Sunday, January 1, 2017

A Fresh Start

Happy New Year to you all!  The last year has been difficult for many, and brutal to some, but I believe we are all rallying to face what the next year brings and maintaining hope for positive developments and welcome surprises.

Starting a book is like starting a new year.  I’m facing page one of something new—after waffling over it for a few months—so I’m reminding myself of what a first draft requires and making resolutions.

1. Imagination:  Just like with New Year’s resolutions, it’s a good idea to brainstorm before embarking on a book.  You don’t want to make any foolish or impossible promises.  Maybe I won’t Climb Mount Everest.  But maybe I will challenge myself with a new structure and a new audience, investigating themes that feel quite personal.

2. Ambition:  You don’t want to take it too easy on yourself.  Perhaps rather than a vague Walk More, you might resolve to Walk Five Miles a Day.  It’s the same with a book.  I don’t want to write the same book over and over, or write something exactly like someone else’s.

3. Risk:  I would never advocate a dangerous resolution for the new year—so please avoid Try Train Surfing or Build Up Immunity to Arsenic.  Books, however, are different.  Readers want risk.  They want to be challenged, and so do we, as writers.  Stretch.  Have fun.  See what you think your limits are and push the edge of that envelope.

4. Commitment:  All of us have made well-intentioned resolutions that we haven’t quite fulfilled.  (Sort Through All Twenty Boxes of Family Photos comes to mind—for the past three years!)  And many of us have started a book that we’ve never finished.  Finishing can be the hardest part.  It’s frightening.  It’s painful.  Sometimes, it’s even boring.  Do it.  Walk those miles, sort those photographs.  Finish.  That.  Book.

5. Fun:  Every year we load ourselves down with shoulds.  Lose Weight.  Spend Less.  Work Harder.  I’ve long believed that we also need to revitalize with the things that propel us forward.  What have you always wanted to try?  Ride a Unicycle.  Learn to Tap Dance.  Skydive.  Or something simpler, but has the same effect.  Play a Game Once a Week.  Writing is the same.  It’s hard.  It’s painful.  It’s frightening.  But it also has to be fun.  Play with your characters.  Let yourself write a scene that has nothing to do with the plot, but lets your talents shine—dialogue, description, murder.  It may never appear in the book, but something exciting may come out of it—even if it’s “only” a jump start to get you writing again.  I write not for misery, but for joy.  When it happens, allow yourself to experience it.  The perfect sentence.  The cunning plot twist.  The day you surpass your word count goal without even trying.  Those are all the things that keep you going and deserve to be celebrated.

I have two resolutions this year.  I could make many more (those photographs aren’t going to sort themselves), but I found 2016 so overwhelming that I’m willing to let myself off the hook a little.  Here they are:

1. Finish the Book.
2. Celebrate.

Who’s with me?