Slow Starts

Sit and Wait for Inspiration?

I start very slowly, and don’t actually begin to write the book until I can’t stand not to write it. This method derives from my sense that one can start a book too soon, but almost never too late. (Stevan Polansky in GlimmerTrain)

We writers and artists almost always have a bad word to say for ourselves, and often it is on our inability to get started on a project.  Sometimes, even if we have a deadline, even if our food and rent depends on it, we just cannot begin. We have an idea, yes.  We may even think it is a pretty good idea.  But it isn’t ready.  We aren’t ready, and we aren’t sure we will ever be ready.

How do we know when to begin a project? Steven Polansky says it all when he says,  “one can start a book too soon, but almost never too late.”  (Of course, we haven’t heard from his editors on the subject.) But perhaps the reason most of us have drawers full of unfinished manuscripts, basements full of half-done canvases, hard drives full of video and photographs we’re not sure about and scripts without an ending, is not because we don’t have the will to finish, but because, driven by our own anxiety to begin,  we started too soon.

Great ideas may seem sometimes to spring out of nowhere and demand our full attention, but the truth is, they’ve probably been stewing for some time, in some form, before they assume a final shape.  Our minds take a little bit from here and a little bit from there, throw in a dash of this and that, do a rain dance to the muses for inspiration, and only then hold the concoction under our noses and insist – okay, okay, this is how it will be! Pay attention and get going!  And it is in that moment when we really do have to build up some steam and prepare to chug away.

This isn’t like waiting to be hit on the head by an apple (although one can argue that Mr. Newton’s inspiration, as well, owed a lot to creative stewing.)  We have to feed the process, with reading, or going to galleries, or watching films,  and thinking, and sleeping, and possibly striking up a chat with the morose person sitting next to us at Starbucks who is also waiting for his or her moment.  If you and nature are on close personal terms, you can go take long walks, and even try sitting under a welcoming tree.

While you are doing all this, you must make the attempt not to torture and threaten your idea into existence, but to gently lure it out, with the promise that it will have your full attention and its moment in the sun.  Be kind to your idea, and be kind to yourself.  And when, finally, it manifests itself in full – or at least close enough to be getting on with – don’t be afraid to jump in and move forward.  Institute your creative ritual; protect your creative time; let it be as central to your life as it can be without completely disrupting the rest of your life.  It’s almost never too late to start, but when it’s time, it’s time, and it’s a moment to savor before you begin some of the hardest work of your life.

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2 Responses to Slow Starts

  1. richardsblah says:

    The first word is always the hardest. And the second word isn’t much better. The funny thing is, once you’ve broken through that barrier and you’re tapping away on that keyboard, it’s the best feeling in the world. And then you forget how good it felt the next time you have something that needs writing. 😦

    • deborahatherton says:

      You are SO right Richard – I wonder why we forget? I think that deserves an article all its own, or maybe a book. Maybe we think we will never recapture that first feeling again? (Now that makes writing sound like a cheap romance!) Something to ponder.

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