SKINNY BLACK BLINKING LINE

It’s a tricky thing, beginning with words. It’s critical, in the first two dozen syllables, to reach out with a sudden, merciless, vicious grip, grasp your reader by the throat, pull him close, and murmur into his ear with the voice of a lover,

“Come with me. It won’t hurt…much.”

You write those words, you lay that trap, and then you pray like hell you’re someone’s siren. Sometimes you are (and that, friends, is a powerful drug). Usually, you’re not. Usually, the words echo back at you, a lone voice in an abandoned cave. Or worse, you never actually give the words the fresh breath of someone else’s eyes, and they linger in that powder blue nowhere purgatory, otherwise known as The File on Your Desktop You Pretend to Ignore (most of my words have ended up here).

Being a writer takes guts. It takes vulnerability. It takes a rigid and supple will. It takes discipline in the extreme and free-thinking in the extreme. It takes an artist’s spirit and a business guru’s acumen. It takes the thickest skin you can imagine, and the most tender soul. It takes yin and yang. It takes duality.

God, it sucks. Don’t get me wrong; it’s wonderful, too. But it sucks.

It sucks (and is wonderful) because once a writer realizes she is a writer it’s all over for her. Once a writer realizes what she is, a writer is what she will be until the day she dies, no matter her level of success or failure. No matter how vehemently she’ll try to deny her art when her muse decides to go on unannounced hiatus.

The particular muse in question has been missing for years. Years. If you happen to see her out and about, could you ask her to send a postcard home? It’d be nice to know she’s alive.

But I’m not here to talk about muses or the agony and ecstasy of being a writer. I’m here to talk about words; specifically, those first words. Because here’s the honest-to-God-truth:

Those first words you read in that novel on your bedside? Or the first words in that biography that’s gathering dust on your bookshelf? Those aren’t the first words that were written in that book. Most likely they were crafted months after the book began its long sojourn down the treacherous birth canal of the writer’s mind; those effortless words (oh, God, how every writer hopes those opening lines look effortless) that you read in a matter of seconds were most likely written and re-written, culled back and replanted, sanded down and polished, subjected to a wrecking ball then built back up, until the author was covered in dirt and sawdust, high on fumes (and most likely running on fumes), hardhat discarded at her feet, blood dripping from the place in her chest where she cut herself wide open for the sake of the cause.

Authors suffer for great beginnings. But as hard as those very first few words are to get just right, there are harder words. I’m talking about the words that are hiding behind that skinny, black, blinking line at the top of the page. Every writer knows that every story must begin in the nothing-land of the blank page (blank analog pages are just as intimidating as their digital counterparts, btw). The cursor or pen is a portal of sorts, opening up the inner chambers of our minds so that we might channel the worlds and characters and stories that live so vividly in the gray matter behind our eyes into the stark black and white of the page. The goal, in the end, is to do those stories justice—to relay them with words that give them fidelity.

It’s a daunting and intimidating matter, to step into that skinny, black, blinking line and unleash the worlds that are compressed in our minds, safely kept under wraps in the sleepy spaces of our imaginations.

And it’s at this place—staring down that small, mighty cursor—that I find myself. Because the truth is, I wasn’t being completely honest before: my muse has already written home—I’ve just been too afraid to acknowledge her postcard, a 4 x 6 matte black affair, written in silver script:

I’m coming home, and I’m bringing the story with me.

Friends, Archethenia is near.

The story is coming home.

teal

Nervous

Dorothy Parker once said,

“If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

This statement cracks me up.  I think it would crack any writer up.  Most of us are cracked anyway, so it’s no big deal.

When I first began writing, I had no idea what a soul-lashing, confidence-thrashing, oftentimes sadistic past-time it would become.  Then, somewhere along the way, it became more than a simple pastime.  It became an occupation.  Something I did with the regularity of a part-time job…without the obvious benefit of a part-time job (ka-ching).

Even so, I keep at it.  All of us writers do.  Because as much as a roller-coaster the process can be, and as bitchy as the muse can sometimes get, something about it gets under our skin.  It becomes impossible not to write.  When we stop writing, our interior wells become stagnant.  Eventually that stagnation eeks out of us in the form of grumpy, brooding, disagreeable behavior.

Most of us write because we genuinely love to write.  We spend ungodly amounts of time, butt planted in a chair, hammering out words (half the time telling ourselves that it’s all rubbish, utter crap).  We spend equal amounts of time reading other peoples words, reading about writing, re-writing what we’ve written based on what other people have written about writing.  We’re obsessively in love with what we do.  Sometimes the obsessive outweighs the love; sometimes it’s the other way around.

This makes us – or me, anyway – insanely overprotective of what we’ve written, sometimes seasoned with dashes of debilitating lack of confidence.

I’m nearing the place where I’m ready to have my WIP read by beta-readers.  My dear, sweet friend Emily – who is always one of my biggest cheerleaders – will be reading it, once again.  Bless her heart, she’s read so many versions of this story, she’s probably ready to change her name and head for the woods at the thought of doing it again.  🙂  I love her for her willingness.  And I’m hoping to put a couple pairs of fresh eyes on it this time around, too.

But I’m nervous as all get-out.

Where are you at in the process of doing what you love?  I know many of you writerly types get what I’m saying!  And I can’t believe the concept is restricted to the writers in the crowd.  I want to hear about the thing you’re doing right now – the project you’re in the middle of, the dream you’ve been toying with…what’s your process like?  Relate with me, so I can feel better about feeling nervous.  🙂