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You have to begin

You have to beginYou have to begin.

You have to begin, over, and over, and over again. A new story, a new chapter, a new sentence.

You have to begin. That’s all there is to it.

For me, beginning is always hard. I know of people who look at the page and don’t know what to write. I don’t. If I look at the page, I start to write. It’s the moment before, right as I start the computer, think about what I need to do, that’s the hardest.

I know I should begin. I know that as soon as I begin I’ll be able to write, I’ll be getting somewhere, anywhere. But the moment before I start, that’s pure fear.

I’ve been writing professionally for over fifteen years now, and I still have trouble beginning. I still feel the fear.

I don’t fear the empty page. I don’t fear the text, or that it will stink, or that it won’t sell. I fear the unknown. I fear that people will look over my shoulder and scream at me for what a worthless piece of useless trash I am. I fear that a mob of angry critics will break down the door to my house, storm up my stairs, crash into my computer room, and yell at me.

I fear myself.

That’s all there is to it. Fear of self.

Because there is no mob. There is no one who cares about whether I write, or what I write. There is no one but me. And I generate my own fear.

[bctt tweet=”Fear is hard. Fear is difficult. And yet, you have to overcome that fear in order to create.” username=”FilipWiltgren”]

That’s why beginning is hard for me. Because once I’m going I don’t have time to think about how it will go. I’m just doing it. I’ve managed to come to the point in my career where I can shut my internal critic up. I bash that bastard over the head with a baseball bat (not an axe, I don’t want to kill the critter, I just want him to shut up and let me create). I lock him in the deepest, darkest closet of my mind, the one where I keep old, shameful memories, so that I won’t hear him scream. Then I write.

But the moment before I begin, the moment of truth, where I still have the choice of not creating, of not risking that this particular time I won’t be able to create, that this particular time the critic will escape and piss all over my fine manuscript, that’s pure fear.

Fear is hard. Fear is difficult. Fear is scary[note]And isn’t that an oxymoron.[/note]. And yet, you have to overcome that fear in order to create.

Perhaps you have a different point at which it kicks in. Perhaps your point of no return is when you’re staring at the page, or before you go to bed at night[note]Been there, done that. Fear in the night sucks, best way to combat it is to get up and start creating. At least then you won’t be wasting time to insomnia.[/note]. Whichever point it’s at, you will have that moment of perfect terror before you begin. Everyone has it.

I know of writers, pros, people who’ve won major awards and the acclaim of millions, who have that fear. Harper Lee, who wrote “To Kill a Mockingbird”, one of the most beloved and most acclaimed works of American literature, got so scared that she stopped writing. She worked on a single follow-up novel for years, but could not complete it. It’s not unusual. And yet, you have to begin.

Me, I’ve worked up tricks to begin. I trick myself into sitting down. I turn on the computer before I go to the bathroom so that it will be ready when I come back, ready and waiting for me to write. No time to fear while it boots up, only time to sit down and begin.

[bctt tweet=”You will have that moment of terror before you begin. Everyone has it. Yet you have to begin.” username=”FilipWiltgren”]

I leave my work on a cliffhanger, something that catches my interest. How will the characters get out of that particular bind? I don’t know, and if I want to find out, I have to begin.

Sometime I cheat myself into cheating myself. I forbid myself to write. I’ve got tech-free Saturdays where I’m not allowed anything that eats electricity[note]Ok, I’m allowed the dishwasher, and the electric tea kettle, and the car, and… But you get my point.[/note]. And after not consuming any input, my brain starts to produce output whether I want it or not. Then I’m so full of it that the next chance I get to write I can’t stop myself. I need to get it out or I’ll burst.

Other times I tell myself that I’ll just write a snippet. A couple of sentences to get this idea out of my mind. Sometimes that’s all I do, and that’s fine. But sometimes the idea continues to flow and I keep writing until there’s a complete story.

You’ll note that all of these are carrots. I’m a carrot kind of guy. The whip doesn’t work for me.

I’ve tried forcing myself through a story, giving myself minimum writing quotas, but all that does is kill my creativity, and my will to write. It makes writing a chore, when writing is supposed to be play[note]I’m not saying that writing is easy – the most fun play is hard, like a tough game, or a football match, or building the coolest Lego tower in the world.[/note].

[bctt tweet=”Begin, over, and over, and over again. Begin, and keep beginning, until you can write “The End”.” username=”FilipWiltgren”]

So I don’t force myself. Also, when I feel that I need to force myself, it’s usually a sign that the story’s taken a wrong turn somewhere (this tip I got from Dean Smith, and it works). So I begin before the beginning. I start reading a few pages up. Usually I find a point that doesn’t work, where the story turns for the cliffs and presses the accelerator. Then I remove everything after that point[note]I don’t throw it away, I just remove it and put it in the junk section at the very end of my story.[/note]. Then I begin.

I begin, over, and over, and over again. I begin, and I keep beginning, until I can write “The End”.

There’s no other way to do it.

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  • My greatest difficulty with writing has been sticking with the same story long enough to see it through to its end. Often I’ve restarted a story from scratch, or abandon it completely to write something entirely different.
    Still a problem I had quite often.

    • Filip Wiltgren

      I’ve had that problem as well. Apparently it’s pretty common, especially for writers of longer works (I mainly write short stories).

      I think it all comes down to Heinleins rules:

      1.) You must write.
      2.) You must finish what you write.
      3.) You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
      4.) You must put the work on the market.
      5.) You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.

      When we start out we hit a snag with #1. Then, #2. Then #3 and so on. I know I’ve done it, and in that particular order: first I had trouble getting down to writing, then I couldn’t finish, then I’d polish and polish, making things worse. Then I didn’t have the confidence to sent it out and if I did I’d pull it after one or two rejections.

      Fortunately it’s all passable. Now my biggest worry is why I’m not getting those rejections already so I can send the piece out to the next market 😀

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