Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2020 New Year's Resolution for Writers: Begin

I rarely make personal New Year's resolutions. (The one time I did, in 2018, it backfired so spectacularly, I will never resolve something personal again. I now take "Be careful what you wish for" very seriously.) However, all failures aside, I always make writer's resolutions. Those I follow faithfully, and without mishap.

In 2017, I resolved to write what I feared. In my case, it was a memoir. Fiction is easy to hide in. I can embed my quirks in a character or two, and write the truth without too much fear of exposure. A memoir was another matter entirely. All those secrets revealed, all that airing of linen, potentially quite dirty, all that risk. The very idea of writing a memoir terrified me.

So, I wrote one, because it was a resolution. And I am a woman of my word.

The following year, I resolved to finish, because my memoir was becoming a lengthy affair. At 120,000 words, and not even close to finishing, I was tempted to simply table the idea and get on with writing something more entertaining. But promises are promises, so I finished. The final product clocked in at 172,000 words, a length one agent characterized as "absurd."

Last year, I resolved to be true to my work. To thine own work be true is a piece of advice that is well taken for any writer. Writing for an audience, or for an agent, or a publisher, will only water down your work and turn it into something that says nothing. The only way your writing can achieve its full potential is if you say what you are compelled to say. Second guessing an audience will get a writer nowhere. So, I (mentally) told the agent who said my proposed memoir's length was "absurd" to go to hell, and added more.

This year, I am at an impasse. After spending two years spilling my guts out on paper, I feel emptied. Finishing a novel never has that effect on me; I only feel a sense of elation a "writer's high." But finishing my memoir about the two years I spent hitchhiking to Argentina has left me wondering what to do with myself. A novel? Another memoir? A screenplay? I don't know where to start.

I've come to the conclusion that it doesn't matter. The important thing is to begin, so that is my 2020 resolution: Begin.

Begin with a sentence, a phrase, a title. Begin with an image, song lyrics, something your mother told you when you were twelve. Begin with a phone conversation, an old letter, a shopping list. It doesn't matter how or what - just start. Inspiration will come after you begin to write. It always does.

So, dear writers, if you are staring at a blank screen ... write something on it. I promise it will take you somewhere you didn't expect to go. That is why we write, after all.

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