Will it Live? Story Beginnings
The beginning stages of a novel are like the first few shoots that poke above ground in March. Delicate and fragile, easily crushed. They may look like they’re growing and blossoming, and then one last snowfall or late frost withers them to nothingness.
So too with stories, I find. There’s a precarious stage when you first start writing any new project: novel, short story, play, whatever. You may believe in it, you may know what’s happening later on, but you haven’t quite settled into the story or its characters. Not quite settled is a very uncomfortable feeling, and I generally dislike uncomfortable feelings.
Self-doubt creeps in. “You don’t know what you’re doing. This is terrible. This story has deep intrinsic flaws that cannot be fixed. You call that a description?”
It’s one last, late frost.
The only way through is to keep going. Now, of course, some stories—like tender shoots and buds—dry up and die for no apparent reason at all. Quite annoying, really, when you can see the story, you were all excited about it—and it’s undeniably dead on the page.
That’s why I hesitate to talk about stories too early. Just in case speaking about them out loud brings that swift, fatal winter wind. But there’s also a definite point when the story crosses the threshold, and you know it’s going to survive. It’s an instinctive thing, not measured by page or wordcount. There’s always that story that you write all the way to the end before realizing it doesn’t work. Not that I have experience with that or anything.
To an extent, the story’s fighting to keep you just as much as you’re fighting to keep it. My off-season means that all those hours formerly occupied with beer and frolicking about in petticoats are now filled with creative work. I adore it, but there’s a lot of it. How do I keep my tender little shoot alive when my garden’s looking a wee bit full?
No matter how busy I get, I’m committed to writing this novel every day. 2000-3000 words is my preference, but 1000 is okay, too. Even 500. As long as it’s something. Think of it like water: that little shoot may still wither and die, but looking after it gives it a fighting chance.
Also, trickery. I’m pretty sure that the main reasons my stories wither and die is that my brain suddenly realizes: Holy frak, we’re Writing A Real Thing. And then it freaks out and gets really self-conscious, criticizing every comma, and holding every sentence against the fantasy corpus, despairing of ever actually Writing A Real Thing.
Not the best creative atmosphere.
Luckily, my mind is fairly easy to trick. I never begin a new novel with a title page. I just start writing on a blank Word doc. Roman numerals have always been my preference for chapter headings: my brain takes a moment to register “I” instead of “Chapter One,” and it seems that split second of hesitation is all the space I need to forge ahead. Sometime around “II” or “III,” I’ll add page numbers and the usual “AUTHOR/TITLE” header.
It takes the pressure off: “See, we’re not Writing A Real Thing! We’re messing around. Playing. That’s all!”
And then, once I’ve tricked myself into getting a few chapters in, that little shoot is usually strong enough to keep going. It may still die. But the chances of survival are much, much higher.
My new novel’s getting there. I wouldn’t say it’s out of the woods yet. But—but when I open the file to keep working on it, it’s with a sigh of relief. “I get to work on this now;” not “I have to.” There’s a pull with this one, tugging me forward. Since Heartstealer felt much the same, I take that as a good sign.
Will it live? Only time will tell.
But I sure hope so.🙂
PS. Do you like the new site design? The old one was feeling too dark and claustrophobic—I wanted to clear out the cobwebs! And I think this scheme captures my writerly flavour a little better.
What I’m Listening To This Week
We all know I like Palestrina, but when I first came across this piece, I had to stop what I was doing. This Sanctus from Palestrina’s “Missa ut re me fa so la” is divine in every sense of the word. Oh, those long lines in the top soprano part! The altos driving like an engine!
I’ve heard a lot of liturgical music. This piece is one of the most beautiful.