Growing up, Saturdays were pancake breakfast days. As my brother and I gained dexterity, we were trained in the art of the perfect pancake. "Make sure you see bubbles before you flip it," my dad cautioned. "Make sure the batter looks a bit more solid," my mom chimed in. Inevitably, no matter how carefully we planned, that first pancake would emerge looking a bit off-color, limp, and lackluster. "The pan hasn't had enough time to heat up yet," my parents would reassure us. "The first pancake is never good."
In my writing group yesterday, most of us confessed that it's so hard for us to not erase or cross out our writing when we initially get started. We second-guess, hear it aloud in the most annoying voices in our heads, and generally think it's terrible and that we have no original ideas. So we stop, put down our pens or close our laptops, and think guiltily about how we should be writing. Sound familiar?
But what if we all just need to get past that first pancake?
If we could accept in our hearts that the first bit of writing is going to be subpar, would it give us the momentum to keep going?
Over the weekend, I ate brunch at a restaurant on South Street that I hadn't been to in 9 years - since my first fall in Philly. With that first bite of bacon and eggs, it all came back to me. After the first week of school, I went to this very restaurant with my mentor and two teaching colleagues to debrief, vent, and cry. It had been a rough first week of teaching for all of us. "I'm the worst teacher in the whole world," I wailed to my mentor. I expected to hear her say something like, "Of course you're not," and I had an arsenal of worst teacher ever evidence, ready to fire back at her.
"Okay, so maybe you are the worst teacher in the whole world," she calmly said. I almost dropped my fork. "The question is, can you get better?" I gulped and slowly nodded my head. There it was. I had nowhere to go but up, so I did. That first week of teaching was the quintessential first pancake, and my subsequent weeks kept improving, as pancakes do.
As Anne Lamott says, "Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere."
So, my challenge to you this week is to write without crossing out or deleting words.
It will feel awkward, of course. That's what we did at our write-in during writing group yesterday. We set the timer for 30 minutes, drank some wine, ate some chocolate, and wrote. We didn't cross out, we didn't second-guess - we just kept going. By the end of that 30 minutes, everyone had at least a tiny nugget of writing they were proud of (even if the first bit of writing seemed like a mess).
Let me know how it goes, and remember that everyone struggles with the first pancake syndrome!