Saturday, July 22, 2017

Starting New Projects: The Myth of the Blank Page

One of the most conflicting things that you can do as a writer is start something new.

There seems to be this kind of fable set up of THE BLANK PAGE as the writer's bogeyman of sorts. Now, in general, I tend to put a lot more time into revising endings than beginnings. But sometimes starting is the literal worst.

Take, for instance, the most recent novel that I wrote (the one I'm currently sending around to agents). When I started the project, it was third person from Celeste's point of view, straight-up (haha) YA queer literary. Then I started mostly from scratch when I realized it was falling flat, turning it into YA queer magical realism. Then I had to re-start it again because I realized that the voice was wrong and that it should've been first person from her POV and that it was going to be more heavily fantasy. Then, two-thirds of the way into what would become an actual first draft, I started adding in first person sections from Simone's POV, which then also had to be spliced into the beginning and middle in revisions. It took a lot for Strange High to figure out that it was a dual first person YA queer fairy tale.

More recently, I just started a new writing project. I've been working on a new collection of poems (collection #3, because I've been sending collection #2 out to publishers), and that's been great. But I've had a big, novel-shaped hole in my life. Of course, with a new daughter who wants to be cuddled 24/7 there's hardly a spare moment and, when there is, I do more frivolous things like eat or shower or buy the family groceries. I've been finding spare moments to write poems, but I haven't really touched fiction since I finished revising Strange High. Option #1: Go back to a novel idea that I really believe in and that I actually wrote 15,000 words of before switching to Strange High last year. Option #2: A recent nightmare that felt like an amazing novel idea. My feeling was that I'm young and can do both ideas--but one has to come first. As I'd like to maybe do the started novel for my dissertation in a couple of years, I decided to give this new idea a shot. And, last night, I managed to come up with character names and write the first 450 words (in addition to the plot idea that the nightmare gave me).

Now, maybe I'll leave the idea when I get 1,000 or 10,000 words in because it's not working. Maybe I'll switch to the other novel idea because I find that's what my heart is pulling me toward. This is what I'm talking about when I bring up how conflicting the start of a novel is. Sure, you could do whatever you want. You have that freedom. But you can do WHATEVER YOU WANT. It's the fear that I hear from my students sometimes when they're trying to find a thesis for their paper--How, in the wide world of paper ideas, do I just pick one? Where do I even begin?

So, for me, it's less that I can't figure out a good first line. (I actually think I'm pretty good at those.) It's more the total sense of uncertainty. Unless I do major planning first, I don't know these characters, I don't know where this is going, and it's not going to be done in one go of it. What's more, I don't even know if I'll like it enough to finish, or if I'll be able to sell it once the time comes. Uncertainty is one of the most uncomfortable things in the world for me and I really struggle with it.

Now, if I never wrote without a clear idea of every last detail of the entire project then I'd have to quit this gig and go find something where uncertainty wasn't in the job description. I find a way to do it. That doesn't make it a pleasant part of the process. I kind of just need to put my blinders on and push through the discomfort of uncertainty. It's knowing that, later, I'm going to really start getting into the groove of things and have fun with it that helps keep me going until things click into place. Ultimately, this makes it worth it.

Are you a writer, or a creator of any sort? What part of your creative process is least enjoyable for you? How do you soldier through anyway?

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