Can we all take a collective deep breath? Right now, just stop.
Let it out slowly.
One more time.
I started over. It’s been a long time since I started a brand new writing project, stared at an empty notebook with a pen poised for less than sentences. Names, locations, footholds for the beginning of a story that has never been written, though every story is merely a reflection of one that’s been told before. It feels strange to meet these people for the first time, knowing I get to create them in a way, while they simultaneously create themselves, and also me.
All the literature I’ve read on writing fiction in the past few years says you don’t begin with an outline, you simply begin and the story writes itself. I have never written this way. Each of my four manuscripts were outlined in vague detail on pages of notebooks. “Here’s what happens in Chapter four,” etc. It is satisfying work to write an outline, and it is certainly helpful to begin a roadtrip with a map in hand, but the problem with outlines is they confine. Outlines, which can be drawn up without a shred of the beauty of the craft, are ultimately limiting. And it certainly seems counter-creativity to enter a project with scaffolding enclosing it. Perhaps your scaffolding is fit for a country house when your work was meant to become a castle.
I wrote Within the Walled City from an outline, and while I don’t have regrets about the book, I do think it was much more painstaking to bring the story from mediocre to good because the outline had constrained me to a line of plot which I was unable to see past. Does it make sense? A storyline I laid out in an afternoon contained a saga which took me YEARS to write. So when it became clear the the original track was actually wrong, not the destiny of the characters, missing great swaths of information, drama, conflict, romance and passion, making the changes was agony. I didn’t know how, I couldn’t see the people for who they were meant to be. I was like a veteran pressing pieces of shrapnel to the surface of my skin in a gas station bathroom under dim lights.
Now my bulletin board is empty. I have a fresh notebook, even a new computer! Gwyneth! (Moment of silence for Dora, old faithful. RIP)
November is National Novel Writing Month, and I can’t let that sort of opportunity pass me by, so I dedicated myself to writing for 45 minutes a day, which is significantly more difficult now with the added baby in the house. Starting at the beginning is refreshingly exhilerating, but also terrifying. I keep finding myself staring at Gwyneth without a single worthwhile thought. I feel afraid that nothing in my brain is good enough for a story. My mind is encased in plastic or something, non-functioning the way my tongue goes slack after sucking on an ice cube.
But then I remember these things:
Every single life is a good story. Every one.
Writing is a discipline and showing up is the requirement.
There’s nothing I’d rather do.
So I return again to the writing desk. Once every few days I hit my stride, feel the whisper of the muse in my ear, the rush of wind in my fingers, and produce beautiful lines. Very rarely I am in stride with the elite, invigorated. This is rare, however, and usually I am returning for the drudgery of stringing words together to form sentences that will likely be edited at best, cut at worst.
There’s another new beginning around here. Mae Connelly is two months old now, quite literally seeing for the first time. What is it, to see for the first time? I cannot fathom. As I look into those glowing, blue marbles darting around the room I cannot help but wonder that she is a blank slate, a white page. The pen is poised, what will be written? She’s always moving, laughing a little, usually set with an intense stare, a crease in between her eyes. Here is a story over which I have no power and a great deal of influence. Here so much more is at stake. Mae is inspiring me to write, in a way. I believe stories are, right down at the roots, life. This is my contribution.