Starting

I love starting new things. Notebooks, all shiny and fresh, with no teastains or scribbled shopping lists.  Pens, before the lids get lost and the ink runs dry. And ideas, before they get ruined by, you know, actually writing the damn thing. Iris Murdoch said that every book is the wreck of a great idea, and there was never a truer word spoken. Except maybe for Goethe. The end of this is often quoted, but I like the entirety of it:

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back — concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.

Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.“

Recently bestselling author SJ Watson very kindly came in to chat to my MA writing class, and I was struck by what he said about beginning. Five years ago, although successful in his career, he decided to take a step down, go part-time, enrol in a writing course, and really give his all to writing a novel. With some rather noteable success…

I thought this was amazing. It took me about twenty years to admit I wanted to write a novel, spend any money or time on it, or commit myself. I was so terrified of failing that I couldn’t bring myself to try. But why should a novel seem bigger or scarier than learning a new skill, or starting a new business? We wouldn’t expect to do those right the first time we try. To write and sell a novel is effectively begining a new career – why should we not plan, and study, and allow time to learn, and commit ourselves to a process? Why are we so scared people might not love our work right away? If you take all the angst and fear out of it, it becomes an exercise in learning. It could even be fun to try new things, and experiment, and meet new people who also love writing, and yes, even fail a few times. Lots of us (me included) say we want to be writers, but how many would take a step down in work, or give up money and time and other hobbies to make it happen? So why not do as Goethe says, and be bold. Commit. Begin it now. And if you fail to start with, enjoy the fall.

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