The Courage to Begin

Writing is fraught with uncertainty. Double that for starting a new project, much less your very first work of fiction.

Even experienced writers feel uncertain. What if the topic is uninspired, the concept derivative, or–worst of all–what if the writing is bad? My answer to all this is, so what? What if the concept could be better? Are you going to wait until summer for the concept to change or a better idea to arrive? Why not get started and let the subject matter guide you to a new twist on an old theme, or carry you to a new concept?

Writing Is an Act of Discovery

One of the great secrets of writing is that a hot story doesn’t start out that way. You don’t begin with a memorable story, you end up with one. Only in writing do we have a craft where the practicioners think it should be good at the outset! Actually, fiction often begins as a rather unsightly lump and only later becomes sculpture. Therefore, begin with some faith in the process. Until you make a beginning, you haven’t even chosen your quarry stone. You haven’t yet pointed your subconscious in the direction of your material. So make a beginning. Once you have a germ of an idea, sit in a comfortable chair with a notebook (or, if feeling a bit more confidant, a laptop) and start writing your story. Write past the clunky, self-conscious stuff. When your writing muscles are warmed up, you can run.

If the Writing is Bad

What if you hate what you see? Well, if you do, here’s the second great secret of writing: rewriting. Refining, shaping, crossing out, adding in — this is where you get up close and personal with your story and your words. That engagement with your material will change your story and its telling. And over time, it will change you. You’ll learn that you don’t need to wait, that waiting for the right story, right concept, right words isn’t waiting for “quality,” it’s waiting for Godot. (He never arrives.) Quality writing does not have an on-off switch. It arrives through the process of writing.

Be brave. Make a beginning.

2 Responses

  1. I used to berate myself because my first drafts were really awful, full of false starts, cliches and overwritten prose. Then I confessed my fears to a writer friend whose work I greatly admired. She thought for a moment and said, “NO ONE sees my work before second or third draft.”

    Oh, I thought. There’s hope for me. The only draft that matters is the one on my editor’s desk.

    Seven novels later, my first drafts are still drek. But drek like rich compost, full of worms and mold and seeds, seeds I can revise into something powerful.

  2. Kay says:

    I love this, Deborah: “The only draft that matters is the one on my editor’s desk.”

    The more authors who confess to shitty first drafts, the more aspiring writings can take heart. Thanks!

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