On beginning

I love beginnings. I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t. And I don’t just like to start something, I like to start it from scratch.

It is a reality of our age that many of us start anew, often. We move jobs, we move houses, or cities, or countries. We start relationships and end them and enthusiastically have another go, again and perhaps, depending on luck and optimism, again. We take things up and put them down on a whim.

I watched a reality TV show the other day in which a young American man had five days to prepare to play a role in the Beijing opera. This is something that Chinese actors will train for years for, before spending their entire career perfecting a single part.

But we love to see people setting off with fear and trepidation and bluster and good intentions to try something new.

Monkey King in five days? Heck, why not?

I suppose that nanowrimo (which I am a big fan of) is kind of like the writer’s equivalent. Start and finish a book in a single month. Never written a story before, not a problem. Not sure what you’re going to write about, well that just makes you a pantser, and there’s a lot of you out there. The thing that some people might spend years doing, decades even, a lifetime certainly to master: in and out in thirty days. And guess what, I’ve done it three times now and it’s fun!

Because newness fizzes. A new story, a new love, a new job. A place you’ve never been before. A new idea. It is anxious and anything is possible and there is always some lingering hope that it just might turn you into someone different. Someone better. But it’s tricky too.

When things are new they’re fragile. One wrong step can trip you up. Fizz can turn to fizzle. Because you haven’t really figured it all out yet, you’re running on enthusiasm and blind optimism, with a good dose of ignorance thrown in.

So, a confession. I have lost count now (though not due to lack of fingers, I’m pretty sure it’s under ten) of the number of novels I have started to write. This has occupied the past five years of my life. For some I’ve finished complete drafts (cue ecstatic applause) but I’m not happy with them. Some have made it through seventy or so pages to the middle where it all has fallen into a smouldering heap as characters run screaming from the wreckage. For others I’ve chased the spark of an idea, and found myself soon lost and disheartened, in the dark with wet kindling and numb fingers. Or distracted.

Because the beginning always calls.

When you wear out that initial spark, you get to the hard work of the middle, which seems to go on forever. You’re compounding your mistakes and your characters are having identity crises and you’re losing hope by the minute of ever producing anything worthwhile. What you really want to do – what I really want to do – is start something completely new.

And too often, I manage to convince myself that this makes sense, that beginning again from scratch is actually the answer.

I’m working on a novel now. I swear, this one’s a keeper. I’ve pushed through the early stages, made it to what might be almost the second half, I can see my way ahead. I can see in broad strokes through to the end. The end! I’m being disciplined, ignoring the things that I know I can fix in rewrites, chasing the story more than the words. I’m building stamina. Resilience. When I get ideas for other stories I write them down and put them away somewhere and don’t do anything. Don’t even look at them. They are dead to me.

I’m going to finish this damn thing. I’m not going to waste this effort. If no one likes it, too bad. At least it will be done. And I can promise you, you’ll hear about it when it is, from me if nobody else.

And then, as a reward, I’ll get to work on something new.

monkey king

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4 thoughts on “On beginning

  1. I love beginnings as well. I have a similar slush pile hoping that one day they all coalesce into one masterpiece. But the key is to keep doing it. And hopefully the middle bit and the editing bit will become just as exciting as the beginning.

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