“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Happy New Year, dear writers!
What are you up to this year? Any new beginnings? Any big expectations? Any solid plans? Any mapped journeys?
Any old resistance?
I ask you, but at the same, I ask myself the same questions. The first of January awakens both hope and doubt in everyone.
The last couple of years I have been teaching creative writing in series of eight or ten classes. And each time I begin a new series, and especially if I have a new lady in my Mama Writes class, I open with a discussion on beginnings. Whether a beginning means a chapter or a story opening, or a start of something completely different, the word itself is accompanied by fear. A kind of anxiety that may grow as potent to arrest our creativity and as dark to take away our faith, and as condescending to make us forget the thrilling idea that inspired us to begin. The fear that ascends when we start a new literary adventure is not a fear of beginnings because such fear does not exist. Beginnings are complemented by delight and curiosity. However, the fear that you may experience upon beginning is real, and is, in fact, a well-known fear of failure. Remember it? It comes in various disguises and unexpectedly. Don’t let it trick you so early on your new journey; you will have a whole year to dwell upon your possible fiascos. Today, you must embrace a new story. Today you must begin.
Each writer is different, and each story is different. And as Stephen King said in his memoir on writing, “The scariest moment is always just before you start.”
Look at the image above. This is how the writing looks like, most of the time. A bumpy road, enveloped in a grey mist, long, lonely, and tiresome.
But should I tell you this at your beginning? I am not a pessimist, on the contrary. I’ve hit this road at fifteen, and since then I became well familiar with rules of the writer’s journey and the ways the road curved and unfolded over time. However, this same path that now, in the beginning, is so hazed, can take you to the most beautiful corners of Earth or Space. Because, this road, if you keep going, becomes a portal to your dreams.
My students always ask me, “Where do we find the beginning to our stories?”
Where do you find beginnings to your stories?
Is there a proved formula or a box full of ideas that we can open and browse? Well, we have Google nowadays that can take us places and open thousands of windows to our delight. Start with an image – the one that has been stuck in your mind’s eye; a spark of a feeling that warms up your heart. Start with a word that pulsates inside your brain. A word you cannot forget, a word you cannot yet pronounce or define. Or start with a place you love, or you are intrigued by. Start with a character who you’ve met in real life or who’s just popped into your dream last night. Start from your dream, your guilt, your wish. Start with a prompt I give you.
Don’t be afraid of the whiteness of a blank paper because that white that stares back at you blindingly is just a glorious invitation to a fun ride. Consider white a color of possibilities. Hop on a bus, a train; board a plane, or a ship. Dive deep, or fly high. Speed. Do not turn back to edit and criticize yourself. Speed. Do not turn back! Don’t hesitate. Don’t stop. Because if you do, the fear will kick in again. And it will push you down to the ground, immobilize your limbs, numb your fingertips until you’re incapable of typing or handwriting until you’re unable to think. The fear of failure will now try to show you how unoriginal your idea was, how common your finest words are, how many times writers have already visited the place you are describing, or how dull your protagonist is.
And how is your protagonist at the moment? Can you pay attention to them? Can you offer them love? Don’t let the fear consume you, don’t let it beat you. Because nobody will ever write YOUR story as well and as compellingly as you will. And, on the other hand, nothing will tug at you as heavily as an untold story, unfulfilled potential.
Writers carry stories in their bloodstream. You hold your accounts, and it is YOU who own their beginnings. Let go of the fear to recognize where your journey starts, where your road starts to unwind and come along. Push through the haze, walk through the woods, until you see the light that will guide you forward. Until you see the light.
I dare you to try something new right away! How do you respond to the white page? How does the white page respond to you? What is the first word you write in 2018? Have you surprised yourself?
Surprise yourself with a fresh thought, a never-felt-before emotion at the start of a New Year.
Surprise yourself because the highest expectations you will ever need to answer to are your own.
Happy new beginnings, my dear writers! May the New Year enlighten your journeys.