, locations, characteristics, backgrounds, historical aspects, etc. Then came fleshing out the plot. I spent months and months creating an outline, detailing each chapter segment as much as possible. I guess you could say I had the entire book written before I ever opened my computer. Then it was show time. I wrote the damn thing—all of it—in its entirety. That part took me two years. Yes, that’s right…two whole years. But if I’m being honest, I have several other responsibilities, and I was never in a position to write all day, every day.

When I finished my book, I had a 238,000 word honker on my hands. It took a lot of time, a lot of work, and a lot of dedication, but there it was, in all of its bloated glory. What a magnificent feeling that was! Now I’m in the editing phase. Yes-yes, that odd middle ground where you’ve completed your book only to realize how far you are from completion. It’s a bitch.

Before I get ahead of myself, let me back up a bit. When I set out on this journey, I didn’t just pull out my quill & parchment and go to town. Nope. I read and studied and read and studied, and when I was done with that, I read some more. I bought and read so many books on writing that I acquired quite an extensive library. I also spent so much time researching online, educating myself, and freshening up on what I had forgotten since school, I’m still surprised when I find a new site I’ve never read. In all the time that I read and studied and wrote my heart out, there’s one thing I didn’t do. I didn’t take the time to read the plethora of sites and books that tell you how difficult it is to write a book. I don’t mean how difficult it is to get published, because that’s a well known fact. But I mean all those sites that drive home how astoundingly difficult it is to simply open a computer and write—to be creative. I am an absolute realist at heart, and at times I barely mustered up the courage to keep going, but if I had bombarded myself with too many words of discouragement about how most of us can’t even hack the writing process, I would have crumbled. I couldn’t risk the discouragement.

So, I wrote my book, and I filtered everything else out. It wasn’t until I completed my first draft that I found myself open to reading the rest of the discouraging information out there—and thank God I waited. See, that’s the thing: I was never scared, but I was doubtful of my abilities. But I wasn’t weighed down with the same doubts and fears that plague some writers. The whole point is: I didn’t know how hard what I was doing was supposed to be. Was it hard? Absolutely. But was it impossible? Absolutely not. But the key was: I got to find out on my own that this process is a very time consuming, all encompassing one, and it must be a calling you’re passionate about. But I didn’t go in with shaky knees and sweaty palms. Had I been saddled with such words of discouragement before ever writing, those discouraging words might have been my writing clutch, my “you never let me spread my wings and try before knocking me down” clutch. As people say, ignorance is bliss, and so is setting out on your dream without everyone in the white pages telling you how impossibly difficult each step is going to be. Let’s face it, it’s not like all us writers don’t end up in the same boat. We all realize how hard this gig is, we all find ourselves discouraged, but does driving home how hard it is produce better writers? Does being discouraged before you give something a shot increase your likelihood of success? No! Just imagine if thousands of people had told Vincent van Gogh how impossible painting was, and how most people can’t master it. Clearly he had a stroke of low self-esteem, and he might have succumb to such negativity. But that didn’t happen. He probably didn’t think or over analyze. He just painted.

The most ridiculous thing about the boring stick-shift story is why things wound up the way they did. A few years after that night, I was teasing my parent about my inability to drive a stick, and that’s when I was finally told why I was made to pop the clutch. Come to find out, poppin’ the ol’ clutch had been a particularly nasty habit for my parent’s, and it took years to conquer this. When, at 15-years-old, I was able to handle the stick shift without encountering the same problems, my parent thought it was necessary to point out a potential hiccup that, in reality, was their problem—not mine. Pretty silly thinking, eh?

So, moral of the story is: if your deepest desire is to write a book, or to pursue any other difficult calling, try not to focus on how incredibly arduous everyone says it is, because you never know if you will encounter the same troubles everyone else has. Trust me, you’ll encounter troubles on your own, so why walk into any situation with the preconceived notion that what’s hard for others will be just as hard for you? Yes, have respect for the undertaking, but dive in head first, write your heart out, and when it’s all said and done, you’ll know where you excelled and where you fell short, but it won’t be because you were programmed to do so.

I wrote a novel, and one that I’m proud of. It wasn’t, and still isn’t, perfect because perfection is unattainable. But I did something that many people talk about doing but never actually do. I think my secret was that I wasn’t aware of how hard it was supposed to be, or what an impossible task I was taking on. I didn’t pop the clutch on my writing, and I surrounded myself with people who said, “Hell yes, you can write a book. That’s amazing! Now get to work!” No one told me I couldn’t do it, and no one told me how many ways I could fail before I even started.

Don’t pop the damn clutch on anything in life.

Don’t pop the damn clutch on your writing.

Just don’t pop the damn clutch!

© 2013 Sloane Kady

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2 thoughts on “Don’t Pop the Clutch on Your Writing.

  1. Great article, and some useful advice.

    I’ve been in similar situations where I’ve completed a project quickly or easily, then someone says how hard it should have been and I start to panic that I MUST have done something wrong. Why else would this particular project seemed so effortless? Then I start to question everything and before you know it I’m picking my work apart for no good reason.

    Sometimes you just have to accept some things will come naturally and others will have to be worked at over and over.

    Like you say it’s best not to concentrate on what can go wrong and instead just get on with the work in a way that feels natural to you.

  2. Absolutely. Certain things come more naturally to some than others, and we’re all different, therefore the same rules don’t evenly apply to all. The only objective generalization about writing a book is that it’s hard work. But it’s what makes it hard that varies so greatly.

    I’ve had the same experience as you. At times, I’ve been convinced that my writing is worthless because it should have taken longer, it should have been far more difficult than it was (which is not to say that it wasn’t difficult). Hell, based on the way some people describe the process, it should have cost me my sanity. And if it didn’t, what does that mean I did wrong?

    Truth be told, we writers will always find something to feel insecure about. I suppose we all sit back, look at our novel, and say, “Shit. I think I’ve created the worst piece of literary garbage known to mankind.” But then there are those fabulous moments when you think you’re not a hack, and that you might, in fact, be talented. It’s a constant ebb and flow.

    The good news is that we’re all in the same boat. I think the kiss of death is when you start believing that your writing is perfect. Once that happens, there’s no longer room for growth.

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