Leap before you look

The problem with having had the gleam is that for it to mean anything, work has to ensue. I hate this. I would rather leave my book/idea/hunch unsullied by actual words. Anything I write to make it come into being will inevitably fall short. I hate this too.

So here are some quotes from the great and the good that I am using as guides to help me negotiate this journey of (inevitable) disappointment.

‘Writing is about hypnotizing yourself into believing in yourself, getting some work done, then unhypnotizing yourself and going over the material coldly.
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

There are days when the hypnosis comes more easily than others. Others when the going over things coldly comes more naturally. I don’t think the self-belief is ever really there, not in my case, not long term. Not really. I write in spite of. I write against. I’m sure this is why I write short things. I can only stretch the hypnotics so far each day



then there’s this. I have been going back and back and back to an article by DBC Pierre, in the Guardian last summer, on the process he engaged in while writing Vernon God Little: ‘Leap before you look. The tools do appear.’ I love this. I have been trying it out, as I freefall without a parachute/safety net/plan of what the hell I am doing. And it works. The tools do appear. Are appearing. Will appear again



a few years ago I interviewed Cliff Yates for a project. Talking about his drafting process, he told me that he has developed a habit of re-drafting (‘Writing is rewriting’) with the same speed and in the same state of inspiration as that which prompted his initial draft. I love this, too. It changed the way I do things.


  1. Anthony — you’ve got two typos you might want to correct online — first ‘inevitably’ line three, and then ‘hynonsis’ instead of hypnosis first line of fourth paragraph. Nell x ps I would rather someone told me when I do this, which is why I’m saying. SphinxReview & HappenStance Press 21 Hatton Green, Glenrothes, Fife KY7 4SD


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  2. unsullied – I did actually LOL at this point – I completely get that mismatch between the shiny thing you imagine and the dull thing that ends up on the page. I get the “leap before you look” idea and I think that is something worth trying. (It made me think of the 80’s(?) computer game Prince of Persia – there is a level where the Prince ascends a staircase that simply runs out – the only way forward is to jump – make a leap of faith – magically – steps appear under your feet and the Prince can continue on his journey upwards). Today I have been doing exactly this – I have been obsessed with the story of Joan of Arc for months and I am doing an internet songwriting challenge – I have played my guitar so much more than usual that my fingertips are sore – I am improvising chords, words and melody simultaneously and seeing what sticks – I have all the groundwork done – the previous months watching films, reading history books so I am as ready as anyone can be to write – i feel like I am throwing myself at or into the problem – I’m shaking the tree and things are coming lose and falling down – if I stand back and contemplate too much I will do nothing – I can not dwell on exactly what I want to say or how – it is a matter of picking my guitar up and playing and singing anything that comes to mind – it feels like such a vulgar (even desperate!) way to go about things but the words are coming and the lines are taking shape and I am getting a sense of what the whole piece is going to be. Sometimes I think time is the enemy – too much of it – not a lack of it. Too much time and opportunity seems to put so much pressure on me that I am less productive than when I have only a limited slot to do something.Like a bungee rope jump – I would probably dither for too long – I’d have to have an out of body experience and push myself off – I think that’s what I’ve been doing today – making myself do something that, for some reason, for many reasons, I’m scared to do. It’s old saying – there’s nothing as terrifying as a blank page. I wrote software for 20+ years – we used joke that writing code was “debugging an empty text file.” – I don’t know why that wasn’t half so daunting.

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  3. “I would rather leave my book/idea/hunch unsullied by actual words. Anything I write to make it come into being will inevitably fall short.”

    Arrgh yes, this!! I have had a blogpost idea in my head for literally *years* and I still haven’t started it because of this exact issue! One of my New Year’s Resolutions for this year was to get it out of my head and into a Word document, in the hope that a self-imposed deadline might prompt me to get started with it. After reading your post, I am feeling somewhat encouraged by the thought that perhaps, once I start it, the tools will appear 🙂

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