Starting Is Hard

There is a unique emotional state that comes along with starting a new writing project, a constant moody swing behind glee and misery. The glee is uncomplicated, it comes from the new burst of confidence that exists only at the beginnings of exciting new things—it comes from the sense of freedom and unrestraint, banging out the easy parts, knocking them off like those first ten clues of the crossword—you’ve got your great idea, you pick it up and you just fucking go.

 

The misery is more multilayered. There is fear, of course, there is always a dense layer of fear—fear of failure, fear of other’s people’s reactions. Fear (if you’re coming off of one long immersive project) of not living up to what you’ve already done—fear, I think, of not TOPPING what you’ve already done.

 

But the other piece of the misery, the other part that I think is uniquely hard, comes from the painful friction of your ambition grinding against your ability: you know what you want it to be—the structure, the tone, the story—and you are discovering, every second, the muscles requires to make it that way. Trying to make the ACTUAL thing as good as the IMAGINED thing that already lives in your mind.

 

In other words: as soon as you think of an idea for a novel (or a play or a story or, I don’t know, an opera) you have two creatures existing at once in your writing life: over here you’ve got this fully formed perfect IDEAL of the thing, living fully realized in this abstract space where only you can see it—and at the same time, you have this tiny little ill-formed thing, mewling and coughing at you from the mostly blank page, and you’re trying to coax it to larger and larger life.

 

The DIFFERENCE between those two things—between the gorgeous and complete thing you know that you want to create, and the trembling little fragile sickly thing that exists so far—the DISTANCE between those two places—that is one fraught and painful territory to be living in, is what I’m saying.

 

Can you tell I’m working on a new project? Can you tell it’s causing me some anxiety? Is everyone doing that teasing little gesture, where you pretend to play the tiny violin? That’s what I thought.

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4 comments

  1. Hi Ben! I can’t wait to see what you have up your sleeve! It’s been exciting to see you rewarded for your good writing.
    I just finished reading a novel that my friend wrote. It’s her first one and I think it’s really great. Do you have any ideas that I could give her about how to get started on the road to being published?
    -Kirsten

    1. Kirsten, I’m going to send you an email directly about this! I have various thoughts, which are probably of varying usefulness.

    1. I bet you it’s a fairly common anxiety for all artists, and I further bet it’s ultimately psychologically useful as a goad to finding your best work.

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