Starter’s Block

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What is it about beginning something that is so fraught? Especially, very most especially, a writing project. For me, beginning a big writing project comes more heavily freighted with angst than the other beginnings one normally associates with stress: a big trip; a new job; marriage; childbirth. Or a new diet.

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Is it just me?

When it comes to travel, the hardest part is the planning and packing, which is already behind you by the time you catch your ride share to the airport. All you have to do is remember where you stashed your passport and wallet.

With the new job thing, even if the first day makes you feel a lot like you did on day one of seventh grade, at least you know you’ve got the gig. You were chosen. If you show up every day on time and do the thing, you’ll be okay.

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Beginning a marriage is a very big deal, but it usually starts off with a fancy party followed by a nice trip, before you get to the break-in period. Plus you get presents.

Childbirth inarguably wins hands-down when it comes to beginning something new. You can’t beat it for high stakes or life-changing significance. But the truth is that once you’ve got that hoped-for bun in the oven, the process takes on a life of its own. Literally.

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Diets? I’ve begun more than I care to calculate, and unless experts can convince me that my life and the welfare of the planet depends on it, I will never begin another one. Here I draw inspiration from Scarlett O’Hara: as God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again. So, not my problem.

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But starting a big writing project like the one I have looming before me at the moment?  That brings me to my knees. Short stories aren’t so terrifying; I can sort of sneak up on those, doodle in my journal a little, try a few ideas out, and before you know it I’m tip-tapping away at the keyboard and rather amusing myself in the process. Even beginning a new novel, when I can tell myself it’s only a rough draft and is therefore allowed to be terrible, is manageable. Although I do have to work my way into it with a lot of mind-mapping and outlining and research and daydreaming on a level that has friends and coworkers wondering if I’m exhibiting petit mal seizures. Still, at some point I manage to get it underway.

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A big help here is the wondrous support offered by NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, which is coming up next month and I can’t say enough good things about it, if you’re looking for a launching pad to get you started on that long dreamed-of book. I am a huge NaNo fan.

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In fact, the project I’m contending with now began as a NaNo draft, and after eight or ten major rewrites has since grown into a completed novel that is now in what we aspiring writer types call the query process.

The good news is that the query process has resulted in some strong interest.

The . . . well, not bad news, not at all, but the challenging reality is that said interest comes with requests for revision.  Significant revisions, not just word smithing.

The suggestions are daunting, but intriguing. I am confident that implementing them will result in a better book, if I can figure out how to do it. Once I get my head around the goals. Once I have a handle on it. Once I . . . start.

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I’ve done a lot to get ready to start. More reading, more research, more notes, lots and lots and lots of thinking and imagining and what-iffing to the point where those closest to me have taken to snapping their fingers in front of my face to see if I’m actually conscious.

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Here’s what I’ve discovered: when it comes to a really steep challenge, the kind that scares me, I have to arrive at the point where the dread of failure, or the dread of the magnitude of the task, or the dread of whatever it is I’ve conjured up to torture myself, becomes more uncomfortable than simply sitting down and doing the work.

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That’s what happened yesterday afternoon. I hadn’t been to the library all week, for my regular after-the-day-job writing time, because I was convinced I needed more preparation, more direction, more something. But yesterday came and I didn’t feel one  teensy bit more prepared or confident.  I simply couldn’t stand the pain of not doing the thing I’ve been afraid of doing. Not one more day.

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So I started. Did I find the words flowing effortlessly, did the text burst of its own accord into brilliance, did I experience that ineffable state called Flow? No. I hacked away until it was time to go home.

But I started. And now all I have to do is finish.

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What about you? How do you approach a big, daunting project, of any kind? Please comment and share!

 

2 thoughts on “Starter’s Block

  1. I agree, starting is definitely the hardest part. I haven’t made so many starts to writing projects that I have a particular strategy, but I tend to start with a list. Here’s what needs to be done. Not ready yet? Here are some more details on each point. Still no? I’m not actually starting, I’m just going to play with this point and see what I can do. Okay, that’s out of the way. What you do mean I’ve already started? Oh, I guess I might as well keep going, then.

  2. I do so love making lists. My daily list starts with “wake up” so right away I have a sense of accomplishment. Even if my head is still on the pillow.

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