The way I work is I start, and then something starts to happen. In other words, I have to mechanically, intentionally, and willfully begin. –Kay Ryan, US poet laureate 2008-2010.
Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation) there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would not otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man would have dreamed would come his way.—Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
I have started another book. It’s an exhilarating experience to have an idea, to begin putting words down, to watch the idea develop into a story that never existed in the world before. The past few days I’ve gotten back into my writing routine. I sit down each morning after sucking down several cups of coffee. I scroll through emails. I write in my journal. I talk on the phone to my writing friend. And then I begin. My goal is 1500 words.
I go easy on myself in the early days of a book. I let scenes unfold the way they want to unfold. I step back and let the characters say what they want. I’m curious. What are these little people going to do? Where are they going to go? What’s going to happen to them? I have a general idea at this point, but each day there are surprises. I don’t know the actual story yet. I don’t know the end. I’m writing the book to find out. It’s kind of scary.
Writers have a saying: Trust the process. I heard Printz Award winner Libba Bray say something like, “step off the cliff and know that the bridge will be there for you.”
I believe it. I’ve done it before and I trust that I can do it again. I know that I can write this book. I know that I will finish it. I know what my process will be along the way.
In the beginning I’ll be excited. I’ll have all these potentially cool ideas bubbling up out of my subconscious. I don’t necessarily have to know what the plot is or where it’s all going. I only have to write one scene at a time. The answers I need will come when I need them.
I know that inevitably I will write myself into corners. I’ll be trapped and think there is no way out, but then I’ll wake up one morning and it will all be clear. The answer was there all the time just out of reach, and I’ll marvel that it seems so simple and so right that I should’ve been able to see it.
Somewhere in the mushy middle of the book, I will lose steam and think the whole thing is crap. It’s the most bizarre thing I’ve ever written. No one will ever want to read it. It’s pointless what I’m doing. I will keep writing anyway. But it will be hard. There will be days when it’s excruciating to write one sentence. I’ll sit staring at the computer, bleary-eyed, unable to string two words together. Then I finally will string two words together and end up deleting them. There will be other days when it all flows effortlessly. Scenes scroll out like a movie. When I go back to read my work I won’t remember which parts were hard to write and which were easy.
I know that at some point toward the end, I will become manic, waking every morning with the day’s writing pressing down at me so I can hardly wait to start, to just get it out of me before my head explodes. I’ll want to do nothing but write, past dinner, past bed time. I’ll forget to change out of my pajamas. I won’t shower or make dinner or clean the bathrooms. I’ll go to bed with dialogue spinning and perfect lines popping up out of nowhere. I’ll be in the grocery store or driving carpool or sitting in a doctor’s office and I’ll have to scrounge around for a scrap of paper to jot down words that are writing themselves before my eyes. People will think I’m a lunatic. I know that when I finished the day’s writing I will feel like I’m stepping out of a trance. I shouldn’t operate heavy machinery during these times or have important conversations with my husband.
I know that several months from now, it will all come together. I will write the final words and feel wrung out and exhausted. I will think it is the best thing I’ve ever written. I will send it out to friends. I will eagerly await their responses. While I scrub my neglected toilets, I’ll imagine six figure book-deals and movie rights and awards and critical acclaim.
None of that will happen. But it will be okay. I will take a rest. Then I will start to write another book.
“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic and power in it. Begin it now.” --Goethe