“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” Mark Twain
For the past few weeks I’ve been hesitant to start on my new project. Each time I decide to sit at my desk to write that first chapter I end up doing something else, like reading or writing a new blog post, or worst still going into the kitchen and baking. During the day I spend hours doing things I don’t enjoy. And at night I go to bed promising myself that I will not waste another day, only to wake up and do the same things over and over again. Am I afraid of commitment even though nothing makes me happier than when I am writing? All writing begins with terrible first efforts. Teachers and writing instructors and coaches advise us to start somewhere, by getting something – anything – down on paper.
I have an overall idea and plan of the book. I know my characters, I know what my first chapter is and I know my last. I know most of the middle as well but why am I hesitant to put it all down in writing? What is it that’s keeping me from getting started? Joseph Conrad wrote:
“Yet even then I hesitated, as if warned by the instinct of self-preservation from venturing on a distant and toilsome journey into a land full of intrigue and revolutions. But it had to be done.”
Am I being merely lazy or is this writer’s block? I mean I write every day. I write articles, small pieces, on news items that I read or hear that interest me. And if when I am reading a book I come across a sentence or paragraph that makes me think, I take notes, I scribble, I jot down my thoughts and feelings.
Rumor has it that Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down The Bones, during one of her talks on writing was asked for the best possible advice she had to offer. She held up a yellow legal pad, pretended her fingers held a pen, and scribbled away.
Then why can’t I commit myself to scribble that first sentence of the first chapter? Don’t I really want to tell my story? Why can’t I set goals for myself and get it done? Am I lacking the determination to take that first step?
Robert Heinlein states his two rules of writing, he writes: “The first one is: You Must Write. The second one is: You Must Finish What You Write.”
It’s just a matter of sitting down and doing it. Afterwards it is going to be easy, I know. Have you ever seen a baby walk for the first time? First he crawls, then he tries to stand up and then when he takes his first step, he falls. He might cry a little. Be hesitant. But then once he discovers the joy of walking by himself, he’s overjoyed and he almost runs and stumbles and cries out and when no one’s watching gets up and almost runs again. That’s how I’ve experienced the actual writing of the book. Rather, in the words of John Updike (Rabbit, Run):
“His heels hitting heavily on the pavement at first with and effortless gathering out of a kind of sweet panic growing lighter and quicker and quieter, he runs. Ah: runs. Runs.”
If only I can force myself to take that first step.