You stare at it wondering how it begins. You dream of where the story will take you. You feel the rush of excitement as you pursue your dream as a storyteller. And then the clock ticks, and you’re left staring at nothing.
That’s when the fear kicks in.
Fear that you won’t be able to put on paper what is in your imagination. Fear that the words you struggle to find won’t do the story justice. Fear that you won’t have it in you to go the distance. I know that feeling all too well.
When I began writing The Disillusioned I didn’t tell a soul for those exact reasons. I wasn’t sure the story was good enough. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish it. I wasn’t sure that my writing instincts were sharp enough to go the distance. I wrote the entire book before I shared it with anyone. And I still remember that first day staring at my laptop struggling to find my voice.
What I didn’t realize at the time was that those first few paragraphs were merely a spark to the fire. And once the story was finished, the odds were high that those first few pages would be tweaked and rewritten countless times. If I had realized that in the beginning then I would’ve felt better about myself and started with the pieces of the story that were already rooted in my imagination.
Put on your headphones, crank up your favorite soundtrack, and get the juices flowing. Of course, you’ll need to know your main characters, and an idea of where you’re headed, but don’t get bogged down with that first line, page, or chapter. Odds are you’ll end up rewriting.
I went through four or five drafts of the first chapter in The Disillusioned, after I had finished writing the novel. Since I knew how it ended, it was easier to know where it began.
“I’m an old woman, sick and tired of the voices rattling in my head. I am ready for this day, my final hours before I disappear into the hereafter. I didn’t always live in this white walled room, away from those I love, watched twenty four hours a day by a Filipino nurse down the hall. Once, life was filled with adventure and purpose. At least that’s what everyone has told me. My days have grown faded, blurry, run together in an endless sea of confusion. It’s hard to distinguish what is real anymore. There are only a few things I still recognize as reality, things I will take to the grave.” (The Disillusioned)
Sometimes that spark isn’t on page one. If you know what that spark is then that’s where you should begin. I know this might go outside of the rules for outlining, which I’ll talk about in a future post, but it will get you started and build your confidence as you write, rewrite, edit, write, rewrite, edit, write, rewrite, edit. It’s a process you’ll repeat for as long as you are a storyteller.
When I began my latest novel, Waking Lazarus, I went through all those same emotions and feelings. It wasn’t any easier, but this time I knew I just needed to breathe amidst the fear. I needed to focus on who it was that needed to be brought to life. I allowed time to dig deep into the character before I wrote a single word. Sure, I felt the pressure to deliver a great story, but I was in no hurry because I knew that the odds were high I’d rewrite nearly every chapter before it was done. That took the pressure off and allowed me to write without holding back.
“She stared at her reflection for a long time. Her bloodied hands cupped together as she splashed water on the open wounds on her face and arms. The coolness lasted only a few seconds and did little to revive her senses. Crawling. Stumbling. Digging her way through the desert for hours was more than a physical test of endurance. Her five foot three, one hundred pound, frame was broken in other ways. By the time she stumbled into town she was delusional. She wasn’t sure where she was or how she ended up there. After a few hours inside the dilapidated house she still struggled to grasp reality.” (Waking Lazarus)
I hope my experience will encourage you to pursue your dreams of writing, to find the courage to overcome your fear, and to find that spark that will both challenge and reward you.
Next post we’ll dive into writing Outlines versus Zones.
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