THE PLEASURE OF BEGINNING

 04-11-04

 

 I spent the day yesterday at a friend’s house, writing by hand on a big yellow tablet while looking out the window at a spring blizzard. It’s a new book idea, one that arrived suddenly and surprisingly out of a conversation with an associate.

This is the part of the process I most love, starting out. It’s the most like the pleasure I found in writing when I was twelve and fifteen and nineteen, curled up in some corner of wherever I happened to be, with a notebook in my lap and a pen in my hand, scribbling the afternoon away while a storm raged or I baked in the sun. In those days, before I understood ideas like “the market” or “royalties” or even “copy editor,” writing simply an extension of my passion for reading: when I was bored, I could sit with a notebook and make up worlds and run away into them.

Most writers who come to the process as children or youths do come to it like this: as readers hungry for another story. They write because they can. Because it’s fun. Because it’s a pleasurable way to pass a boring afternoon. It’s a great way to learn to write, too–no stress, no pressure about getting it right or comparing yourself to some Other (unlike college writing programs, for example, where there is often intense competion and a lot of conflicting information about what is right and wrong about writing (and a lot of the edicts have to do with what’s in fashion at the moment)). A reader/writer simply writes to see what will happen, and along the way learns quite a lot by simply putting words, sentences, dialogue, descriptions on the page.

If you come to the process later in life, or end up writing for a living, some of that shivery pleasure evaporates (though–speaking strictly for me—I would say it’s about five hundred million times more fun than 99% of jobs on the planet). Most of us also have to have teachers and/or mentors or programs at some point, too. All play and no work makes Jane a self-indulgent writer.

But it’s still such a joy to fall over into the reader/writer place on the odd writing day. It’s most likely to happen in the very beginning, as it was yesterday, when I filled half a fresh new yellow legal pad with scribblings for characters. I wrote so long my hands were achy, and I emerged only after several hours to realize that much time had passed.

Tomorrow, I’ll take the copious notes for the new book and fashion them into something readable for my agent to look at. It will be more like work then. And that’s all right, too.

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