By now I'm pretty sure everyone knows that Lorrie Moore has a new novel out this week, A Gate at the Stairs. I haven't read it, but I expect to. That's not really what today's post is about, though. This morning, I was having trouble getting started on a new piece (not news, really!), and so I was idly clicking around and reading about new books, which led me to remember the following piece which I wrote at the request of Susan Bono, editor of tiny-lights: a journal of personal narrative on the topic of how writers can get started. It originally appeared in her in the December 2008 issue.
How Do You Get Started?
by Lisa Romeo
Assignment: 500 words. Deadline: Tomorrow. Topic: How Writers Get Started
You begin. You stop. Start. Stop. You remember Lorrie Moore*.
First, you do something, anything, else. Crochet. Sing. Sing while crocheting. Start something else - a different story, a post. You tweet. You fail, miserably.
Start a draft. Inner critic laughs, tears it (figuratively, metaphorically?) into a million pieces, shouts Lies! Critic is thinking of unwritten review due yesterday, stalled book proposal, 128 unanswered emails, the unfinished teaching prep.
Think about beginnings. You start, in your head. Dismiss lines, words, syllables.
Tell spouse you are writing about how writers get started; spouse laughs.
Next day, you start.
Tell your mother you are too busy writing to talk on the phone.
You start. You write of the importance of keeping small notebooks everywhere - car, bathroom, gym bag - for thoughts, images, ideas. Of having a writing notebook, a three-subject 120-sheeter, where everything, anything happens. Of the time you once misplaced it, and how no one could start homework or eBay invoices or dinner until it surfaced.
You are warming up. You write about rituals, like fingering a bookmark with the George Elliot quote about never being too late to start over. He-he.
You think about centering your computer in the window, the thoughtful writer framed in glass.
Writing is lonely, you need illusion.
You do have advice: Don't answer the phone unless it's the school nurse. Only answer emails from editors. Don't answer the door to your oldest friend even if she is carrying a bakery bag.
Later, spouse asks how essay/story/poem/article is going. Glare. Explain that "supporting" your writing precludes asking how it's going.
Start again. Shut the door, turn on music, though you prefer silence.
You send emails one flight down to spouse, indicating that essay/story/poem/article is not going well and so you cannot stop; or it is going so well that simply you cannot stop. You are unavailable for dinner prep, or dinner.
You start, re-start, continue to start. Remind yourself this is the creative process. Always. Starting. Again.
Now, something is on the page. You are happy. You reread, and see that all you have written is a failure.
Start again. Replace coffee with white wine, reserved for when you have started badly, or maybe have started too timidly.
There are other methods.You read writers who matter. You read junk. You stop reading because another writing voice is becoming too loud in your head. Anyway, while reading is important, vital, you must eventually stop. And, start.
You wonder what you ought to write about. Not, what was the assignment? But, what do you care most to write? You limit these thoughts to five minutes or, risk cerebral anemia.
Do something, anything else -- day job, night job, weekend job. Jot down what you observe and overhear. You are not procrastinating, not in denial. You are paying rent, paying dues, paying attention.
Push loved ones away, pull them closer; you can't write with them here, or with them gone.
Eventually, you have a beginning or, beginnings. You read them. They are terrible. You reread them. They are fine, really fine.
You start again. On revisions. Rewrites. Middles and endings. In endings you find, always, beginnings.
You cook, walk the dog, cat, guinea pig. You meet friends for coffee and one asks how writers get started, that blank screen, that blank page. Isn't it hard, they want to know. Oh no, you say. Oh, yes.
You reach for the small notebook you carry in your purse. You write something down.
c- copyright 2008, Lisa Romeo
Readers, if you have not read Lorrie Moore's, "How to Become a Writer Or, Have You Earned This Cliché?" from Self Help, or if you simply haven't read it recently, please treat yourself. You can find it here. Also, Narrative Magazine has a new interview with Moore on their site today (free registration required).