Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Don't Think; Begin!

If you're anything like me, beginnings can be tough.

I am unashamed (okay, I am a little bit ashamed) of my bashfulness when I first knew that I wanted to date Jennifer (and eventually, marry her!). I had been visiting her, and at every turn, I planned romantic moments where I could tell her how deeply I cared for her. I took her to a beautiful lunch where we clinked glasses full of Chardonnay.

Even though the sun streamed through large windows across her face, urging me Come on, buddy, I'm doing my part...Tell her already, won't you? I had trouble getting the words out.

Then, as we walked beside a pond, skipping stones and watching light reflect on the shimmering water, my old pal the sun spoke again, Alright, man, I am really working hard here to give you some major opportunities...Tell her buddy! Yet I still had trouble getting the words out.

Finally, I was able to blurt out a (fairly) non romantic and harried "I like you" -- probably making Jen wonder if I was still in middle school rather than a 22 year-old high school teacher myself.

But I recognize something that I couldn't see before: beginnings are tough. It's hard to really put ourselves out there, say what we feel, what we believe, what we hope for.

I sometimes fall into that pattern where I start thinking a whole heap about ways to begin something, without beginning it. This is a dangerous zone, because thinking is, in fact, a good thing.

It's a great thing. We would save ourselves a whole lot of foot-in-mouth moments if we thought a little before we spoke or acted. But there's a lot in life that doesn't follow the notion of thinking for long, long (way too long!) periods of time before we begin.

Writing is like this. When we sit at our computers, staring at that white screen with it's tiny cursor flashing repeatedly before our very eyes, then we need do only one thing: begin.

We've got to write something--\anything--to get us going. Because writing is like running. You can't stand on the side of the road thinking about how exactly you're going to move your legs, what strides you'll make where, and when exactly you'll turn a corner. (Well, I guess you actually can do this, but you might look fairly odd dressed in your running clothes, standing outside for an hour, then going back inside without sweating.)

No. We've got to sweat, and with writing, that sometimes means sweating over some fairly awful prose.

I recently began a new novel, and the vision of this book in my head was remarkable. I smiled whenever I thought of the book's premise, givign myself imaginary pats on the back for thinking up such a cool idea.

Then I started writing it.

Part of me almost didn't want to write the thing, because keeping company with Premise was such fun! After all, Premise was a pretty non-demanding buddy. Premise even suggested I grab a bag of chips (or crisps, as I'm learning they're called here in England) and put on a great film clip whjile Tyler naps. Premise often told me, Hey, Man, aren't I enough for you as I am? Why you got to go and try and make me, like, 40,000 words long or something? The relationship we've got now is pretty sweet, right?

Sadly, I had to tell Premise to beat it. It was fun hanging out with him for a while. But I knew I needed to begin.

And so I threw up words and sentences onto my screen and winced as I wrote them. I felt like some very mean-spiritied doctor was continually poking me with a Hepatitis A vaccination, then hiding the needle quickly when I took a sidelong glance.

But I kept writing.

I wrote through my halthing, confused Chapter 1.


Then I started another halting, albeit-less-confused Chapter 2.

Ouch. (But less ouch.)

Finally, I made it to the end of Chapter 2, where I found one line I had written, and I leaned back in my chair and I said out loud, "Thank you, God. Thank you for this line. This one line."

Because, see, that was the line.

The line.

I had written many pages, but most will probably be chucked when all is said and done. But I will keep that line. That one line.

Living, too, is a lot like this. I wonder how often we stop ourselves from doing anything because we're so afraid we're going to get it wrong. We're so afraid that we don't have it just quite right, so we counsel ourselves that it's okay--better, even--to wait it out. Think some more.

The sad part about making little choices like that every day is that it leads to one rather big choice: we never do the thing that makes our hearts beat fast. We have a vision--a dream, a hope, a cool idea--but we don't allow ourselves to just begin it and make mistakes along the way.

Yesterday, as I was doing my morning devotion on the porcelin potty (well, I think ours may actually be a very, very hard plastic-type material that only looks like porcelin...in fact, is anybody's porcelin? If you're still with me, and you know for a facvt that you have a porcelin potty, send me an e-mail at LWReynolds@gmail.com as I'd love to hear about your porcelin potty. If you don't have a porcelin potty, but you have factual knowledge of your potty's substance, e-mail me and let me know what it is), I came across the book of Jonah in the Old Testament.

I said to myself, Hhhmm, I've heard a lot about this Jonah character, but I don't know that I've ever actually read the book in the Bible.

So I read it then and there.

And I was blown away by it. I was blown away by a lot within it--but two things really hit me like something heavy and big (but something that doesn't leave any pain or aftereffects).

Two verses, really, which said, essentially: "God changed his mind."

Whoa! So God had planned on one course for the Ninevites, but their repentence provoked his mercy, and he changed his mind!

Jonah was pretty bummed about this whole God-changing-His-mind-and-having-mercy-thing.

But hey, the point is that if God can even change His mind, then why do we pretend we can't?

Why do we so often walk through our lives telling ourselves that we must get it exactly right on the first try, every time and all the time? That's a pretty high and impossible standard that, essentially, accomplishes one thing only: it prevents us from beginning something that could be really good, really beautiful, really important.

So, since my son Tyler is waking up from his nap, and our local library is calling both our names, I'll end with this question today: What dreams are bouncing around in your heart right now? Have you dreamed of starting a non-profit to help reform schools? Have you dreamed of doing the Peace Corps? Have you dreamed of writing a novel, running a mile in six minutes, or visiting all 50 states? Have you dreamed of living abroad, telling people that you love them, learning to play the gutiar, or writing your own song?

Whatever the dream, begin it.

And don't think too much about it; just start.

You'll find that when you begin, the pace is plodding, and the voices that seek to nag you back into inertia are loud. But keep going. After a while, I promise your heart will start to beat a little faster, and the excitement that leaps around inside that central organ of yours will slowly but surely crowd out the fear, criticism, and worry.

Begin. Now.