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Thinking Comes Later

One of my all-time favorite movies is Finding Forrester. It’s about an old writer, William Forrester, and a young writer, Jamal Wallace, discovering each other and a bunch of other stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with this blog. Mostly it is about two men teaching each other about life, each from their own perspectives. I highly recommend the movie to anyone who hasn’t seen it.

One scene in the movie is about the old guy, William, getting the young guy, Jamal, to write more, and perhaps write better. Jamal was sitting at the typewriter thinking about what to put on the paper when the old dude asked,

“What are you doing?”

“I’m thinking,” Jamal answered.

“No, no. Don’t think. Write. Thinking comes later,” William answered as his fingers poked away at the keys of his typewriter that made a constant rat-tat-tat sound.

That line popped into my head as I was sitting at the table at five in the morning reading Twitter and Facebook and emails and, to be honest, I probably would have read the back of a cereal box had it been sitting in front of me. I was doing all of this instead of writing because sometimes, reading is just a lot easier than writing. But with few exceptions, it turns out that it is only easier when I think about what to write as opposed to just writing. Because, you know… thinking is supposed to come later. Ironically, when that line ran through my mind, it got me thinking. Then after a minute or two of reflection, I stopped thinking and began writing. It turns out that when I just allow my fingers to tap away on the keys and I do nothing but allow the words to flow through me, that’s when I do my best writing and that’s when writing becomes easy.

Later in the movie William explained that sitting down and copying the pages out of someone else’s book is more productive than simply sitting and trying to think of what words to write. If you don’t believe that this is true, consider how this little piece came about. I took a line from Finding Forrester, and I wrote down, “No, no. Just write. Thinking comes later.” And then I expounded on that, and one thing led to another and here I am with almost a page written and there’s no end in sight. My next challenge will be to figure out a way to stop writing before I get to 2000 words and realize that the piece is way too long to be a blog that anyone will read.

Since not everyone reading this blog is a writer it seems I should point out that the old dude was not only correct about writing, but his theory can be more or less applied to life. In my working life I am a construction guy. I once asked an engineer friend of mine a question that was more to make a point than it was to get an answer.

“Alice. If you drew up a set of house plans and built a house and I drew up a set of house plans and built a house, who’s house would be better?” She sat and struggled to find a diplomatic way to answer the question because she was confident that her house would be better than mine. She was creative and meticulous and perfection was her standard. After a few seconds of silence, I answered the question for her.

“My house would be better, Alice, because it would get built. You would probably take the next five years doing a lot of thinking and you would eventually (maybe) draw the “perfect” home.”  My point was that I’d draw a nice home and build it and then I’d live in it and eat pizza and entertain friends and have family over for the holidays and use it for what homes are meant to be used for. Meanwhile, Alice would be grinding away and “thinking” about what the best design would be for her perfect home and she would be considering every single detail for an absurd amount of time. Thinking is not a part of the project that can be cast aside forever, but when thinking replaces doing, then nothing is accomplished. In the end doing something is far more important than thinking about something.

So, let’s get back to writing for the moment. There are two major stumbling blocks for many writers. One writer thinks too much and their progress is far too slow. Often, they get so bogged down that their projects never get finished. That would put them in the 97% of would-be authors who never finish writing their first book. They fail to understand that writing a bad first draft is better than dreaming about the perfect book. Tragically, the other stumbling block for many writers is not thinking enough. Remember, William did not say “Don’t think.” He said, “Thinking comes later.” I have read too many novels that well-intended authors wrote and published and gleaned with pride over their accomplishment, when clearly they had not applied the “Thinking comes later,” step. Or at least not enough of it. It quickly becomes obvious when authors do not put the thinking work into their last few drafts.

I have never written a book where the original first chapter ended up being the actual first chapter. Why? Because when I sit down to write a story, I just write. The words just flow, sometimes like Niagara Falls and other times like a trickle. The creative process can be somewhat of a mystery as to how it works, but one thing that will kill the flow of the moment is thinking. Later on, as the story comes together and things begin to fall into place, the thinking slowly increases. In the final stages when I’m doing the last few edits, (meaning completely re-editing the book a few more times), the creative process is more or less replaced by the thinking process. That’s how the process works. Create then polish. The thinking part is also when writing a book becomes harder because we are no longer just letting the river flow as much as we are trying to perfect the path of what we have already put down on paper. It’s tedious and boring and hard, but that’s how art works.

Thinking comes later.
when thinking replaces doing, then nothing is accomplished.

How much of this wisdom can be applied to actual life is probably a hard question to answer, but there’s one thing that I’m certain of. A huge percentage of the world spends much of their lives talking and dreaming about what they would like to do. They wait for the perfect time and the perfect situation and they wait for all the stars to align. Then they think about this detail and that detail and blah, blah, blah. Then, just like the rest of us, they get old and fade away.

Perhaps today is the day that you stop thinking about all the details of your story and you just sit down and write it (or live it). Maybe today is the day that you just go out and do what feels like the right thing to do. It’s possible that today is the day that you just allow the waters to flow and you just go along for the ride to see where the river is going to take you. It’s possible that the answers are inside all of us and we might be able to see them if we stop thinking so much and just trust what our souls are saying.

Anyway… that’s how I feel about it and I don’t really feel like thinking about it. Not today. Maybe later, because, you know… thinking comes later.


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