Now that you've mastered the "3% Rule," let's move on to the second of three posts in my "Writing Lessons from Photographers" blog series.
Today's lesson is a powerful antidote for anyone who struggles with an overactive inner critic. Enjoy!
Last week a writer I know excised herself from cozy home and family to go to a nearby cafe to work on her novel. Hot beverage on hand and comfortably seated, she opened her laptop and began to write.
It wasn't long, though, before my talented writer-friend sent me this missive:
writing life coach! what do you do when your brain tells you that you can't write a book and that everything you type is a boring cliche that no one will ever care about?!
Oh, writer's block. Who among us hasn't been in that very stuck place?
Today's photography-inspired writing lesson addresses just this kind of creative paralysis. Read on to learn about what I call the "10,000+1" Principle.
The "10,000 + 1" Principle
Over the years, this French photographer's spontaneous images, taken with his hand-held Leica camera as he roamed the streets of Paris, remain among my favorites. (For fun, I'll include here my 1994 street portrait of a young boy in Mexico City. Not too tough to see how much I was influenced by Cartier-Bresson's "Rue Mouffetard, Paris 1954," is it?)
A former painter, Cartier-Bresson believed in a concept he called "integrity of vision." He didn't believe in cropping his photographic images to improve their composition. Instead, he held himself to a self-imposed standard of "what you see is what you get," and printed most of his photographs with a thin black line around them, indicating that what you see on the print is exactly what he saw through the viewfinder.
"Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst." - Henri Cartier-BressonGiven Cartier-Bresson's "get it right all at once" aesthetic, it's not surprising that he was well-aware of the fact that as artists, we tend to start out..."so-so," and that with time, we improve. This is a simple concept, but one that, perhaps because drafting a new chapter takes us writers a heck of a lot longer than the "decisive moment" Cartier-Bresson needed to compose a photograph, is often very hard for us writers to remember.
- We forget that the piece we're working on is simply one project among many.
- We forget that our current work represents a single blip in time in our life cycle as writers.
- We forget that sometimes progress is incremental and hardly perceptible, and that, if we're alert and mindful, with each page we deepen our expressive powers and learn more (and more and more) how to do our chosen craft well.
Cartier-Bresson's quote is one of my favorite reminders that we develop our writing talent in stages. Consider this the "10,000+1 Principle:" over time we improve. If we log in the hours and practice our craft, we are bound to produce our first "plus-one" piece. Until then, our job is simply to show up and to pay close attention as we work.Try This
Let's take the 10,000+1 Principle literally for a moment.
Assume that you're a photographer, and you shoot rolls that are 36 frames long. Using Cartier-Bresson's prediction, you'd need to shoot about 278 rolls of film before you move from "ugh" to "decent."
Let's say you're shooting about 3 new rolls a week. If my math's right, at this pace it'll take you a year and ten months to move your craft forward.
if you were to start your work in August 2010, you could expect to shoot your 10,001st photograph right around July 2012. And with that 10,001st photograph, you'll be moving into a discernibly better stage with your craft. If you really want to be a good writer, isn't your long-term goal to evolve your craft worth this relatively brief investment of time?Here are a few more ways to apply the "10,000+1" Principle to your work as a writer.
- If you're writing in a new genre, what would happen to your writing if you gave yourself a year-and-a-half to simply be apprentice: to show up on time, to log in the hours, and to learn, learn, learn?
- What would happen if, just for this afternoon, you allowed yourself to focus on craft and creativity - not how your work will be received in the future? I tried this today while writing this blog post, and this simple mindshift allowed me to finish up in record time.
What Do You Think?
How will you apply the 10,000+1 Principle to your own writing? Shoot me a trackback if you blog about the 10,000+1 Principle elsewhere, or share your ideas with us in the comments below. (You can also leave a comment on my Facebook page by clicking here.)Next Up: "Never Shoot a Sunset"
Stay tuned for the next and final installment of this three-part Writing Lessons from Photographers blog series: "Never Shoot a Sunset."
Thanks for reading and enjoy working at your craft today.