When my dear sweet husband was a tall, scrawny, awkward boy of 16, he somehow convinced the local university radio station to give him and his best friend Simon a radio show, on which they played their friends' nerdy local indie bands and, for some reason, bird call soundtracks. They called their show Beating Around The Bush, and they were on from 10-11pm on Sunday nights right before a gentleman named Jimmy Twilight took over, who was known for bringing ladies-of-the-night onto his show, getting wasted, and sleeping in the sound booth. Now this was directly during the golden years of the dramatic brilliance that was The OC tv series, so this radio show brought my husband and his friend huge Seth Cohen-street cred; all you nerdy dudes can thank dear Sethy for the fact that you survived high school, and all us nerdy gals can thank babely Summer for ensuring that we lost all our nerdy dude boyfriends.
Now which part of that long-winded story is relevant to my thoughts on writing this week, you might be asking? Surprisingly, it's not Jimmy Twilight; this week I've been mulling over the name of my sig other's (see this post for my invention of that brilliant nickname) radio show: Beating Around The Bush. We were chatting about it recently and I realized that I didn't actually know where this strange idiom came from, so I googled it (you see the kind of grueling work I put in for you guys??) and learned that it's actually one of the oldest non-biblical phrases in the English language and can be traced back as far as the 15th century to the medieval poem Generydes - A Romance in Seven-line Stanzas, circa 1440:
Butt as it hath be sayde full long agoo,
Some bete the bussh and some the byrdes take.
Yes. Romantic gold right there. So here's what "bete the bussh" meant to good ol' Generydes and his pals- apparently, back then, and maybe now for all I know, when hunting parties went out to shoot birds, some of the party would go ahead and beat the bushes with sticks, because the birds they hunted like to nest in the bushes, and when the bushes were hit, all the birds would fly out of them into a great flock and the hunters could shoot at them to their heart's content. That's what the literal phrase referred to, but the idea soon morphed into a metaphor, used by, oh I don't know, old wizards with beards drinking butter beer in the parlour (that's accurate for the 15th century, yes?) who took the phrase "to beat the bush" and used it to refer to any preamble before the actual act; to 'beat the bush' then meant to 'prepare for the big moment', 'get ready', or 'compose themselves to take action'.
However, read a bit further in the same 200 word article (honestly, the amount of research I do for y'all is staggering) and you'll find out that the phrase gradually took on another meaning a whole hundred and something years later when it was published by George Gascoigne in something he simply titled (minimalism was big back then apparently), Works, in 1572:
He bet about the bush, whyles other caught the birds.
Woah, woah woah- George Gascoigne brought some fighting words! That's like the equivalent of a Beyonce album/mic drop today- essentially, he used the phrase 'to bet about the bush' as a straight-up diss, a way to chastize someone for always staying in the pre-game phase, and never moving into the actual event they prepared for, ie. shooting the birds. To beat around the bush now meant you were stuck hitting all the bushes and rousing the birds, but you never had the guts to take the next step and actually shoot them down.
Now THAT, my dear writers, hit me a bit close to home. I don't know about you, but I spend a TON of time beating around the bush (and 'beteing the bussh', and 'beting about the bush' too, probably) when it comes to my writing projects. Whether it's an idea for a screenplay, a short film, a play, or even a new writing workshop, I can spend endless hours, years even, in 'bush beating mode': preparing, planning, and strategizing for what it's going to be like when I actually start the project, but much of the time, I never actually work up the guts to write it.
Now why is this? I think we can look back at our bush beating ancestors and take a few clues from them. The way I see it, beating the bushes is easy- you get a stick, you hit some trees, you work up a sweat, all is good. You can tell yourself you're going to shoot when the time comes, but the fact is, shooting is scary, and it's way less scary to just keep hitting shrubbery. For one thing, when you do try shooting, you could miss, and failure never feels good. For another, you could do it wrong- hurt yourself or someone else if you don't do it properly. And finally, the trickiest one, you might find you're already thinking about what to do once the bird has been shot- you'll have to pluck it, clean it, prepare it for your twenty illegitimate village children! I know many of us as writers get stuck in that phase specifically- already thinking and worrying about what will happen AFTER we write the thing (our mom will see it! we'll need to find a publisher! what if people don't like it! what if it sucks? what if it's- *shudder*- successful????) BEFORE we've even started writing it! And THAT, my friends, is a death trap, because though it can feel like we're doing the work, we're not ACTUALLY doing the work.
What's your bush, coming into 2018? What idea, dream, writing project are you beating like a madwoman- thinking about, planning, going over all the 'what ifs'- but not actually sitting down to write? Don't let all the George Gascoigne's of the world call you a 'bush beter'- it's time to start shooting those birds. Come join a writing workshop with us- I know, I know, you could sit at home and make time ten minutes before bed every night and plan that one weekend in the spring that you might get away to put some stuff down on paper. It's less scary and you really might do those things, in fact, I hope you do- but the fact is, sometimes it's time to just leap in, full force, and take your dream seriously. Ideas aren't unique- if you don't write it, someone else will. You're just lucky it's come to you now, today, and you owe it to yourself to actually begin. Welcome to 2018, where I'd like to introduce the longest hashtag ever: #stopbeatingaroundthebush (I thought it was less offensive and worrying than #letsshootsomebirds).
There are three weekly 10-week writing workshops running in winter 2018- one in Hamilton, ON, and two in Calgary, AB (one morning, one evening). Take a leap, sign up, I promise you'll thank yourself after when you have 15-20 new pieces of writing DONE, newfound confidence in your own voice, a fabulous community of writers to support you, and are well on your way to actually writing that thing you've been beating around the bush about starting. If you aren't in the area, but you'd still like to join in, subscribe to our weekly writing prompts at the bottom of this post, and prepare yourself for a new form of workshop accessible to everyone, coming this year!
My New Years goal is not to get you to think about writing. My New Years goal is to help you get that shit down on paper. If nothing else, help me reach my own New Years goal, and #stopbeatingaroundthebush.
As Frankenstein's ill-fated lover, Elizabeth, would say:
"Adieu! Take care of yourself; and, I entreat! write!"